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… 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.