Tag Archives: Seiji Kanai

White Wedding – Love Letter review

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


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Spellbound – Cheaty Mages! review

Cheaty Mages COVER

Seiji Kanai is one talented guy. Not content with being responsible for the breakout hit of last Essen – Love Letter – he’s now returned with what I hope will be seen as the next step for gamers looking for something accessible but a little meatier to play. Released at Spiel this year through AEG, Cheaty Mages! promises to be another quality release from this partnership, despite the very silly name.

Now, while the name might be silly, it’s actually a perfect description of what the game’s about. You and your fellow players are mages, betting on which of five mythical creatures are going to win in a free-for-all battle. However, with magic comes great responsibility – or in your case, the ability to try and skew things how you want, turning the tide in favour of your selected fighters and making things difficult for the others. In other words, being cheaty, which is the best non-word of 2013. Forget selfies, it’s all about being cheaty, folks.

Before the battle begins – and you’ll play through three during the game – you must do a few things. First of all, see which of the fighters takes your fancy; each one has a Power number, essentially showing their strength, and whoever has the highest at the end of the round will be declared the winner. Second, look at the cards in your hand and see what abilities you have. Generally, you’ll be playing spell cards on the fighters that will have a positive or negative effect on their Power, but each card also comes with a Mana Cost – more on that in a moment. Finally, take your Betting Cards and decide who will receive your support.


The more powerful the fighter is at the start of the round, the less money they’ll earn you if they end up as a winner.

Now, this is a big decision and you can either play it safe or go all in. You’re not actually betting any money in Cheaty Mages!, just putting yourself behind who you think will win. Your selected Betting Card (or cards) will go face down in front of you, and should you have made the right decision you’ll receive a certain amount of cash that is shown on each fighter. You can bet on more than one fighter, but doing so reduces the amount of money you’ll potentially get. Should you only select one and they end up victorious, you get double their prize value. Choosing two gets you the amount stated, and three cards brings in half the stated amount – basically, spreading your bets around brings in a lot less money, and in a game where there are only three rounds it’s tough to make your way back if you take an early bath.

So you’re looking to balance your chosen fighters against the spells you have in your hand. When your turn rolls around, you get the chance to add a card to the line next to any fighter you like, play an instant that may do anything from ruin the chances of a player to knocking one of the fighters out of play, or pass (in which case you’ll take no further part in that round). Oh, and there’s also the judges who need to be taken care of.


Only one Judge presides over each round but they have a major effect on the way the game is played.

Did I not mention them? At the start of the round, a single Judge card is flipped that will have a major effect on how the Mages will play. Some outright ban the use of some spell types, meaning that you could potentially be boned for a round unless you do some clever manipulation of what you have in your hand. Others are a bit more relaxed, allowing for some crazy plays which can result in some excellent battles. Many of them also decree a Mana Limit, meaning that if any of the fighters have spells by them that equal or exceed this amount, they’ll either have the spells removed, returning them to their base number, or be exiled from the fight totally.

The mana limit is a brilliant idea as many of the spells you and the other players add to the table will be placed face down. You may discard a card on your turn to check out all face down cards next to one of the fighters, but you’ll find that keeping track of everything that’s going on can be something of a challenge. For what on first look seems to be a simple card game, there’s actually a lot of moving parts to take care of, so winning is far from easy.


That number in the top right, the Mana value, is vital. Keep track of the totals or you’ll find your bets quickly become worthless!

The huge amount of configurations offers much replayability; combinations of different fighters and Judges along with what you hold in your hand brings to mind the cliche that no two games will be same, but in the case of Cheaty Mages! this actually rings true. Add in the fact that a full game, even with a maximum of six people, takes half an hour at most and you’ll find yourself setting up for another game the moment one comes to a close.

As you’d expect from an AEG game, the production quality is high – they’ve really made an effort in recent years to ensure their products are well made, and this is one that shines. Sure, it’s difficult to screw up a card game, but there are plenty of companies out there who have done so. Mercifully, Cheaty Mages! comes on a decent cardstock and the money tokens are on a sturdy punchboard. The art of the original Kanai Factory release has been largely kept, lending the game a really unique look and style that brings out plenty of discussion. The groups I’ve played it with have been largely positive about how the game looks, and I’m sure that it’ll win over plenty of fans when it becomes more widely available.

In short, this is another winner from AEG. Yes, it’s a small box card game that many people may overlook but seriously, if you see someone playing a copy, ask them for a quick demo. Sit in for a round and you’ll be hooked immediately. I’ve found that many people work their way through that first round, then have a moment of revelation where they discover there’s so many options at their disposal that their brain has a bit of a shudder. Then, once round two starts, everything gets cut-throat in the very best way, and everyone will want a copy of their own.

Cheaty Mages, designed by Seiji Kanai, was originally released through Kanai Factory back in 2008. Japon Brand brought it to Essen in 2012 and the AEG version was released there this year. Between three and six players can get involved, with games taking thirty minutes at most. If you’re in the market for a quick, nasty and charming little game that can go anywhere with you, I can’t recommend this one highly enough!

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Episode 68 – Essen 2013 Day Zero – The Show Before The Show!

In something of a turn against what I’m used to when attending events in the UK, security at the Messe for Spiel 2013 were utterly delightful and allowed me access to the show floor before it opened to the public. This first episode of the Essen 2013 Specials is a compilation of interviews from the world’s biggest games show on the final set-up day. A quick apology – my mic was playing up throughout the day so the sound is somewhat fuzzy but I hope that the quality shines through!


Direct Download – http://littlemetaldog.podbean.com/mf/web/wxzh7/LMD_Episode68.mp3 (also available through iTunes, of course)

Dennis and Rainier from TF-22 – http://www.tf22.de/

From Japon Brand we have Simon Lundstrom and Seiji Kanai (Seiji Kanai!) – http://japonbrand.gamers-jp.com/

Ludicreations’ own Iraklis – http://ludicreations.com/

Konstaninos Kokkonis from Artipia Games – http://www.artipiagames.com/

The Z-Man himself, Zev Shlasinger – http://zmangames.com/home.php

Designer of CV from Granna, Filip Mulinski – http://www.granna.pl

Owner of MAGE Company, Alexander Agrypolous – http://www.magecompany.com/

R&R Games owner Frank talks about their new games – http://www.rnrgames.com/

The Portal Legend! Ignacy Trzewik – http://portalgames.pl/en/

One episode down, three (possibly four!) to go…



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Triumph of a Heart – Love Letter (Kanai Factory Edition) review

Well, what can be said about Love Letter that hasn’t already been plastered across websites and uttered over tables around the world? The title that started the microgame revolution, Love Letter offers players an incredible amount of game in a very tiny package. Sixteen cards and a few cubes came together in a tiny little red bag and gave AEG something of a surprise hit. You can read my full review of the original version of the game here, but now we have a new build on our hands based upon the original Japanese release by Seiji Kanai. The game was first picked up by Japon Brand and produced in limited numbers, and now AEG has created an amalgam of the two in the Love Letter Kanai Factory Edition. Original Japanese art combined with English language cards and instructions – what more could you want?

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The game remains essentially the same, the main difference of course being cosmetic. The bag that contained the Tempest-based version of the game is gone, replaced with a stylish and small box that holds the whole thing. Opening it up reveals the cards and cubes within, the ‘tokens of affection’ that you and your fellow players will be fighting over as you attempt to woo the Princess. Or Prince! Yes, this version of the game is equal opportunity as can be, containing not one but three royals for you to court; two princesses and a prince.



All three are exactly the same when it comes down to the rules, and while only one will be used during any game, it’s nice to see the options opened up a little. Plus, of course, they look beautiful – the art style throughout is really striking, Noboru Sugiura’s work really making the game stand out.

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This is the full range of cards in the Kanai Factory version. Many are named differently but the actions they trigger are the same – the only big difference is the card at the seventh rank, the Minister. This replaces the Countess from the AEG edition and I’ve found it to be a fantastic switch, truly cruel! Have a closer look:

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Rather than simply being forced to discard the Countess when you’re holding the King or Prince cards, the Minister is far nastier. Should the total ranks of your two cards equal twelve or more, you’re immediately kicked out of the round – sure, there’s the added issue of being kicked out because you’ve randomly picked up something that bumps you over the level, but in a game as quick playing as this there’s little to complain about.

So, is the Kanai version of the game worth picking up? In all honesty, I’d say yes – the addition of the Minister adds a whole new character to consider and makes the game play in a slightly different way. People seem to get more nervous when the round is drawing to a close and he hasn’t made an appearance, and if you happen to be holding him you have major decisions to make on whether to get rid of him or not. Tracking the cards that are in play, working out what’s left over in the deck… it’s a devious little swine. Even now, nearly a year on since the English language release, Love Letter remains my go-to filler game, and this new edition will certainly get plenty of play around my table. Add in the glorious art and the inexpensive price point, and there’s no reason why your collection couldn’t house both.

The Kanai Factory Edition of Love Letter will be officially available worldwide in a few weeks, and copies can be ordered for under £7 at Gameslore. Between two and four players can court royalty in around fifteen minutes.



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Three Little Words – Love Letter review


Let us join the thronging crowds and talk about the small but perfectly formed New Hotness that is Love Letter! Originally released through Japon Brand, it was picked up quickly by AEG and added to their Tempest game-world (the fourth release under the banner, in fact), and now this tiny game has captured the hearts of nigh on everyone who has had the chance to try it out. Considering the fact that there’s only twenty cards and a bunch of cubes in this package, you may initially wonder what all the fuss is about – then you get to play and swiftly realise that there is an awful lot of gameplay inside the red velvet(ish) bag…

The story behind Love Letter is that the Princess of the city state of Tempest, distraught at the arrest of her mother (at the end of the first game in the series, Courtier) has locked herself away and refuses to see anyone. Players act as potential suitors, attempting to cheer her a little by using members of the household to pass messages of love to her; successfully winning a round nets you a ‘token of affection’ that looks remarkably like a red cube. Manage to get a certain amount before anyone else and victory – as well as the Princess’ heart – is yours.

Gameplay is incredibly quick and rounds take, even at their longest, only minutes. Sixteen cards are used in play (the remaining four being very helpful crib sheets), one of which is dealt to each player. Another is removed from play, adding an element of randomness that could well put a spanner in your deductions. Each turn will see a player take a card from the deck, meaning they have two in hand; at this point, they must discard one face up and follow the instructions written upon it. The eight different character types have abilities specific to themselves and can be found in differing amounts; there are five Guards, for example, who can allow you to knock an opponent out if you manage to guess what card they’re holding. As you go up the ranks through the Priest and Baron all the way up to the Princess herself, you’ll need to be sneaky and cunning to be the last one standing in order to catch Her Majesty’s eye.

Our characters, each of whom will do their best to get your billet-doux to its destination...

Our characters, each of whom will do their best to get your billet-doux to its destination… Pretty cards, aren’t they?

I often hear games described as ‘elegant’, a word I find somewhat curious when it comes to stuff we play – however, having spent plenty of time with Love Letter I now have something where I reckon that it’s an ideal definition. This is gaming stripped down to its simplest, a bare minimum, and it’s a wonderful experience. There’s so much room for analysis, such a vast array of configurations that can happen, and yet you will only ever have two options in front of you. Each card you play provides your fellow suitors with that little bit more information, but there’s always plenty that you can do in order to trip them up. The Countess, for example, must be played if you also hold the King or one of the Princes, but having one of them isn’t necessary to put her on the table. Deception and deviousness is the order of the day in Love Letter, and getting caught out when another exposes you is gutting. Mercifully you’ll be back in play in mere moments…

Of course, sometimes you can paint yourself into a corner – it’s entirely possible that a situation can arise where the cards in play will see you having to knock yourself out of a round (I’ll leave it to you do discover precisely how that can happen!) but it’s a rarity and never feels cruel. Of course it helps that rounds speed by, so being eliminated is never a major issue. In fact, I’ve generally found that once one player is knocked out the round draws to a conclusion quite quickly. It’s a perfect filler that doesn’t outstay its welcome, accessible to players of all levels. The only people I can’t recommend it wholeheartedly to are those who only ever play games for two – there’s just a little bit too much randomness in there if only a couple are involved – but with three or four Love Letter is absolutely golden. The fact that you should be able to pick up a copy for under seven quid (or $10 for our American cousins) says to me that every collection should be able to boast a copy of this little gem of a game.

Love Letter was designed by Seiji Kanai and originally released by Japon Brand in 2012 – the AEG edition was also a 2012 release having first seen the light at Essen. Between two and four can play and games will normally take about twenty minutes to half an hour. Should you want a copy – and why wouldn’t you? – head to Gameslore where you’ll be able to get one for a bargainous £5.99! Lovely.


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