Review: Harbour

From Tasty Minstrel Games, Harbour is a 1-4 player game where players are competing trade brokers in a fantasy harbour. It is a compact game that will play in about 45 minutes or so, easily allowing you to get in a few games in one sitting. It revolves primarily around selling and producing goods, all the while trying to buy up special buildings for additional options during your turn and victory points. Once a player has a total of 5 buildings (including their starting warehouse building), the game ends.

Turns run pretty simple. A player moves their meeple to an unoccupied building, and then takes the action on the building to the best of their ability. If goods are sold, the market is adjusted to reflect new prices and the next player takes their turn. Simple.

Each player has an initial warehouse building which tracks the number of different goods that they hold. There are four types of goods (fish, stone, wood, and cattle) and the price of these goods range from $2-5 dollars. Paired with these prices is a required minimum number of goods for that particular type which must be in your warehouse if wanting to sell. As a mental cheat sheet, the price of a resource equals the minimum number of stored goods (so if stone was $3, you’d need at least 3 stone in your warehouse).
The catch to this is once you sell a good, you sell everything, regardless of the actual price of the goods. So if you’ve got 5 wood stored away and decide to sell it for a measly $2, you have to unload all of it. None of it can be saved for later sales (although certain building types allow you to bypass this restriction).

Added to this is a very fluctuating selling market. It’s hard to describe effectively without diagrams, but essentially goods that are sold move down a track and reenter the market at the lowest value. All unsold goods move up in cost (and the required number of stored goods needed to sell). Depending on the value of the good sold, you can really shake up the market. Low value resources won’t change the market much, but selling higher value goods can really alter the prices of everything else. What compounds this is that most buildings are $6-8 so you are always selling 2 or more resources to get the cash needed to purchase them.

Aside from a winning condition, owning buildings means that other players have to pay a good to use it. Buildings themselves have different abilities which typically allow for the gain of goods coupled with losing some others that are owned, or the shifting of the market. Some buildings also have other properties that allows for storage of more resources, cheaper building prices, or allowing a player to use an opponent’s building for free.

Players can purchase a limited choice of buildings out of a deck of 36 different kinds. Most abilities for buildings are shifting the loss of a few goods to get a small gain in another, or just adding one or two goods to your warehouse. There are a few buildings that allow for gaining of more resources depending on owning particular building icons. However these are few and far between.

Another layer of variation is that the game comes with different player abilities and starting buildings. You have the option of starting out with everyone having a generic player mat. But you can also choose from 14 different player mats with different abilities and matching building types. So out of the box there is quite a lot of variety making room for a different play experience from game to game. You also can play the game solo playing against an AI opponent, so you can stretch the game play even further

The Good – Harbour is a fun little game of worker placement and resource selling. There is a surprising amount of variation in building and player types that give the game a lot of replay. It plays pretty fast and the manipulation of market prices and gaining of select goods is engaging. It’s not overly complicated but certainly will make you think some in how to tangle out what goods to work on and the opportune time to sell and purchase buildings. The artwork is light and whimsical capturing a fun fantasy theme of a fictitious harbor. You get nice, thick, card stock building cards and chunky, wooden resource tokens too.

The Bad – While the market moves prices in an interesting way, it practice it becomes exceedingly difficult to predict. It’s almost too volatile in a 3-4 player game and certainly favors the player that can jump into selling goods early. While there is some room for having a combination of buildings to gain a lot of resources, typically you are only having a net gain of 1 to 2 goods a turn.

This leads into my major gripe with the game. It just seems to end too quickly. You really can’t construct an engine with owned buildings before the game ends. It also creeps into a snowball effect for the few players in the lead. Once they have an advantage of a building or two, it’s almost impossible to catch up.

The Verdict – Harbour is an okay game. Hands down for the price you are paying (less than $20) it’s an immense value. The small box offers a lot of replay and can even offer an engaging solo game. However, while there is room to explore different strategies there never seems enough time to fully develop them.

You’re in a frantic race to gain the right goods at the right time and if you miss out, you can really fall behind. If an opponent is in the lead and can capitalize on another market opportunity, you’ll find yourself in a deep hole that’s too hard to get out of for a victory. So you have to usually jump into buying what buildings you can afford right now, over planning a turn or two to try and pick up other buildings that could offer a deeper ability interaction with others you own.

In the end, I don’t find Harbour a bad game. For such a small package, there is a lot of enjoyable game in the box. But it’s not an amazing game. While the play is engaging and you have some interesting choices, the market is so volatile and the building types so limited in function, it doesn’t allow for a lot of strategic maneuvering. It’s an enjoyable game. But oddly for how much it allows for some careful planning and thoughtful choices during play, other bits like the constant market price swings just make that decision process squandered some.

I think the most saving grace is the price, box size, and card variety. It leaves a small footprint on your shelf and doesn’t sink deep into your wallet. If looking for a relatively light worker placement game with some market interaction, Harbour isn’t a horrible buy and you can squeeze a large amount of play out of it without it getting repetitive.

[House Rule: Players only get to use another player’s building for free if they own more top hat buildings than their opponent. Getting top hat buildings is pretty easy to do. This tweak allows for an advantage if a player delves into owning multiple top hat buildings allowing for a potential strategy. As RAW, it’s a little too to easy to counter by simply gaining one top hat building.]