You just want your letter of undying affection to reach the princess. Too bad you’re living in a revolving door comedy where your heart-felt confession changes hands faster than a dollar bill at a toll booth. This is Love Letter!
Designed by Seiji Kanai, Love Letter is delightfully simple. Every player has a letter that they have given to someone in the royal court in the hopes that it will reach the princess, who is (naturally) locked away in a tower. Each player has one card representing who within the court is currently holding their letter. On your turn you must draw a new card and play one of them. This means that your job as a player is to choose who of the two available patrons you want to hold your letter and which one you want to sabotage the other players.
And that’s it! Seriously! This game has only sixteen cards in the entire deck!
It takes about five minutes to read the rules and you’re off to the races. Honestly,we needed a few rounds to get the hang of the game just because we refused to believe it could be that straight forward. Yet as we played we discovered that this game has some wonderful nuances and card interactions that give it depth and complexity despite the minimalism. Lower powered characters like Soldiers and Clowns are common and allow you to figure out other player’s hands, and higher power cards like Generals, Knights, and Wizards allow you to use that knowledge to get ahead.
My personal favorite is finding out the other player’s hand with Clown. If they have a weaker card, you can knock them out of the round with Knight. If they have a stronger card, you can force them to trade with General. The challenge is to keep track of who has what card, who has played what, and thereby make educated guesses to determine what they might have drawn.
Love Letter is an exciting game because there is never a clear winner. Even when you are in a good position, the other players have many ways of getting ahead, many of which require some gambling and guesswork. The game goes in quick rounds, and the winner of each round get a red “token of affection.” (How cute is that?) Based on the number of players, a certain number of tokens are needed to win the game and the first person to meet the quota has won the princess’ heart.
The game was originally published as part of a larger game universe called The Tempest. The card art was altered to suit this setting, and so many readers may be more familiar with the look and naming conventions of the original release.
However, I encourage you all to check out the limited edition, which features the art Kanai originally intended for the game. It also included several options for the object of your affection which turns this hetero-normative game in a decidedly more nebulous direction.
So we’re giving Love Letter a big thumbs up for easy to learn rules, dynamic and unpredictable game play, and a limited edition that’s actually worth getting. This is a game we pull out and play with our non-gamer friends, as well as a nice casual diversion to keep the hardcord crowd entertained while I’m setting up remarkably less user-friendly games. ( Mansions of Madness, anyone?)
Recommended: 2 for a “sudden death” metagame, 4 for a more chaotic “will-they-or-won’t-they” atmosphere.
Skip-a-Turn Variation: Revolving Door Comedy: As you play cards explain how your letter left their possession and how you blackmailed them into sabotaging the other players. By the end of the round you’ll end up with a remarkably convoluted story of intrigue and scandal. GASP!