There’s a stack of games in our house we’ve said at some point or another that we’re probably going to sell. But before we do, I force us to play one or two more times to be sure we’re not making a terrible mistake and to try to think through why we didn’t enjoy the experience (if that’s still the case). THESE… are our stories.
I have’t played Le Havre proper, but Le Havre: The Inland Port is, as I understand it, a short-form spin-off thereof. You’re collecting four resources on a funky little chart (which I actually kind of like—it adds a spatial thinking dimension to play) to get buildings that count as money, and that can also make you more resources and money. Once again we have a double-barrelled, awkward-exhcange-at-the-end-of-the-game resources and money system wherein ultimately only money counts (capital is truly inescapable, etc).
The course of the game is marked and controlled by a slightly confusing little sundial thing that goes around twice (sunrise, sunset!). The way this movement and the passage of time alters and controls how powerful various buildings are is fairly elegant, and I like that you get more moves as you yourself grow more powerful (as you attain more resources and buildings to make use of).
However the number of turns you play, the transitions between rounds and the number of rounds all feel somewhat arbitrary and confusing. I have to rely on my partner to tell me when to move the dial. It’s not that it’s hard to figure out where we are once I’ve counted up the number of turns we’ve had this round: it’s more that my attention wanders here. I have to make an effort to remember where we are.
This may be because the theme is *real* minimal. Some people think theme is decoration, but it’s an integral part of the game-mechanic and play experience. If the theme here was more interesting and integrated into the overall game, the narrative would make it obvious where we were at a given moment due to causal structures, or the game would keep me sufficiently interested and hooked in that I’d be calculating my next moves and hyper-aware of the limitations thereupon. Theme is not window-dressing, it is narrative and highly determinative of whether a game works/is enjoyable. Apparently I’m building some shit out of corn, fish, wood or clay. Maybe, nominally, I’m paying workers with this smoked fish or whatever, but how they they erect a building on the strength of that alone, sans wood, is a mystery to me. And why does this inland port have largely Srs Business structures and then shit like a zoo? Why this super-expensive consulate??
Along these lines, the art is bare-bones. The yellow square is bread or grain, I think? But it might as well be cured pork (The Inland Pork). People are EASY for game art, I’ll tell you that. ‘Intricate! I wept tears at its sublime beauty!’ No offence mate but some Eurogames are a step or two up from clip art? Few are Truly Fugly, but aesthetics are not that well-represented in this genre for. no. reason. Again, artists are CHEAP. Why I don't have a full-on Pre-Raphaelite lookin' Arthuriana game on my shelves I cannot say.
The sun dials are nice, but can get fiddly when you have too many buildings in one slot (and you will). If you stack or overlap these your partner can’t see them to use them, and that would interfere with a significant part of the game (late game especially is all about the building-renting). Always craning over to see your partner across the table’s wee businesses is a bit of a drag as-is—I often forget to do it, and thus don’t fully utilise all my opportunities.
Despite this ‘pay the other person one coin to use their building’ mechanism and some competition for buildings, it feels like there’s not much interaction between players. With a two-player you want a little more, unless you’re essentially playing a long, involving game like Through the Ages in which you’re alone with your civilisation except for how there happen to be other people there who sometimes take shit from the card row. (I know there’s a war mechanic in Ages, but it has always seemed a vast waste of time. ‘The only way to win is not to play!!’)
Strategy is a bit unclear in LH:IP. I think by playing it a few more times I could try a few ‘focuses’ /goals and see what happened, but then my partner and I already ended up with more coins than the game provided as-was. I won with 234 to her 233, and at one point a 20p piece had to come into circulation. If we did much better we’d have to raid the piggy bank. I’d be a little interested in optimising my play, but it’d be a numbers game in a sense, rather than a more meaningful strategic choice.
I *quite like* that spatial thinking element of the funky board though. I’d play something else with a similar mechanic for sure.
There are less clunky designed, more engaging quick and medium length two-player Eurogames out there (and on our own shelves), and Le Havre isn’t a port we travel to often. We’ve decided to swap it for Eight Minute Empire, which I’m looking forward to trying.
(…also ‘Inland Port’ sounds silly do they mean river connected like London or…)