Review: Love Letter

My board game shelf is filled with lots of games. Not like a ridiculous number… okay, Sarah thinks that it’s a ridiculous number. And lots of my games come in big boxes, containing a big board with lots of pieces that require lots of time to prepare before you even start the game.

For instance, Sarah and I just finished up a round of Pandemic: Legacy this evening, and it took us more than half an hour just for the setup. Now don’t get me wrong, I love these games, but there is something to be said about a game that you can carry around in your pocket, then sit down and start to play within just a few seconds.

Love Letter has become a staple in many gamers’ libraries in the past 5 years for many of those reasons. The original version comes in a small, velvety pouch, and contains just sixteen cards and seven small, red cubes. Yet within this tiny little package is a game that can be taught in just a few minutes and that I am always willing to play.

Sorry Mario, But the Princess Is In Another Castle

Love Letter cards

The premise of Love Letter is probably the weakest part of the entire game. You’re trying to woo the princess with letters expressing your devotion to her, but she has hidden herself away in the castle. You must use those connected to her to get your letter to her, but you will also work to expose the efforts of the other suitors (players) before they can do the same to you. Sure, there are ‘royal’ characters on all the cards, but really, you’ll forget about the theme pretty quickly.

Each player starts with one card which represents one of the people connected to the princess. They each have a number from 1 (the guard) all the way up to 8 (the princess herself) and a ‘power’. On your turn, you will draw a card, and then play a card, using that character’s particular skill. These skills are usually intended to try and eliminate other players, or at least make things more difficult for them. For instance, the Guard card allows you to guess the card of any other player, and if you do so accurately, they are out of that round.

The Prince forces someone (maybe yourself) to discard their card and replace it with a new one from the draw pile. However, as the cards increase in number, their powers become less effective and eventually damaging to yourself. The Countess, for instance, forces you discard her if you ever are also holding the King or Prince, which generally clues the other players in on what you have.

Play continues until all but one player is eliminated or until the draw pile runs out. If the latter happens, all players compare their cards, and whoever has the highest number wins the round and receives a ‘token of affection’ – which is just a small red cube that Sarah and I call bacon bits. The overall winner is determined by whoever reaches a predetermined number of round wins first.

What’s Luck Got to Do… Got to Do With It?

For such a small game, Love Letter packs a strategic punch. When you’re first learning the game, much of the results can be attributed to luck – both good and bad. Perhaps you make a fortunate guess with the guard and quickly eliminate some of your competitors. Or perhaps you have an unfortunate draw and end up with the worst combo hand – two Barons. This forces you to compare hands with another player, and whoever’s card has a lower number is out of the round. As the Baron is a 3, that is often you.

However, once  you’ve played a few times, you begin to develop a few different strategies. You start to notice what cards have been discarded so that you can make better guesses with your Guard. Maybe you bluff and play a King to try to get people to think you have the Princess when really you just have a Handmaid. You can never be perfect in your strategy due to the best rule of the game – before each round begins, one card is removed and placed off to the side. That little extra bit of uncertainty adds yet another level of strategy that keeps you on your toes the entire time.

Love Letter - Priest

All You Need Is Love (Letter)

Love Letter strikes some wonderful balances. There’s a good deal of strategy, but one lucky guess from a Guard card can throw all of a player’s plans out the window. There’s player elimination, but rounds are so quick that you’ll be back in the time it takes to get a drink from the fridge. This all adds up to a game that’s easy to introduce to your friends, family, or co-workers. I mean, how easy would it be to play a couple of rounds of this at lunch? The most you’re holding is two cards, and so you could keep your cards in one hand and keep your fork in the other! I also think that the game would work pretty well for kids, and may even be a great opportunity to teach them about probability and planning.

Love Letter

All in all, I’m not sure that there’s a better value out there in gaming than Love Letter. For less than ten bucks, you’re getting a game that you can take almost anywhere and play almost anytime. In the past few years, the game has been skinned in several different ways, so you can grab versions for Batman, Adventure Time, or the Hobbit. You can even get special copies of Love Letter as wedding favors! But no matter which version you choose, you’ll be getting a great gaming experience that fits in the palm of your hand. Honestly, this might be my #1 recommendation to anyone that doesn’t already have it in their collection.

You can find a copy of Love Letter on Amazon, at Target, or at your local game store.

Highs

  • Great strategy with just the right amount of luck thrown in
  • Incredibly portable – just 16 cards!
  • Lots of different versions to choose from
  • Plays quickly, keeps everyone involved
  • Less than 10 bucks!

Lows

  • Theme feels a bit tacked on (but you won’t really care)