So, last weekend it was my fifth wedding anniversary, celebrated with friends and cake – the best way, of course. In addition, a few games were played that included Love Letter, but not the one that’s on general release. No, this one is the one that AEG reserve for weddings, a special edition to celebrate lovely things, complete with the Princess in her white gown and custom white Love Letter bag. I begged and pleaded and the lovely folks at AEG eventually gave in. However, while playing it struck me that we’d never had The Judge’s take on the game – so I asked him what he thought.
Love Letter has been heralded as the game that truly popularised the ‘micro-game’ – that being a fully functioning, ‘gamerly’ game with very few components. I think those plaudits are fair – Love Letter, with its 16 cards and a small handful of red cubes, has indeed raised awareness of this blossoming genre and has, for many people, made them think about how much fun you can cram into a clean and simple game, exploiting a single, simple mechanism.
Many other reviews have attempted to put Love Letter in an historical context – examining its place in the gaming world and examining the ripples it has caused since launching to widespread acclaim in 2012. I’m not going to do that however. I will examine Love Letter in a vacuum and give you my opinion as to how good the game actually is. So with that lengthy preamble…
Love is in the air! The princess is dealing with depression resulting from her mother being imprisoned. What could lift her mood? How about a love letter from a potential suitor? Well that’s where this game begins.
This storyline comes from the AEG Tempest universe – an overarching narrative that provides a theme for several very mechanically different designs. The idea of linking these titles together is a good one – hoping to create a sense of investment in the world and the characters that carries over from game to game. Ultimately, though, and despite an honest try I don’t think the project has worked. In fact, the lukewarm reaction to many of the first wave of titles has actually made me less interested in future games in the series. Nevertheless, Love Letter has become an enormous successful with a particularly unusual theme.
The overall goal is to deliver a perfumed note to a member of the royal family – certainly somewhat unique in a world dominated by fantasy / sci-fi / zombie games. To do this you will employ Guards, Handmaidens, the King and even the Princess herself to deliver your note and discard those of the other players. Except that the whole theme is poppycock and doesn’t hold up to any sort of scrutiny – very much the epitome of ‘pasted on’. It’s a good job, then, that the mechanisms are pretty robust.
Players begin with a hand of one card, which represents one of the members of the court. On their turn, they draw a second card, then play one. The special rule triggered by this character will affect one or more of the other players – perhaps forcing them to reveal their hand, or letting you guess the card of an opponent to eliminate them. Once the draw pile is empty the player with the highest value card in their hand will win. [Or last person standing! – Michael]
The entire deck of 16 contains only 8 different characters, so as cards are used and discarded, the players around the table can deduce what is left and the likelihood that they have the highest ranked card – and will perhaps try to play the deck out. If not, they must try to eliminate the other players to become the winner.
Simple rules. Very easy to teach. Very quick running time. BUT… is their enough game to bother with? YES! But only just.
Love Letter is a very simple deduction game with a huge slice of luck. Knowing what your opponents have in their hand and trying to work this out whilst bluffing and disguising what you may be holding is the core mechanism and 90% of the fun of the game – and this remains good fun for about ten minutes – which is almost exactly the running time for a single game. Unlike purer deduction games, luck does plays a major part in the game flow. The swings and arrows of a player making a fluke guess and eliminating you from the round IS frustrating, and like receiving a knife-edged chop across the chest (only the wrestlers amongst us will understand this reference, but sod the rest of you) it stings, but only for a few seconds. [More Ric Flair references please – Michael]
I will happily play a round or two of Love Letter between larger portions of ‘proper’ games. If that sounds elitist or snobbish, then so be it, but you’re reading this to hear my opinion, and this is a micro game, with a micro running time, and a micro amount of fun. But sometimes, that is just enough.
Love Letter was designed by Seiji Kanai and is currently available from AEG in several different editions, the latest being the Legend of the Five Rings. There’s also an upcoming Munchkin one, due for release later in the year. Between two and four people can play with games taking no more than ten to fifteen minutes. Oh, and should you want to get a copy of the Wedding version, click this link! Oh, and don’t forget to follow everyone’s favourite games writer / wrestler on Twitter: @Judge1979