Monday, April 29, 2013

More than Meets the Eye - A Review of Love Letter

Love Letter, designed by Seiji Kanai and published by Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG), is one of the biggest surprises to hit my gaming table...I was going to write, "in a while" but I'm instead going to write, "possibly ever", possibly ever.  It is game number four in the Tempest Shared World Game Series, a collection of games whose locations and characters are part of the same created universe, supports 2-4 players, and plays in around 20 min.

The object of Love Letter is to get your letter to the Princess Annette while stopping your opponents from doing the same.  The entire game consists of a rule book, thirteen or so little wooden cubes used for score keeping, and 20 cards (16 game cards and 4 reference cards), all of which fit nicely inside a pretty little red pouch.

That's it.

Here's how you play:  In a two player game, you shuffle the cards, remove the top card from the deck face down, and flip over the top three cards face up so both players can see them.  Then you deal each player one card.  In a 3-4 player game, you skip the step where you flip over the top three cards face up.  Then each player is dealt a card, play moves to the left, and on your turn you draw a card, play a card.  You earn points by having the highest card in your hand when the draw pile runs out, or by being the last player standing in the round.  In a two player game you are trying to earn seven VP (red cubes), three/five, four/four.

That's it.

Doesn't sound like much, I know, but you need only play a few rounds before it's clear that there is more to this game than meets the eye.  Each character has a unique power, e.g. the Priest who allows you to peek at another players hand, or the King, which lets you switch hands with a player, and the way the cards interact is so interesting that players always feel like their decisions matter and constantly keeps them engaged.

Here's an actual example of part of a round I played recently:

My opponent played the Priest on me, which forced me to reveal that I had the Princess card in my hand, the highest number card in the game but her power forces the owner to lose if they ever discard her.  On my opponents next turn she played the King, which forced me to switch hands with her.  I ended up with a lower numbered card and she took the Princess from my hand.  Victory for her, right?  Nope.  On my next turn I drew a Prince card.  The Prince's power is to force an opponent to discard  their hand and draw a new one. Guess which opponent I chose?  In three rounds my opponent went from a mediocre hand to holding the top card in the game to eliminated.  This type of topsy turvy game play happens all the time, and it creates a great balance between strategy and luck.

I have played this game as both a two player and a four player game, and both have been tons of fun, although I think the game works better as a 3-4 player game because you have more options.  As an example, the Guard lets you guess another players hand and, if you guess correctly, you eliminate that player from the round.  In a two player game I guess the hand of the person sitting across from me.  Whom do I choose in a four player game?  The person I think is going to win that round?  The person currently in the VP lead?  The person who eliminated me last round?  Three and four player games let the card powers play off of each other and create dynamics that the two player game simply doesn't (at least not as often).  That being said, this game still plays really well with two players and I wouldn't hesitate for an instant to do so.

So there you have it.  Love Letter, which will probably set you back around $10 (totally worth it) or if you are buying a game online you may be able to tack it on for cheaper than $10 without paying extra shipping (that's what I did, sorry FLGS), is fast, easy (to learn and play, not win), and tons of fun. Worth every penny and then some.

Side note:  I don't normally sleeve my cards, but there are so few of them in this game and they all get handled all the time, so I am going to do so.  You may want to as well.