Friday, January 13, 2017

Nachos Grande's Friday Game Review: HARBOUR

Welcome to the second edition of my Nachos Grande's Friday Game Review.  For today, we are going to take a look at the game Harbour, a market management game from the TMG company.

Harbour is designed to be played with 2 - 4 players and it takes about 45 minute to play a game.  The rules of the game aren't terribly complicated (if you've played similar games) but this game definitely isn't for a novice gamer.

Harbour's main game play mechanic is the market - and it can be manipulated by both players in many different ways.  In the game, you might think you are all set to purchase a high scoring building on your next turn only to see the market completely switched around (making your valuable goods mostly worthless) before your turn arrives again.  New gamers probably won't like that aspect much, but more seasoned gamers will realize that tension between simply "screwing over" another player versus actually progressing your own game play.

Harbour comes with 36 building cards, 20 wooden goods tokens, 14 player character cards, 4 wooden player pawns, and a market board.  My copy of the game also came with a Harbour Master card (basically a "trophy" for the winner to hold until the next game is over), 4 bonus cards for additional game play options, and a promo for Belfort, a different game by the same TMG company (a game I have never played as of this writing).  Finally, you also get a sheet of stickers - you need to apply 20 stickers to the wooden goods tokens (though the wooden tokens are color coded to begin with - so you could skip the stickers altogether).

The game of Harbour is set in the port of Gullsbottom.  In the game, players act as entrepreneurs who will collect and exchange goods, manipulate the market, and buy as many buildings as possible in the harbour.  The player who has the most valuable properties at the end of the game wins.

The set up for Harbour is quite simple.  Each player needs a player card (or you can use the "wharf" side of any player card if you want everyone to have equal footing in the game).  Then you give each player one token of each color and you randomly place one token of each color on the market board (which determines the original pricing for the various good types).  From there, you flip over some building cards (different number depending on the number of players) and then you play.  Nice, quick set-up.
An example of a two player game in progress.

Although the game may appear complicated, it really isn't.  Basically, on your turn you have two main options.  Either move to a building (and do whatever that building says to do) or go back to your home "base" and purchase a building (using the current pricing of the market board).

As an example, if you chose to move your marker to the Trader's Guild card as shown above, you would gain one wood in your own shipyard and then you would swap two of the market markers around, ideally in a way that will benefit you and simultaneously slow down your opponent(s).

Another example, some building simply allow you to stock up on a particular item.  The Fish Market (shown above) basically has you lose X goods of one type and then allows you to gain X+1 fish.  In essence, you are trading in unwanted goods for a bunch of fish.  It works with the theme - and the game play mechanics.

When you wish to buy a building (from the face up choices only), you pay the cost in the upper right corner.  That building is then worth a certain number of victory points (as indicated by the star in the upper left corner).  Each building also has a specific advantage built into it, for example, the fish market has a warehouse icon (in the middle-right of the card) which means you get to keep one shipped good for each warehouse symbol you own.  Other advantages include anchors (as seen on the Traders Guild), Top Hats, and Coins (coins reduce the cost to buy future buildings by $1 per coin).

The game Harbour requires you to manage both the main marketplace, but also the buildings that you buy (both in terms of their bonuses but also their victory points).  There is a lot to keep track of (and a lot of reading what each card does) but the actual game play isn't too complicated.

The Bottom Line:

  • Interesting take on a new game mechanic
  • Compact box makes taking the game on the road easy
  • Great art, quality components
  • Fun, quick game


  • The game felt too quick for two players
  • The game wants to be more strategic than it really is
  • Certain cards are almost always good no matter the market situation (which makes the cards too valuable)
  • Not a lot of variety in what the cards do

Overall score (out of 100):

I had a fair bit of fun playing Harbour, at least at first.  However, we quickly realized that certain cards were "too good" to make the game fun.  Also, there are a bunch of character cards but they don't seem to be very well balanced.  I recommend simply using the wharf side so that everyone is on equal footing there.

For me, Harbour didn't have the long-lasting impact that I hoped it would have.  I played a bunch of games with my brother - I think he liked the game much more than I did.  I do appreciate the art and the quality of the components though...and I also like that the main game play mechanic in Harbour is something that is rather unique to most games I've played.  That part was a lot of fun to mess around with!

I would recommend Harbour only to those who have more seasoned gamers to play with.  I think most inexperienced gamers will be frustrated by all of the reading (and re-reading) they need to do for all of the various buildings in play.  That said, if you don't mind a slightly slower paced game with lots of reading, you'll probably enjoy Harbour.


Matt Stupienski said...

Nice review. Never played this one, but I don't think I'll be picking it up after this review. I'm not a fan of 'stickered' components... even though I know you said they are already color coded, stickers still bother me and eventually wear out.

I do like the theory behind the ever-changing market, though I think the best implementation of it would be something slightly more randomized and less player controlled than this sounds.

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