You like being the harbour master, but getting in a rousing game of Le Havre is difficult because of the average playtime of one and a half to three hours and you want to get in a rousing game over lunch. Plus, sometimes only one person will dare to take you on. If only there was a more streamlined two-person variant, just like the All Creatures Big and Small variant of Agricola, things would be great.
Good news, there is! Based on the original Le Havre, Le Havre: The Inland Port is a streamlined variant of Le Havre that can be played by two people in thirty to forty-five minutes, allowing you to get a rousing game, or two, in over your lunch break as you both vie for the title of Habour Master — an important title given the importance of ocean logistics, cross-dock, and warehouse management in your supply chain.
As with All Creatures Big and Small, The Inland Port is simpler to learn than the full game, but is just as hard to master, especially since there are 31 building tiles and you will be able to play at most 12 each during the course of the game, and the order of play can change each game (as can the order of availability if you play a full random game).
As in regular Le Havre, the game consists of a fixed number of rounds (12 to be precise) and each round consists of a fixed number of turns (equal to 3 in the first 3 rounds, 5 in the next 3 rounds, 7 in the following 3 rounds, and 9 in the final 3 rounds for a total of 72 turns in all). As in regular Le Havre, one player has more turns than the other in each round, but each player still gets the same number of turns by the end of the game. However, the variable number of turns dictates that, in each round, one player will have one less chance to use available buildings, including two buildings that will become unavailable for use by the end of the round.
Le Havre, The Inland Port reduces the time and complexity required in the game by cleaning up the 3-biggest time crunches in Le Havre
- Replenishment and Upkeep
In Le Havre, at the end of every turn, available supplies are replenished and a lot of time is spent updating available inventory (and unlocking buildings now available for use). In The Inland Port, there is no replenishment phase as all supplies are increased (and decreased) through the utilization of available buildings (or the purchase thereof)
Although this is an important mechanic, as it represents the real-world need to maintain enough cash-flow to pay your workers, it is a time consuming one. In Le Havre, the feeding requirement is eliminated, but the net effect (of decreasing your cash reserves and/or food supply) is compensated for with the forced-sale mechanism. Any building that is built must be sold within 5 rounds at a loss equal to half of its value.
- Resource Collection and Usage
In regular Le Havre, when you use a building to take an action, you are often increasing or decreasing your available resources and moving a lot of resource markers around. In The Inland Port, you keep track of your resources using a resource board which only requires you to move a single resource marker to a different board location when a resource is acquired or disposed of (to buy a building, for example).
These three modifications, combined with the fact that a player has only two action choices on his turn — use an available building or build (or buy) one (along with the ability to sell an existing building at any time) — make gameplay fairly rapid once the basics of the game are understood by both players (and both players are familiar with what each building fundamentally does). The difficulty in this game is not in playing it, it’s figuring out what to do when to maximize your wealth. Proper building acquisition, utilization, and resource disposal sequences can generate tons of wealth (and a player can easily accumulate 200 Francs by the end of the game if she knows what she is doing and is not impeded by her opponent). On the other hand, poor choices will leave the player relatively cash poor throughout most of the game.
In order to maintain some complexity and keep the game challenging, The Inland Port maintains the unit concept, and extends it to all base goods. So, just like you’d waste one unit of energy using coal to power a building that took two units of energy (if you did not have two wood available), if you only have a 3-block of resources, and only need 1 or 2 units, you will have to over-utilize. This dictates the need to balance the utilization of buildings that give you 3-blocks of resources with the utilization of buildings that give you multiple units so as to maximize your resource utilization.)
Each building in The Inland Port:
- moves one or more good counters a multiple of one unit or three units,
- generates Francs,
- exchanges Francs and/or resources for other resources,
- sells one or more resources for Francs (at the end of the game), and/or
- increases your wealth.
The amount of goods and/or Francs generated, exchanged, and/or sold varies according to the building type and each building available for use can be used 2 to 4 times by a player on his turn, depending on how long it has been available. (A building, which can only be in play for five rounds, can only be used in at most four rounds as it can not be used the round it is played. It can be used up to 2 times in the following, round, up to 3 times in the round following that, and up to 4 times in the final two rounds it is available for use. Finally, if used in the last round it is available, it also generates 1 Franc.)
It’s a complex little game, and one that will force you to balance your strategic planning and resource utilization skills, as your plans might not always come to fruition — just like wrenches get thrown into your supply chain at the most unexpected of times.