I’ve never done well with a number of Uwe Rosenberg’s “big” games (A Feast for Odin, Agricola, Caverna, etc), which I’m sure is my problem and not his. I can see the good design in them, but they’re just not for me (though I don’t mind Caverna that much).
One of the cool things about him and these games, though, is that he often later creates 2-player versions of them that are slimmed down and perhaps more appealing to those of us who bounce off of the originals.
Le Havre: Inland Port is an example of what I’m talking about, at least thematically (the description says that it shares design elements with Ora et Labora, but I’ve never played that so I couldn’t comment).
Le Havre: Inland Port was designed by Rosenberg with art by Klemens Franz. It was published in 2012 by Z-Man Games.
Yes, I know! A timely review!!! (Editor- you’re going to review Chess next, aren’t you?)
Anyway, let’s see how it works.
Each player is going to get a player dial for their buildings and a resource track to…guess.
Yes, that’s right. Keep track of your resources! Uwe’s always about the resources (to be fair, most other game designers are to some extent too).
You’re going to be using these resources (and money too) to buy buildings each round, and these buildings will be used to get more resources! It’s the Circle of Life, right?
Each round consists of an increasing number of turns. The first round, there are only three turns and the last round has nine. The number of turns is stated in the small number under the letters that are going around your player dial.
There will always be an odd number of turns so the first player will get one more than the other player. However, first player alternates each round so ultimately you will have the same number of turns during the game.
Each round, a set of buildings comes out based on the round’s letter (as shown on the player dial).
These buildings will be available for purchase if you have the resources/money shown at the top.
On your turn, you can either buy a building or you can activate one of your buildings (or pay the other player a franc and activate one of theirs).
If you buy a building, you place it immediately behind the pointer of your dial (behind the white arrow). That building cannot be activated this round.
If you activate a building, you get to use the building a number of times equal to the number in white that’s on the pointer. So for example, using the Farm in the picture above, it could be used twice. The Wood Company could be used three times. You then move the building to the same sector as if you had just bought it.
You can also give your opponent a franc and use one of theirs, following the same procedure.
What do these buildings do?
Most of the time, they let you gain resources, which means you are moving the resource markers on their track in the indicated direction.
For example, the Farm noted above moves the wheat marker one column to the right diagonally upward the number of times it’s activated (so twice in this case). Then it moves one space diagonally down and to the left (essentially removing one of the activations).
Thus in this picture, the yellow cube would go two spaces diagonally upwards to the right, then come back down one space diagonally to the left. It would end up in the 1-3 square (1 horizontal and 3 vertical).
When you need to spend resources, you pay attention to the arrows in the top right corner of the tracker. To spend three of a resource, move it down one space. To spend four, move it down and to the left, etc.
The buildings that you are buying are worth francs at the end of the game, and those are basically endgame victory points. You count the total worth of all of your buildings as well as how many francs you have on-hand.
The game lasts for L rounds (sorry, I mean 12 rounds).
Whoever has the most francs (value and money) at the end is the winner!
Is Le Havre: Inland Port a beautiful French city which tourists flock to? Or is it a hovel on the sea with broken down ships and rusty anchors on the dock?
I like Le Havre: Inland Port well enough, but it’s not a game that I can really get excited about, one way or the other.
I’ve had this review in “draft” form for months because I just couldn’t muster the energy to try and write about a game that I’m just “meh” about. It’s fine, I don’t dislike it, but it’s just kind of there.
Know what I mean?
Let’s do the components first, to get them out of the way.
The buildings are nice and chunky cardboard, and so is the money.
The resource tracker is very easy to use and I found it easy to understand how to use it. The artwork is minimal, but it’s there and it’s the typical Franz good job.
The player dials are nice and vibrant, but not really intuitive at all if you’re examining the game out of the box. The rule book does a good job of explaining how it works as long as you are sort of walking your way through it as you go.
Just looking at them, I couldn’t make heads nor tails how they worked.
I also have to compliment them on providing a building schedule to indicate what buildings are coming up.
It even tells you what you will end up paying for each building!
However, it doesn’t tell you what those buildings do, so you better keep the rule book handy as it does include a guide for each building.
Another good aspect of the game is that it plays perfectly inside of a lunch hour. I think 30-45 minutes is a great time for this, meaning that it doesn’t outstay its welcome (I don’t think I could take it at an hour or more).
Why am I so meh about Le Havre: Inland Port?
It’s really hard for me to put into words.
There is no randomness in the game whatsoever, other than perhaps deciding who the first player is. Even that’s not a big deal, though, as there will be plenty of avenues for you to choose based on what your opponent does.
The same buildings come out at the same time every game, so you’ll always know what’s coming. The decision space just isn’t that big.
Sure, things can get a little messed up. Your opponent could use the building you were intending to in order to increase (for example) their fish resource instead of letting you increase yours. And you wanted that fish for something.
Do you spend the 30 francs to buy the 50-franc Pont du Normandie? Better start getting those buildings that will give you money and hope your opponent doesn’t instead.
There are plenty of ways that the game can go based on the decisions you make and what your opponent does (if they use your building, for example), but it just all felt quite limited.
There is one endgame building for each resource that will give you francs based on how much of that resource you have. Inevitably, you’ll get two of them and your opponent will get two, unless one of you is going for the other high-value buildings instead.
Yes, there are technically multiple choices to make, but in the end you are just getting resources and spending those resources to get buildings or other resources.
That’s where I have trouble, though.
That’s true in so many games!!! So why do I like those (like Century: Spice Road, where you are basically just exchanging cubes for different cubes) and not really care about this one?
The “parent” game for this one and Rosenberg’s other games of a similar ilk (again, Agricola, Caverna, A Feast for Odin, etc) often boil down to the same thing (though in those games you have workers so you’re competing for worker placement spots).
Maybe it’s because there are so many other choices in those games? In Century, you are just trading resources, but your ability to do so and what contracts you are trying to satisfy with these exchanges is constantly changing depending on what cards and contracts are available.
In Le Havre: Inland Port, nothing changes. Your choices dictate what route you take, but both players are trying to reach the same destination. The selection you have is limited and always exactly the same (at least in Caverna, you have a fairly large selection of rooms to build in your cave).
I think my attitude toward this game is that combination of sameness and smallness. I just don’t really feel like I’m doing anything new when I’m playing it. Maybe I’m going for more clay buildings than wood? But you need both to buy most buildings. Do I go heavy into wheat or fish?
One or the other, it will either work or it won’t.
Le Havre: Inland Port is a meh game that I’ll play in a pinch but don’t really feel like I need to play it again.
Which is kind of sad.
Perhaps you feel differently?
Let me know in the comments.
(This review was written after three plays)