Some games you just hear so many good things about that you are forced to try them yourself. Le Havre was a game like that for me.
Le Havre is all about money. Whoever has the most money at the end of the game is the winner. Each round consists of seven player turns. Each player (on his turn) will move his ship to the next "supply tile", thus adding more goods to two of the "offer" piles. After this, the active player can perform a single action - he can either take all of the goods from a single offer pile, or he can move his piece to a building, thus performing it's action (you must move your piece - thus you cannot use the same building twice in a row). Other things that a player can do on his turn (that don't cost an action) include buying a building, selling a building, or repaying a loan. After the player has performed his action, play moves on to the next player. Once the seven player turns are completed, the round ends (notice that each player will not get the same number of turns each round), and the players are forced to pay a certain amount of Food (or take out a loan to cover the missing Food). Play continues with the next player's turn and the game continues until all of the rounds are played. After all the rounds are played, each player gets one final action (in which they make as much money as humanly possible and can use a building that has an opponent's piece in it). Finally, all that remains is adding up how much money a player has between cash on hand and value of buildings owned.
The first thing that I like about Le Havre is that all player's don't have the same number of turns each round. I don't think that I've ever played a game with this mechanic. Yes, it may feel a bit unbalanced if you don't get as many turns in a round where you are desperately trying to accomplish something. But, the game is setup so that each player has the same number of turns in which he gets an extra action, so the game does actually balance out fairly for all of the different players. Learning to capitalize when you have an extra action (or still manage to get enough food when you are short an action) is a key factor in winning the game.
The next thing that I like about Le Havre is that all of the options available to you for your action are good actions. The key is in finding which action is the best action. For example, there will be some turns in which you are able to collect six or more Fish (one of the goods, which also provides one Food) from the "offer" space. However, do you need six Fish? They help to feed your people, and that is crucial - but does having six Fish right now help more than using a building that allows you to get different kinds of goods? Or the building which lets you build more buildings? There are very few "bad" options - but whoever is able to capitalize the most on his opportunities will ultimately become the victor.
The third pro that I will mention for Le Havre is how carefully balanced the game (and even it's setup) is. The game is setup differently based on the number of players and whether you want to play with the "full" or the "shortened" version of the game. This ensures the balance of the game, and also ensures that the buildings that are needed appear in a timely manner. You can really feel the hours of playtesting that went into the game. And, speaking of different variants, I really like that you can play a "full" and a "shortened" version of Le Havre - and that both feel like good gaming experiences (you don't feel like you're playing a broken version of the "real" game if you play the shortened version). You can tailor which version to play based off of how long you want to play the game, but either game that you choose will still give you a high quality gaming experience.
The last (detailed) pro that I will mention is the option to both buy and build buildings. This is an example of Le Havre having "multiple paths to victory." (This means that players can have completely different strategies, and yet each strategy has a very valid chance of winning.) The buildings, as an example, can be built by a player who has done a good job of acquiring different resources - which can be challenging. And yet, a player who has done a good job of acquiring money (which is also hard) can just buy the building, and thus still gain the benefits of it (though without having an immediate net gain of victory points - buildings are never worth more victory points than their cost to purchase).
There are several other pros to Le Havre that I really enjoyed and could write about at length - but that would make this review much longer than I would like. So, briefly, I also like:
- Food requires your attention, and yet doesn't have to be your only focus in the game
- The Special Buildings (only used in the full version) help ensure a varied game experience
- The "offer" spaces work well and encourage people to eventually take even less useful goods since they continue accumulating
- The game components are designed well so that each "goods" piece represents two different "goods"
- Forcing players to pay resources to use other people's buildings incentivizes acquiring buildings
- Not being allowed to re-use the same building twice in a row forces gameplay to be varied
- Being able to "block" use of a building by leaving your piece on a building is a nice mechanic
However, with all of that said, Le Havre has a glaring con: Analysis Paralysis. (This is the slang term for when a player has so many options that he can't decide what to do, thus horribly slowing down the pace of a game - and often annoying all of the other players.) I personally am normally not one to subdue to Analysis Paralysis, but I have found myself struggling with this in Le Havre. Early in the game there are only a few options, and thus there isn't much of an issue. However, starting about halfway through the game, there may be 20 or more options. And, do you remember that I said that all of the options are good options? This is really what causes the paralysis to occur. It's pretty easy to eliminate most of the options as "less good", but that still leaves 3-4 very good options that a player will have to decide between. Though each player is only performing one action on his turn, the amount of time to decide on that action may take quite a while to determine. Maybe we should play it with a chess timer... but then I'd have to get a chess timer.... which could be cool in itself.
Overall, I give Le Havre a 9.5/10. I debated only giving it a 9.0, but I do think that it deserves a 9.5. When I think about the number of pros that I am able to name for the game without really even pondering for very long (and the fact that the only con I came up with is "people think too long"), it's hard to not give it a score that is almost perfect. If you're a fan of games like Puerto Rico, Agricola, and Caylus, I would definitely suggest Le Havre.