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Harbour – By Scott Almes – Review

Harbour is a worker placement and resource management game, where you play an entrepreneur who has been invited by Dockmaster Schlibble and Constable O’Brady to set up business in their bustling town. You set up your warehouse and take a hard look at how the market is doing before making your first trades. Designed by Scott Almes and published by Tasty Minstrel Games it was first released back in 2015.

Specifications

Design

I first saw Harbour being played by Will Wheaton and friends on the GeekAndSundry show called Tabletop. Yes, it’s true that I have a non-stalker like healthy obsession with Mr Wheaton but try not to let that influence me too much. However, I do generally respect his views on board games and the show made me want to buy a copy of this one. As you can see from the box artwork Harbour is certainly playful in its look. The box contains the following elements:

  • 4 meeple
  • 20 wooden tiles (5 of each colour)
  • 20 stickers (5 of each type of good)
  • 36 building cards
  • 4 bonus cards
  • Instruction booklet
  • 1 card to depict the market
  • 14 character cards

All of the elements you get in the box are of a high quality and the playful artwork is there throughout to keep with the theme. The rules are easy to learn and uncomplicated, which makes it perfect to take along to a games evening. The bottom of each character card depicts the characters warehouse, boxes increase from one to six to denote how many of that good you have. When acquiring a good all you do is move the relevant token to the relevant box number, stacking the tokens if needed, it’s a simple but highly effective way to track what inventory you have. Markers are nicely colour coded to help with the association so fish are blue, meat is pink, the stone is grey and wood is yellow.

Gameplay

Each player is given one token of each type and dealt 2 of the characters and to begin the game you also deal on building card per player plus three cards. After looking at what buildings are available players will choose one of the two character cards and put the other back into the box. Players will then choose 3 goods to start with so they could choose 2 fish and 1 meat for example. Finally, you set up the market by placing one marker of each good in the slots on the market at random.

The player who was last on a boat goes first and then play will pass to their left. All players start in the building which is attached to their player card and when their turn comes around they choose a building to visit. They must not visit a building that is already occupied and if they visit a building that is owned by another player then they must pay a fee to that player of 1 good of their choice. The market and the purchasing of buildings is where the majority of the strategy happens. Players are racing to buy four building (making five in total including the one on their character sheet). The first player to five buildings starts the end game and play will continue until play comes back around to the player who went first.

Buildings

Each building will give the player more goods or allow to trade in goods for other goods. As an example The Alchemist shop allows you to trade in 4 goods of mixed types to swap them out for 4 goods of a single type (3 fish and 1 meat for 4 wood).

It would take a fairly long time to learn what all of the buildings do but knowing what they do gives you no real advantage. Each building is fairly self-explanatory in their own right so previous knowledge just means that the game will go quicker. I am sure that you can find buildings that work really well together but since the building cards are shuffled at the beginning of the game it’s unlikely that the combinations will always come up. The buildings also come with one of one of four bonuses, they are:

  • Coins: Reduce the cost of a building by 1
  • Top Hat: When visiting another players building you don’t have to pay the fee
  • Anchor: Used to gain extra benefit from some buildings
  • Warehouse: When shipping goods a player can keep 1 good of each type for each warehouse they own. It can also be used to gain extra benefits from some buildings.

When the player has enough resources they need to be in a building that allows them to purchase a building and then ship their goods to gain the money.

Shipping goods

When shipping goods you must ship all the goods (unless you own a building with a warehouse), your goods are worth whatever the market says but you can only sell them if you have the designated amount (or more). In the photo below you must have 2+ meat to earn 2 dollars, 3+ wood to earn 3 dollars, 4+ stone to earn 4 dollars and 5+ fish to earn 5 dollars.

When goods are shipped is generally when the market changes. Any good being sold is moved down to the bottom of the market then all remaining goods are moved to the left. Goods sold are then placed back in the order they are sitting. Again it’s easier to explain with a photo here, so below our player has sold 3 or more wood and 5 or more fish to make $8.

They can now buy any property worth up to $8. Any money left over from the purchase is lost in administration fees and then the market shifts. This means the stone would move up to the $5 slot, the meat up to the $4, then the wood will be worth $3 and fish worth $2.

Verdict

I’ve only been able to play harbour a few times but have certainly enjoyed playing it. Let’s deal with the bits I didn’t like first. I disliked the fact that the counters need to have the stickers put on them but this is only because I generally don’t have the dexterity to do this with any sort of consistency (I asked a friend to do t for me). My other major gripe is availability. It took me a while to find a copy of it but this sort of thing is expected from an indie game that has been around for 2 years and no doubt on a limited print run. I really hope that Scott has had some success with it because it’s a great game at a great price. On the good side, there is gleeful joy in messing with other peoples plans by changing the market when they least want you to and a hell of a lot of strategies that you can employ. On top of that, it has a really small footprint and a hell of a lot of replay value. It’s not a game that outstays its’ welcome as the end is usually within the hour. Well worth the money I would say.

Harbour will be available to play at the next GeekOut meet on August 12th. Let us know if it’s the kind of game you might like, especially tell us what you thought of it if you managed to sit down for a game at the Meetup. As per usual we take our feedback via the comments section, Facebook, Twitter and Reddit.

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