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Subject: [Review] Inland Port: A delightful distillation of Le Havre rss

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Seth Brown
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North Adams
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OVERVIEW
Le Havre: The Inland Port is a distillation of the behemoth Le Havre into a tiny footprint, much faster, 2p only game. It maintains the same concepts of choosing between picking up expanding piles of resources, using those resources to build buildings, and making use of the buildings to gain money.

COMPONENTS IN BRIEF
Each player has a personal warehouse board with 4 resource counters and a turn-tracker board with a spinner. There are also a number of tiny cardboard building tiles, and cardboard money.

GAMEPLAY IN BRIEF
On your turn, you have just two choices:

1) Build a building -- pay the appropriate resources and place a building onto your Zero space. (At end of turn, when the spinner rotates, all buildings on the Zero space will move onto the Two space.)

2) Use a building - pick any building on either player's board. (If you pick opponent's building, pay them a dollar.) Gain the building's benefit N times, where N is the power of the space it is on. (e.g. +1 wood on the 2x space is worth 2 wood.) Then move that building to the Zero space of its current board.

The game plays 12 rounds, with new (better) buildings available to be built each round. At end of game, VP on your buildings is added to your cash reserves to get your final score.

GOOD POINTS

*An impressive distillation of a complex game. I often find myself irritated with "mini" versions of games I like because I feel they cut out too much of the wrong thing. But while Inland Port removes resource refinement (and half the base types, and food tension), it manages to capture the essence of Le Havre -- the tensions between building and grabbing more resources, the game of chicken of how long you can let the resource pile build up before grabbing it, the frustration of an opponent using a building you wanted, and the need to convert your resources into points before the game ends.

*Rondel mechanic is quite clever. The use of the rondel both to mark turns passing and building powers increasing, although it was done before in Ora et Labora. The really neat thing though is that all used or purchased buildings simply jump to the Zero space, making them unavailable this turn but ready at 2x power next turn. Plus you can always see how many turns left in the current round by counting the buildings on the Zero spaces. An additional wrinkle is that the 6th space on the rondel forces you to sell a building at half-price, so if one of your buildings goes unused for 4 rounds even after offering 4x power, you may wish to use it regardless of the resource benefit, simply to prevent yourself from being forced to sell it at a loss.

*Elegant in its fiddliness. Le Havre is an incredibly fiddly game, with lots of things to increment all the time. But Inland Port makes such things easy to track, both with the aforementioned Rondel, and with the warehouse board where moving a cube forward a column is worth +1 resource, and up a row space is +3 resources. It still feels like a game with lots of resources and moving parts, but you don't actually have to do much work, which is lovely.

*The warehouse mechanic adds its own considerations. You may be sitting on 6 wood, but if that is marked by your wood cube being two rows up and still in the first column, you can't make use of a building that lets you move your cube up a row but backwards a column 3 times (a gain of 6 wood, if you had a cube far enough progressed to the right). Likewise, some buildings reward you for paying 4 of a resource by moving your cube down and left. Again, even if you have your fish cube all the right to indicate 10 fish, if it's still on the bottom row, you won't be able to make use of a building requiring downward movement. The result is that gaining 4 wood is not always equal to gaining 4 wood, depending on how the building directs you to advance your cube to mark the gain.

*Game ramps up nicely with new available buildings each round and more turns over time. The beginning of the game has just a few buildings which immediately get purchased. Then your choice in the next round is either use one of the three 2x buildings from last round, or buy one of a few small new buildings. Very simple choices, each player only gets 1-2 turns per round. And then more and better buildings come out, and each player gets 2-3 turns per round, and then by the end of the game, there are two dozen buildings on the board, scattered between 2x power, 3x power, and 4x power, and players get 4-5 turns per round. There's a natural-feeling arc of complexity increasing over the course of the game.

BAD POINTS

*Very dry and mathematical. The absence of a feeding requirement or ship infrastructure turns fish and bread from required food resources into just other building materials. The result is that this is a game about gathering 4 building materials to build buildings (or burn at buildings) to get the most points. This is a resource optimization game, swiftly laid bare almost to the point of abstraction.

*Some have complained that the game lacks heft. I don't personally find it a negative that a game with so many buildings and decisions is just a few (good quality) cardboard building chits and boards in a tiny box. But the components, while elegantly multi-purpose and well-designed for easy readability, do not impress from a "shiny toy value" perspective.

*Some have questioned the replayability of the game. Because the same buildings come out in the same rounds every time you play, some have argued that replayability is likely to be low. I don't share the worry about replayability. In regular Le Havre once the Coliery is built, anyone playing there will reliably get 4 coal, so it drives the strategy. But Inland Port's rondel mechanic means that the buildings function less like Le Havre's buildings, and more like Le Havre's resource piles. The benefit of IP's buildings fluctuates every turn, and consequently I imagine one could easily play dozens of games and never once have the same exact building benefits available to choose from on the final round. Whether that "move any resource up and left" building is on the 2x or 4x space will have a huge difference in your board evaluation.

CONCLUSION

Le Havre: Inland Port is, to me, an impressive feat. As I've mentioned before, my track record with small games that distill larger ones is not very good, and I often find myself vastly preferring the original game. But Le Havre: Inland Port hits the sweet spot for me. While the food tension is removed, that was never the big driver in Le Havre (as opposed to Agricola) especially with loans. And refining 8 types of goods, while fun, was not the core engagement.

The essence of Le Havre -- wondering whether to settle for one fewer resource than you need from that pile, because it might get reset to 0 next turn -- has been maintained. Inland Port has streamlined it down to 30 minutes, and still lets you build up lots of buildings, feel a sense of progress, hoard resources, and use that building your opponent really wanted to use. I'd say this is a solid 2p game likely to hit my table a lot more than Le Havre.

IS IT FOR YOU?

Le Havre: Inland Port is a somewhat dry optimization game. It plays faster than many optimization games, and so some people might be too busy enjoying it to notice, but if the idea of scanning a dozen options of "gain 2a+2b" vs. "gain 3a+b" sounds highly unappealing to you, you may want to give this one a miss. And the components, while sturdy and well-designed, are small and unimpressive if that matters to you.

But if you're someone who enjoys Uwe Rosenberg's longer games but never has time to play them, Le Havre: Inland Port is just what the doctor ordered. Heck, if I had a player unfamiliar with Uwe, I might introduce them to this before full Le Havre. In spite of the short playtime, this game has a really nice flow that I think many people will enjoy.
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Gillum the Stoor
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Nice review of a nice game.

Osirus wrote:
Inland Port removes resource refinement.

I would rather say that it abstracts resource refinement to make it hard to recognize.

You increase base goods by moving a resource counter right.

You increase refined goods (worth triple a base good) by moving a resource counter up.

You refine a base good by move a resource counter up (get a refined good) and left (lose a base good).

Quoting myself from here:
gillum wrote:
The kiln essentially lets you convert raw clay to baked bricks. So you end up with less clay (moving the goods counter left) but more bricks (moving it up).

But if you don't have any clay (the clay goods counter is in column 0), you can't convert any to bricks!

Similarly for Smokehouse (converts raw fish into more valuable smoked fish); Bakehouse (grain to bread); and Sawmill (logs to lumber).
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