When I was first getting into gaming I would consume episodes of Tabletop just like I consume a double pack of Jaffa Cakes just to see what was out there. Love Letter, however, was one of those episodes that I just skipped over. My philosophy back then was that if it didn’t grab my attention within the first ten minutes or so then I didn’t bother with it. On first watch the theme didn’t grab me, the gameplay seemed simple and, worst of all, where was all the stuff!!! Because, surely the more components the better the game right?
Cut to almost a year later and I’m researching some small games to throw in a backpack to take camping with the family and I come across Love Letter again, except this time I’m a bit more sold on it but not completely. In fact there was a time when I had this in my hand in a shop but after a lot of back and forth with myself I decided against it. It was at this point my daughter got fed up with my nonsense and bought it herself and I’ve got to say I’m really glad that she’s more decisive than her dear old dad. Love Letter is a wonderful little micro game that packs a lot of entertainment into a 16 card deck.
How It Plays
The Rules are simple, you start with one card in your hand and the top card from the remaining cards is discarded from the game face down. On your turn you draw a card and then play a card. You then trigger the effect on the card you just played. There are 8 different characters in the deck each with their own special ability and with a varying number of each in the deck. The Princess for example is the highest scoring card in the game but if you are forced to discard her then you are out of the round, the Prince makes you or any chosen player discard one of their cards and the guard lets you choose a player, name a card that you suspect they have and if your guess is correct then they are out of the game. Each character tells you how many of each of them are in the deck and every played card is played face up to add an element of deduction to the game. The only thing that may throw you off course is that no one knows the identity of the card you discarded at the start of the game. You win a round by either having the highest scoring card when the deck runs out or you are the last person standing, and that’s it. You can extend the game and play the game over a series of rounds and gain a favour token for each win. The number of tokens you need to win depends on the player count.
That all sounds kind of simple
Don’t let the simple gameplay fool you because Love Letter is a lot of fun and a lot of that fun is in the player interaction, it’s the joy you feel when you play a guard and successfully (and normally luckily) guess what card that player is holding and knocking them out of the game, it’s in the fear when you draw the Princess in your first turn and hope beyond hope that no one plays the Prince and makes you discard it and knocks you out of the round. Best above all of this though is the discussion it creates after each round and who had what card and how the kids managed to knock dad out of the round for the third round in a row (yes, this is an all too real example).
Another bonus is the length, yes there is a knockout mechanic but given that rounds last all of about five minutes (even the worst AP players can slow this up) you’ll be back before you know it.
So, it can’t be all good can it?
Well it’s not all love and flirting in the court unfortunately.
First I’ve heard a few complaints that the game can outstay its welcome at the four player count based on the number of favour tokens you need to win (first to seven). However a simple house rule to drop the number of favour tokens needed to win will sort that out.
Second is that I would say that the game maybe doesn’t play as well with two players. With this few players it’s all too easy to knock the other player out within a couple of turns which then has the opposite effect of a four player game and makes the game play out too quickly, which in some situations could be perfect but if you’re playing because you want to avoid helping you’re friend set up something like Twilight Imperium then I’m sorry but you’re going to have to roll up your sleeves and tackle those space lions.
Third for me is the theme. I know it’s set within the Tempest games universe (the TGU?) but other than trying to decide if the prince looks more like Brad Pitt or Robert Redford the theme is kind of superfluous and could well have any theme attached to it, the fact that there are a load of different versions out there with only minimal tweaks to the gameplay only prove that point. If the theme is not an issue for you then this version is more than fine and can easily be found, however if the theme puts you off that much then there other versions out there including Batman, Adventure Time, Lovecraft and more but some of these aren’t as easily available.
All in all if you’re looking for something quick, portable, simple to teach and something you can easily introduce to your non-gamer friends as well as seasoned gamers then Love Letter is definitely worth checking out.