Published on June 25th, 2014 | by Luke Turpeinen3
Harbouring a Love of the Microgame
A Review of Harbour by TMG
As we’ve said before, both here and on Twitter, 2014 really will be the year of the micro-game. As board games become more popular and capture more attention from consumers, some games will begin to be more finely catered to smaller populations. Micro-games are board games that use smaller components and are generally more compact than their larger siblings. They get really great reception from gamers because of their easy-to-transport nature and the fact that they deliver the same great game play while requiring much less table space.
Harbour is the most recent micro-game from Tasty Minstrel Games that has achieved great amounts of success on Kickstarter. We received an advance prototype copy of the game for review and were really happy with what we’ve played.
Harbour, in most respects, is a straight forward worker placement game with a market mechanic. There is nothing complicated or overwrought in the rules, in fact they are incredibly simple. You get only one worker and on your turn you place it in an empty building that is on the board, then perform the building’s action. That’s it. While that may not seem like much, the player interaction in the game- the pych outs, the feints and the power plays- are really what make Harbour a strong competitor in the board game market.
Each player is a merchant trying to make money off of four different resources: wood, stone, fish and livestock. You then ship your goods, getting value for them based on the current market price and can buy a building if you have enough cash. Once a player gets four buildings then everyone else gets one more turn before the game ends. The player who controls the buildings with the highest total victory point value wins.
Let’s face it, the market is what really makes Harbour interesting. You can’t horde gold in this game like you can others, the turn you ship is the turn you buy and you can only use money that you generated in that turn. That means that most of your time is going to be spent on running around, getting the minimum shipping requirements to get the biggest payout possible for the best building currently available for purchase. Except for the catch: whenever a player ships goods, those goods become the least valuable in the market standing- effective immediately.
With this volatile market, players are encouraged to tactically ship goods that they don’t need just in order to mess with other people. Or maybe you choose to buy a building of lower victory point value this turn (instead of waiting another turn to get the one your really want) just to block another player’s move and make them waste three turns just to get back into the game. As someone who likes quickly paced games that allow you to mess with the other players’ strategies, I really enjoyed Harbour. I’ve never played a worker placement game where I was so interested in what the other players are doing and trying to mete myself into their business in-game.
Another thing that really helps Harbour’s replay value are the player cards. Each player has a card that comes with a special building. These buildings typically give a resource or two when you go there, or have some other strange effect. You can place your worker on other players’ buildings but must pay them a good of your choice to do so, which makes a nice balancing factor. These special cards also usually give a passive benefit to the player as well (like letting you keep excess goods when shipping a resource) and interesting asymmetric passive benefits are one of my favorite game mechanics ever.
As you may be able to tell, I love Harbour a lot. When the copy I bought on Kickstarter comes in, it’s going right next to Euphoria and Suburbia in my “favorite eurogame” section of my game shelf. Harbour’s mechanics are extremely well thought out, fun and engaging and you should back it. If you’ve ever liked a board game, I am 95% sure you’ll like this game.
That said, I did want to call attention to the theme of the game, as that’s something important to me. Harbour’s theme is not my favorite. Most cards in Harbour are things like “Bait Shop” and “Tavern”, none of the resources are fantastical, and half of them are the ever-present wood and stone. If it weren’t for the great card art you would never know it’s a fantasy themed game- not even by its name. I feel that at the very least the buildings could be things like “Goblin Steve’s Bait Shop” and “The Stony Crow Tavern” if not even more story-heavy titles. None of this affects gameplay, but it’d be nice to have the game elements more fully integrated with the theme.
Overall, Harbour is a fantastic game that is fast-paced, easy to learn and has tons of replay value. It’s Kickstarter page is live and already funded over 600% at the time of writing this article. There is one pledge level: $20 gets you the game and all the stretch goals. With the Harbour’s ever-growing success, there will be a lot of added cards and Kickstarter exclusive features.