In my last post, I talked about some of my favourite heavy worker placement games (chief among them is Le Havre by Uwe Rosenberg), however today I’d like to speak about a game that has many similarities but plays in a fraction of time and can fit in your pocket. Originally a Kickstarter campaign, Harbour (by designer Scott Almes, published by Tasty Minstrel Games) plays from 1 to 4 players, takes roughly 10 to 15 minutes per player and comes with a tremendous amount of game for the very small 6″ x 4″ box.
Image originally by BGG user Khayyinn – https://boardgamegeek.com/image/2399293/harbour
Players represent different influential characters in a fantasy-themed town named Gullsbottom who are trying to amass fame and fortune by collecting and shipping goods in order to purchase different buildings which are worth different amount of Victory Points. Each turn is relatively straightforward; players have a single worker that they move to an available Building and then take the action listed, typically providing one or more types of goods or allowing for the official purchase of a building. Summarized like that, it sounds very much like Le Havre, so how is Harbour different and why is it worth space in your collection?
To start off the game, players choose whether they want to play the basic or the standard game. If players choose to play the standard game, each player receives 2 of the Player Boards and chooses between them, otherwise the default Player Boards are used since they are all the same. In the standard game, each Player Board will have their own special power and starting Building, helping to point them in a strategic direction right from the get-go.
Image originally by BGG user EndersGame – https://boardgamegeek.com/image/2053515/harbour
After each player has selected their Player Board, the remaining boards are returned to the box and Players determine how they want to use their initial 3 resources. Next, the Building cards are shuffled and a number of them are drawn and placed onto the table equal to the number of players in the game plus 3. Lastly, the Market Board is placed onto the table and the starting resource values are determined randomly. After this very simple setup, the game is ready to start.
Image originally by BGG user EndersGame – https://boardgamegeek.com/image/2061666/harbour
The meat of the game involves players moving their single worker from Building to Building in order to take the listed action, which are typically used to accumulate goods. Iconography is heavily used throughout Harbour and is generally fairly easy to understand, however the designer had the foresight to include brief descriptions where the possibility of confusion exists (see the Shipbuilder’s Union card in the image above as a good example of this).
As players place their workers and take the actions available, they will move their resource markers on their Player Board to indicate how many resources they currently have available. Some buildings have other abilities that don’t affect resources, however there are only a handful (my count is 6 of 36 total Buildings). Similar to many other worker placement games, Players can not move their Workers to locations currently occupied by other players, which actually makes blocking an important concern in Harbour, as the open-information nature of the game does allow Players to take note of what others are doing in order to try and sabotage their efforts.
Shipping & the Market
One of the more intriguing aspects of Harbour is how goods are shipped using the Market Board as it presents a rather unique challenge whereby players’ accumulated goods can shift in value at the drop of a hat (or meeple, as the case may be), potentially throwing several turns worth of planning for a loop. As mentioned above, players take their turns and move their Worker between cards, they will accumulate 4 different types of goods; Livestock, Fish, Stone and Lumber, with quantities of each being tracked on each players character card.
The Market Board is broken down into 4 spaces, each one holding a token for a particular type of resource and indicating both the value of that particular good, as well as how many of the good are required in order to ship. When a Player takes an action to purchase a Building, they refer to their accumulated resources on their Player Board and then choose which goods they wish to sell. As an example, if a Player wanted to purchase a Building that cost $9, they would need to refer to their own Player Board and compare the number of goods they had available to the current Market value – if Livestock was currently valued at $5, they would need to have at least 5 of that type of resource in order to sell, then ensure they had other appropriately-valued goods in order to make up the rest of the cost. That being said, any excess goods are lost when selling, so if you’re in a situation where Livestock is valued at $5 and Stone is valued at $4, if you’ve got 6 of each and sell them, the leftovers are gone at no benefit to you (with a few exceptions that I’ll expand on below).
After goods have been sold, the Market Board adjusts to reflect the changes in supply and demand – imagine the Market Board above with Livestock valued at $5, Stone valued at $4, Lumber valued at $3 and Fish valued at $2. If a Player ships Livestock and Stone, those tokens are slid down onto the boat icons to indicate they are shipping, then after the purchase has been completed, the tokens follow the arrows to show the changes in value, so Lumber would now be worth $5, Fish would be worth $4, Stone would be worth $3 and Livestock would be worth $2. This may sound somewhat awkward as I’ve explained it, but it’s actually quite straight-forward once you see it in action.
When selling, it’s important to take into consideration what you will be giving to the next player, as you can inadvertently shift the market to give them the resources necessary to buy a building as well. This aspect of the game is probably my favourite, as it really forces you to think out purchases before making them, something that doesn’t often happen in other worker placement games.
As mentioned above, there are exceptions to most of the set rules in the game, chiefly in the different building symbols that give players bonuses once they have been purchased. There are 4 of these special symbols, with each building having one or two on them, including the starting buildings on each Player Board.
Coins are simple – they automatically add an extra $1 any time a purchase action is taken and they stack, which I’ve found allows players to make the game much more of a race as they can rush cheap buildings while other players are still trying to accumulate resources. They can be a double-edged sword, however, resulting in lost goods when you end up with one more dollar than you need based on the current market.
Top Hats are also simple – they allow you to use the buildings belonging to other players without having to pay them a good in order to do so. These do not stack, but snagging one early in the game gives a lot more options on a given turn, so the earlier in the game you pick one up, the more it will pay off for you in the long run.
Anchors don’t actually do anything by themselves, however there are several buildings that provide goods based on the number of Anchors available to a given player (such as the Lumber Yard building which gives 1 Wood per Anchor a player has access to). These also stack, and are the bonus symbol given to most of the starting buildings on the Player Cards, so while they are easy to get, they need relevant buildings in order to actually be worth anything.
Warehouses are arguably the strongest bonus symbol in the game, allowing players to keep 1 of each type of good shipped when making purchases. Since Warehouses stack, picking up one or two of them gives an incredible boost to a player as it opens up the possibility of continuing to use many buildings that convert resources into other types immediately after shipping, while their opponents may need to spend turns simply building up their stock again after a purchase.
What truly keeps the above special symbols from being too overpowered is the fact that the game end is triggered as soon as a Player has purchased their 4th Building, after which all other players get a final turn and then the game ends with the winner having the highest value of Victory Points (indicated by a star symbol) among all of their Buildings.
Without mincing words, I love Harbour. While many people praise Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride as fantastic gateway games, I feel that Harbour really should be mentioned along with them. The small size makes the game incredibly portable, the very reasonable price point makes it a great gift and the simplicity of the rules belies the huge amount of actual gameplay there is to be had. This game doesn’t bombard users with hundreds of rules or components, nor does it rely on huge amounts of luck in order to do well but is strategic enough to really make people feel like they’re playing a much larger and complex game. In Harbour, I’ve got a game that I can put in my coat pocket and take with me anywhere, and considering the number of different Buildings and Player Boards that come with the game (I got some extra Player Boards as a Kickstarter backer, I should mention), I don’t foresee myself getting bored of this game any time soon. If you are in the market for a small game that plays huge, I can not recommend Harbour enough.