The Cardboard Hoard: Review of Harbour

The Cardboard Hoard: Review of Harbour

Harbour is a small-box game of market manipulation and city building, designed by Scott Almes and published by Tasty Minstrel Games in 2015.  In the game, players will compete to earn the most victory points by buying buildings, which they will afford by shipping four different types of goods. They will get more goods by visiting buildings -- buildings they own, their opponents own, and buildings in the market row -- with their lone worker.  While the game is, at its core, quite simple, the shifting market, abilities on the building cards, and (optional) special player powers, all add significant levels of complexity.

The showpiece of the game is its shifting market.  There are four types of goods -- fish, livestock, wood, and stone -- and each will start the game at a certain demand, from two to five, and a corresponding value.  If the demand for fish is five crates, a player that sells fish on that turn will get $5 to purchase buildings with. However, when a player sells five crates of five, the demand for fish will slide down to two, meaning the next player will be able to sell two crates of fish, but only get $2 for the sale.  Of note is that when you sell goods, you must meet or exceed the demand, and you must sell all of the goods you have of that type, so a player with three crates of fish will lose all three crates to fulfill an order of two crates, and will still only get $2.

This ever-changing market creates a very tactical game, where players must not only keep track of their goods, but see which goods their opponents are stockpiling. While it can be frustrating when a preceding player sells and shifts the market, foiling your plans for your upcoming turn, it is quite satisfying to predict their move and collect the goods that, while not in demand currently, will give the biggest payout when your turn comes back around.

The market is not the only interesting variable in Harbour. There are 36 unique building cards in the game. At the start of the game, buildings will be placed out equal to the number of players plus three. These will make up the available action spaces for each player to travel to, in addition to the space on their player board. Some buildings will give players goods, some will convert goods to other goods, some will allow players to manipulate the market, and some will allow purchasing actions. As buildings are purchased and taken by players, new buildings will be put out to the center, increasing the number of options for worker placement. Other players are still able to go to a building you control, but must pay a toll of one good to you.

The buildings also have icons on them that grant their owner special abilities, such as the coin icon, which reduces the cost of future buildings by one, and the top hat icon, which allows a player to visit opponents buildings without paying a toll. This means that when looking to buy a building, you need to factor in the building’s cost, the victory points it is worth, the action it provides, as well as the abilities its’ icon grants.

Due to the randomness of drawing the buildings from a deck of cards, each game will play out quite differently, as players will be able to acquire certain goods more easily than others, or will be able to manipulate the market in certain ways they could not in other games. This is a main source of replayability in the game. The character sides of the fourteen player boards also help increase replayability, as each character starts with different icons, has a different action available on their player board, and has a unique special ability. For example, the Travel Agent has a special ability stating "When an opponent uses another player's building, you gain a good of your choice," and starts with the anchor and warehouse icons.

Pros: A market manipulation game with a good amount of depth that also successfully blends in elements of worker placement and city building, in a very small package. A number of advanced modes of play to help increase variability and replayability -- including the character player boards, bonus point cards for stockpiling certain goods, and the inland traders side of the market board. Features a solo play mode.

Cons: The shifting market can be unintuitive and tricky to teach to new players. Selling to the market can be cutthroat, and more directly interactive than some players like. At higher player counts, the game can become too chaotic and impossible to plan even for the short term.

While not a perfect game, and ideally suited to play with less than four players, Harbour packs quite a punch in such a small package. This should not be a surprise coming from designer Scott Almes, who has made a name for himself designing the popular “Tiny Epic” series of small box games. Harbour is definitely worth picking up for anyone looking for a pocket-sized, interactive Euro that plays in under an hour, especially considering it has an MSRP that is less than $20.

Full disclosure: I received a review copy of Harbour from the publisher.

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