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Subject: I'm Trying to Complain about Harbour rss

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Nathaniel Hobbes
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I'm a big fan of Scott Almes' Tiny Epic Kingdoms, and I'm a big fan of Tasty Minstrel Games' Eminent Domain. When I heard the two of them would be working together on Harbour, I was salivating, to say the least. Thankfully, they provided a PnP for us to kick around well before the campaign began. Here are some of my thoughts and experiences around playing the PnP.

Components:
—7 Player boards with start buildings.
—36 Building Cards
—1 Market board
—Player markers and resource markers for 4 players, plus resource markers for the market board.

Setup:
This takes no time at all. Give each player a player board, and markers, randomly put the resource markers on the market board, and deal a tableau of building cards equal to the number of players plus 3 into the middle of the table. Done.

Play:
Each player represents a specific warehouse owner on a waterfront, represented on his or her player board. There is one worker (and only one, with no chance to gain another) that represents this trader. On your turn, you take this worker, place it on any building on the board, and take that building's action if you can. You can use your buildings, the buildings in the middle, or any building owned by your opponents, including the start building on their player boards.

There are only two limitations to this: first you cannot place your worker on an occupied building, and second, if you use a building owned by an opponent, you must pay them one resource of your choice. You can take a building whose action you cannot use, in order to block it, for example, but this is usually a bad idea as you're losing more than you're causing that opponent to lose.

Most of the buildings' actions involve collecting or trading one of the four resources in the game, stone, lumber, livestock, and fish. When you choose a building that includes the "buy a building" action, you trade these resources in the market (move your resource tracker for that type of good down to zero), and use the money you collect (there is no cash, you spend all your money as soon as you trade) to buy any available building from the middle of the table. After you ship goods, the market adjusts, with the goods you shipped going down to the low-price slots, and the goods not shipped moving to the more expensive market slots. When any player buys her fourth building, every other player gets one more turn, and the game ends.

Each building has a victory point value as well as a cost and an action. Players add up the victory points of all their buildings, and the highest VP total is declared the winner. That's it. Four buildings.

An important detail that makes the game more interesting is symbols. Characters and buildings all have one or more of four different symbols on them that give significant advantages to that building's owner:
Top Hat: Use opponents' buildings without paying them a resource.
Coin: Reduce the cost of all buildings you buy by one (cumulative).
Warehouse: Keep one good after shipping (cumulative).
Anchor: Produce or trade extra resources on some buildings (cumulative).

Analysis:
This game is easy. It is easy to set up, easy to learn the rules, easy to teach, and easy to take your turn. Place one pawn, take one action, possibly ship goods and buy a building. What could be easier?

This game is hard! My head hurts hard. I need to go outside for a walk hard. GIVE ME A CIGARETTE! hard. I know, you're saying, "Hobbes, you don't smoke!" Well, it's true. I didn't. Before Harbour.

Each turn, you only have one choice, which puts a lot of pressure on you to make it the best choice—you won't get to take another one later once you realize how good it could have been. Even in a two player game, you have seven buildings to choose from on your first turn. Buy a building? A new one is drawn from the deck to replace it. Now you have 8 choices. And the game just keeps getting bigger and bigger as more buildings are purchased, especially in a 4-player game.

What do you do? Watch the market. Should you try to block the other player from getting the building she needs, or take that building that gives you two more resources? Is it worth it to buy that popular building so that other players will pay you to use it, or should you buy this other one worth more victory points? If I ship now and buy a $6 building, where will the market end up on my opponent's turn? Will she have enough to by that $8 building after the market adjusts? Argh! My brain is shutting down! Give me a cigarette!

Jumpin' Gee Whillikers, Dockmaster Schlibble, I never expected such depth and richness from a few player boards and a stack of building cards!

Let's talk about audience. First, this isn't in the PnP that I'm reviewing, but TMG has announced that there are basic versions of each player board that are generic, so that everyone can start out the same. This makes it much better for beginners or family play. It is completely possible to play this game "from the hip," where you don't worry too much about planning or the market, and just hope for the best. That can also be fun, depending on your group. You can then add in special powers when you're ready.

Harbour can also appeal to the hardcore eurogamer looking for a gateway drug to lure in her Munchkin-loving friends. With variable player powers and adorable comedic fantasy artwork, you'll probably convince them to sit down and have a game before they realize they've been bait-and-switched into playing a boring euro-style economic worker placement that could have just as easily been made with any other artwork. Mwahaha! It's too late. They're hooked and loving it.

Harbour is a great choice for the gamer on the go, since it's much smaller and easier to carry than most games in this genre. Why cart around Le Havre in your suitcase when Harbour does much of the same at a quarter the space? It also favors the gamer without a lot of time for games, since a game of Harbour will typically be less than an hour. Thus, it suits lunch breaks and times when you're waiting for that wayward game group member to show up for game night.

And let's talk about replayability. If you back the Kickstarter, you get a TON of launch promo characters, but even the basic game now comes with 11 unique player boards. You also have 36 buildings unlocked so far, and in an average 4-player game, you'll probably see a max of 23 of them, so that gives a lot of variety. I can't speak for the quality of these in my PnP review, but TMG has also added in secret bonus points cards for scoring at game end, and inland traders to supplement the market, each of which adds more variety to the game. Playing the PnP, my group found the player powers varied and interesting, though we sometimes forgot to use them. I can imagine playing the current PnP dozens of times without getting tired of it, but with all this additional content, I don't think it will ever get stale.

Final thoughts:
—I'm really searching for some bad things to say about Harbour. Some people have complained that the market is too chaotic, but I love it. I think the game would be boring without it. Let me state that more clearly. The market is an inspired mechanic, and the one factor that takes this game from good to awesome. Sure, you can't always predict it, but be adaptive. Don't focus only on the one type of resource that is currently at the top.
—Some of the building actions are not as clear as they could be. We also forgot to use our player powers and symbols sometimes. The latter are early play problems that our group will work out in time, and the former are being handled now.
—There are too many Top Hats (especially since they're not cumulative). One of my favorite tactics is to get an early Top Hat and then use other players' start buildings for resource or building actions. That way, a player may have to change his or her plans or pay someone to use another building, possibly messing up their plans. But, a third of all the cards have Top Hats, so this tactic rarely works. Everybody usually has one by the end of the game. I'd like them to be rare, and hotly contested when they come up in the queue.
—If you try the PnP, do not use the paper markers provided. It was nice of them to provide them, but find other bits. Or glue them onto pennies or something. A gentle breeze from a fan tosses them all over, and once, I laughed at a wisecrack and scattered all the markers for myself and one other player clear across the table.
—The artwork is great. There is no reason a game about shipping goods needs to have a dusty Renaissance theme, and I'm glad that TMG realized that. It also opened up the door to fun-but-unrealistic character powers and building actions, which add a lot.
—Harbour is not as short as it could be. It is also extremely vulnerable to AP-prone players. Depending on your group, add an egg-timer into the box.
—It might be too simple for hardcore eurogamers, but if they look at it as a gateway game, I doubt even they will be disappointed. Look at this story of a man who used Harbour to transition his family into playing Caverna.

(Edited for: I forgot one final point, added link to Kickstarter)
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J. M. Lopez-Cepero "CP"
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EU-friendly Kickstarters rule!
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"The twilight there holds a serene beauty... You have seen it yourself as the sun sets on this world."
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Great review! You could also mention that there's an official solo version in the works (plus the unofficial one ). Small size + small footprint on the table + short games + solo = great choice for people with some time to kill.
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Nathaniel Hobbes
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You're right, it's definitely worth mentioning. Thanks for having my back!

I guess I overlooked it since I'm not much into solo games. It's all about the social interaction for me. In fact, that's why Harbour is so much more appealing to me than a lot of Euros. The only interaction is often with the workers. This game has that, but then it has the market on top of that, which just adds so much!
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Greg Goodman
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andvaranaut wrote:
You could also mention that there's an official solo version in the works (plus the unofficial one ).


Thanks, that's good to know. I'm a backer, am excited to play (haven't messed with PnP) and this news makes me more excited to get it!
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Kevin Seachrist
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Outstanding review! Now I'm especially glad I backed this game.
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Colin R
United States
Des Plaines
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I demo'd this game at Gen Con and I do have something bad to say - I just found out about it and didn't get a chance to back the Kickstarter! Looking forward to the release of this game.
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Nathaniel Hobbes
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Yeah, that's a bummer. Good news, though, you'll only be missing a few launch promos. Honestly, different characters are cool, but buildings are better, so you'll have a full, fantastic game with the retail version. Plus, I believe the launch promos are going to some retail stores if you pre-order, so go find one!
 
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