Well, if I am doing something different, might as well go the whole way…
Hi everyone, and welcome to my review of Love Letter, including a few alternate versions.
A little bit of site news first. Looking at how different people look at the site, I am trying new layout options to improve how people use the site. So just like how I love to hear what you think about what I write, please let me know what you think of the new layout as well!
Now with that is out of the way, let me tell you about one of the best examples of a micro card game there is, Love Letter.
Love Letter is a game originally released in Japan by Seiji Kanai. While the art style changed with the version I know from AEG, the gameplay remained the same. Only the theme was changed slightly to fold Love Letter into the Tempest series from AEG, which turns each game into a different event or perspective in the city-state of Tempest.
Because it’s a retheming of an existing game, no prior knowledge of any of the other games is required or even necessary. Take Love Letter as its own game and your enjoyment level will confirm this.
The first thing many people will notice is there isn’t much to Love Letter. It’s a bag, 16 playing cards, some cubes, and instructions. That’s it. Because it comes in a little bag and was pretty cheap to buy, I would always hear people passing it over because they wanted “A real game”. To give you an idea of how much I love playing Love Letter, the roses above don’t come with the game – these were the first game components I created with my 3D printer.
So you know I love the game, and you know a bit about its history now. So what about the game itself?
Well, I have left it because the game is so simple. Kind of like Kingdomino last review, it’s easier to teach you how to play it here than try and summarise it.
Firstly, take all 16 cards in the deck and shuffle them well. Then without looking at it, take the top card and put it off to the side. This card, whatever it was, will not be used this round.
Each player then takes a card into their hand. This becomes their starting hand.
There are two ways to win a round of Love Letter – be the last player in the game, or have the highest value card in your hand when there are no more cards to draw.
On each players turn, players then take a card from the draw pile and choose which of the two cards they want to play. On each card is a different set of actions that can be taken, and it’s from these actions that players choose from.
The most powerful and the most dangerous card in the game is the Princess. If you have the Princess in your hand at the end of the round, you are guaranteed to win. However, if you have to play the Princess for any reason, you instantly lose, so learning to mask your hand is a must!
The lowly Guard is also a double-edged sword. If you are holding a Guard at the end of the round, you are almost guaranteed to lose. But if you can name a card that another player is holding, then that player is instantly eliminated.
One up from the Guard is the Priest. If you play a Priest, you can secretly look at another players hand.
One up from the Priest is the Baron. The Baron is an interesting card. You play the Baron, so you have one card left in your hand. As you play the Baron, you pick another player, and you reveal your hands to each other. The Player with the lowest value in the top left corner is eliminated.
Following the Baron is the Handmaiden. Her power is simplest – you can’t be picked for another player’s powers until after your next turn. This guarantees you stay in the game for a little while at least.
Now we start hitting the royal characters. The Prince is also a simple effect – make another player discard their hand, and draw a new card. This can be how the player with the Princes can be eliminated without a Guard naming them.
After the Prince, there is the King. The King has the power to exchange hands with another player, meaning that the two players now know what each is holding. Done at the right time, this can win or lose the game for a player.
And finally, we have the Countess. The Countess seems like the weakest power but is great for messing with other players. The rules on the Countess are simple – if you have the King or Prince in your hand, you must play the Countess. If you don’t have the King or Prince, you can discard it anyway and let people think you have it. It’s great watching people waste turns trying to eliminate you from the wrong information.
So, if you are the last player in the game after a round or have the highest value in the top left corner of your card, you win the round! Your victory prize is a red cube, denoting a Love Letter. In a four-player game, four tokens will make you the overall winner! The number of tokens increases to five and then seven with fewer players.
So as you can see, a very simple game, but one that can be very tense and rarely have I played Love Letter and had people not enjoy it. It may not be a game you would play all night, but it is very versatile in when it can be played. Love Letter was a popular choice during games of Werewolf for players that had been eliminated for example.
And that’s it! With the right equipment, you could start playing Love Letter right now. There are commonly two sticking points with new players however.
The wording on the cards almost universally say to discard cards, but this is usually done when people are playing them. It’s a subtle distinction and not one that has been refined in future versions, but it can cause a stumbling block. To get around this, I usually teach that cards go down in front of you when played, and when you have to put any card in this area the actions take effect. This works for most people that are confused by the wording.
The other initial confusion is almost always the Baron. Every time I see new players start from the rules, they compare the Baron card with another player, rather than the one in their hand. Using the above clarification also usually works in clarifying this as well.
For a game so simple, the interactions and pieces to follow make for a truly satisfying experience. It’s like playing poker, where you think you know all the cards in play and what is remaining, but your never quite sure.
But you don’t need to go the logic deduction route to enjoy Love Letter. This is a great game where you can just draw the cards and see where it leads, and still have a great time playing.
Love Letter is a great game and one I really enjoy playing, as do a host of others. This has been proven by a large number of alternate versions with a retheming similar to what AEG did with the original Love Letter. As such, for versions that are small iterations on the original, I present to you the different versions of Love Letter in my collection!
Munchkin Loot Letter
I have mentioned in the past my love-hate relationship with the original Munchkin card game. While I can only play Munchkin with certain people, I do enjoy the humour of the game, and this transferred to Love Letter beautifully.
If you know how to play Love Letter (which you do now!), then you know exactly how to play Munchkin Loot Letter. The cards are smaller to match those used in the Munchkin game, and the names are different, but that’s it.
There is something I find amusing using a Net Troll to make a player lose their hand, or gaining protection from the Duck of Doom and other creatures with the Wishing Ring.
If you don’t like the renaissance/royalty theming of Love Letter but enjoy Munchkin, grab this version of the game as they are identical.
Yes, the Caped Crusader decided he wasn’t going to be left out of the action!
Similar to Munchkin Loot Letter, gameplay is the same as the original Love Letter with one exception. The Guard action, now played by Batman, gives players a victory point if they can eliminate another player with their correct guess!
There is a catch to this point – it doesn’t work if you guessed Robin. While the player will be eliminated, you don’t score a bonus for knocking out your protege.
This rule variation alone makes Batman Love Letter my favourite version. This version allows players that can deduce other players hands to be rewarded, and possibly even win even if they may not be lucky enough to win the whole round.
This rule is also so straightforward, you can play Love Letter and Munchkin Loot Letter with the same rules as well.
The version I thought about not including because it changes quite a few of the rules from the original. These changes make Archer: Once You Go Blackmail the more ‘gamer’ version of Love Letter, but for the rules to really flow it does help to be a fan of the show.
The rules have changed so much I am not going to describe them here, but some cards have alternate powers and allows the ‘burn’ card back into play at times.
Essentially this is still the basic Love Letter though, it just takes most people a couple of games to see all the rules in play. If you have been playing games a while and you’re an Archer fan, this is a great game for your collection. It just may not be for everybody.
So looking around, there are other versions you haven’t mentioned?
There are a lot of Love Letter variants, and the ones I haven’t mentioned until now are either because:
- They are similar to the ‘classic’ Love Letter, but I don’t own them
- They are expanded rules very different to the original. These are easy to spot as they can have more than four players.
If you see any of these, feel free to grab them – they are very close to the original, but not owning or playing them I can’t really comment beyond that.
Some of the ones I don’t own include:
Two other notable exclusions from this review are Love Letter Premium and Lovecraft Letter, which fall into the different game category. While this review gives you an idea of the gameplay, I am saving these two games for a separate review. Both share cards from 1 to 8 just like the classic, but a large difference is two different types of card for each value, increasing the options available as well as the number of players.
Suffice to say, if you like the original and need to play more than four players, these are great choices for you.
One thing that all version will have in common is playing with two players. As this is a game of deduction and card counting, two player games tend to be short affairs and not as fun. It works and I would play two players, but I would always offer someone a seat at the table to make it three players every time. Luckily, Love Letter is one of those games that getting curious onlookers isn’t difficult.
Until next time,
Love Letter - Which version is for you?
Love Letter is a great travel and gateway game. It’s so easy to teach and play but keeps a surprisingly deep level of strategy for a game with only 8 rules.
As mentioned, I really enjoy the Batman version best and the ‘guard’ rule can be transferred to any version. Archer is a close second, but probably not for Love Letter newbies.
Bottom line though – Love Letter is one of the few games I think every game collection needs. While a different version may appeal to some more than others, any version is a no-brainer recommendation for me to make.
With so many games of Love Letter under my belt though, I would love to get more people into the Lost Legacy series from the same designer. But that’s another review
- Simple to Teach and Learn
- Great travel game, both for size and getting to know people
- Beautiful art that doesn’t detract from the game
- Two players works, but not great
- ‘Discard’ on the card meaning to play can be confusing