Tuesday 17 September 2013

Review - Love Letter

Love Letter Card Game

Love Letter
Published by AEG
Designed by Seiji Kanai
For 2 to 4 players, aged 10 to adult

Before I start reviewing Love Letter, I have to give a bit of a shout out to Games Lore, which is the company I bought my copy from. When I put my order in, I went for the Kanai Limited Edition version which has incredible artwork. My order arrived within two days, but unfortunately contained the Tempest edition. I contacted Games Lore, and they immediately arranged to send out the correct version, and they let me keep the Tempest version too. Superb customer service from a great company. If you are in the UK and you want some games, head over to their site and check it out.

Of course, the great thing about having both copies of the game is I can now compare them, and decide which one I like the most.

But the big question is, why did I want the game at all? I'm not a huge fan of card games, and I love games with a lot of theme; so Love Letter  really doesn't look like a good fit for me. However, so many people were raving about the game being good that I just had to try it. Plus, the game comprises just 16 cards and some cubes, making it incredibly portable, and perfect for taking away on holidays. I am also in the process of widening my boardgaming tastes, playing a lot more card games and Eurogames (for want of a better term). And you know what? The game is actually a lot more thematic than you might think.

Oh, it's super cheap too.

Regardless of the version of the game you are playing, the basic concept is the same. The game is played with just 16 cards, each of which depicts a certain character. You start the game with one card. On your turn, you draw another card, and then you must play one of the cards you are holding, applying any special rules on that card. These rules are nicely thematic, and represent abilities that the characters depicted on the cards can do. And that's basically it. People will get knocked out of the round, people will laugh, people will swear.

People will have fun.

If more than one player is still in the round after the turn the last card is drawn, then the player with the highest ranking card wins. Otherwise, the only person who survives the round wins by default.

The winner takes a little red victory cube, and then you play another round.

Incredibly quick, incredibly light, incredibly fun.


First, I played the Tempest edition. This version ships in a cute little bag, and has a tiny little rulebook. The cards have pretty nice illustrations, and are of decent (if not exceptional) quality. I loved the game, but there were two minor issues.

Love Letter - rules
The cute little rulebook.

The first issue was the mocking laughter I was subjected to when I suggested to my all-male game group that we play a game called Love Letter. They thought I had gone mad. But I told them to trust me. I don't normally steer them wrong (I won't mention the 8-player Arkham Horror game I tried to organise once).

So, anyway. I explained it was a quick game, and that they shouldn't be put off by the less-than-manly presentation. They gave it a shot, and the game was loved by everyone. It turned out to be one of the most fun gaming sessions we have had for a really long time.

My other major problem with the game is that bag. It's a cute idea, and it makes the game a bit more portable, but... There's a deck of cards and some wooden cubes in that bag. If you aren't careful, those cards are going to get crushed, creased, folded, and dented. Not a good idea.

Love Letter - Tempest
Tempest edition artwork.

The Kanai Limited Edition version of the game is instantly more appealing to me. It ships in a box for a start (a rather beautiful black and white one). The card art is taken from the original Japanese version, and is a hundred times better (although that's down to taste, I guess), and the cards appear to be better quality. This version also features a different set of characters. For example, the Guard in the Tempest edition is called the Knight in this version.

Love Letter - Kanai edition
Kanai Limited Edition.

Unfortunately, I think this special edition isn't quite as special as it could be. For a start, the rules are presented on a folded sheet of paper, which just isn't as nice as the little rules book in the Tempest edition. And also, the tokens of affection (little wooden cubes) are still just little wooden cubes. It might have been nice to make something a bit more interesting for this release, like love hearts or flowers. Still, even with these minor grumbles, this is the edition to get if you want a beautiful product to play with.

Love Letter - Kanai Edition rules
Folded rules sheet - BOO!

There is also a change to how the game plays in the limited edition. In the Tempest edition there is a Countess card. If you have the Countess plus the Princess, King, or Prince in your hand, you must discard the Countess. This can reveal vital clues about your hand that other players can use to their advantage. But in the limited edition, the Countess card is replaced with a Minister. And the Minister is brutal.

If you ever have the Minister plus either the Wizard, General, or Princess, you instantly lose. That's it. Game over for you.

That rule is a hard sell for some people. It is possible to lose on your first card draw, and there is nothing you can do about it. There are actually many ways to get knocked out of a round in this game, and quite often there won't be anything you can do about it; but with the Minister card, that element of instant elimination is much more prominent, and will potentially put people off if it happens to them straight away.

Love Letter - Kanai Edition artwork
Kanai Limited Edition artwork.

I actually think this single rule change makes both versions of the game worthwhile additions to your game collection.

The Tempest edition is going to be better when you have less players. This is because having less "instant death" card combinations will mean games with fewer players are slightly more tactical, and will last a bit longer. Meanwhile, the limited edition seems to be the better option when playing with four players. The Minister adds tension and excitement, but the high number of players means there is less risk of getting that "instant death" combination, allowing you to ride your luck a bit more, and play the odds.

If I had to recommend only one edition, I would say the limited edition. It is just as portable as the Tempest edition, but has the added protection of being in a box, the artwork really pops, and the Minister seems to make the four-player game more fun (and really, this game is best when you play with four anyway).

It is also worth noting that the limited edition contains two promo cards. These don't add any new rules, but they do give you alternatives for the standard Princess card. There is even a Prince you can send your love letters to, if you want. I am currently thinking there might be some variant to play here, where you have to get your letter to either the Prince or Princess depending on your sexual orientation in real life. Hmm... I'll have to think about that.

Love Letter - promo cards
The artwork really "pops" in the limited edition.

Anyway, the promos are nice, but I think this is another missed opportunity. It would have been really nice if there had been an extra card that had the abilities of the Countess from the Tempest edition. This would have made the limited edition perfect, as you could swap out the Minister if you wanted a slightly less brutal, slightly more tactical game.

All said and done, I strongly recommend any version of this game. I put off playing it for such a long time because I really didn't think it would be for me. Now, I realise; it's a game for everyone.

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