Jun 11, 2014

[Games] Love Letter

Board games and card games have evolved tremendously over the years. We've seen all sorts of innovations added to make games more interesting and a lot more challenging including time-limits on turns, additional figures like meeples and miniatures and a whole bunch of counters, tokens and other markers. And while these have been great in terms of adding a lot of diversity to the gaming world as a whole, sometimes games go off the deep end in terms of level of complexity, thus taking away the most important part of the equation - the fun factor.

Love Letter is a stark shift in tone to a much simpler card game that's tremendously fun while remaining highly strategic. I don't think me or my partner Tobie had any true idea of just how amazing this game would be when he finally secured a copy for us. And yet this deceptively simple game that consists of only 16 game cards in a lovely velvet pouch has proven to be one of best games that we have ever played.

Love Letter is a card game designed by Seiji Kanai and has been integrated into the Tempest family of games published by AEG. The whole Tempest imprint pushes a series of diverse games with an interconnected storyline - each game helps build the world of this fictional city-state and those of the colorful characters who operate there.

The premise of the game is that you are all individuals who want to court the Royal Princess of Tempest (as it says on the box). But in order to do this, you need to act through other individuals to get your love letter to her. And in this game, the cards represent those you have potentially enlisted to help you.

At its most basic, Love Letter is a bluffing game. Given 2-4 players, each one will have a card in hand with a number value on it. The goal is to have the highest value card at the end of the round - assuming you survive. Turn order is simple enough - draw a card, and then discard a card. And when you discard a card, you trigger the card's effects. Thus you are forever made to choose - keep the card in hand or discard it to trigger its special ability. And the temptation can be pretty big - higher value cards can do all sorts of tricks like force a player to discard his hand or you two can swap hands.

Oddly enough, one of the cards is the Princess herself, and naturally she's the most powerful card in the game. But at the same time, you can't discard it or you automatically lose the game. From personal experience, getting the Princess early on is too much of a burden and the chances of someone eliminating you are pretty high.

I forgot to mention that at least one card is removed from the deck when you play, so there's always going to be a degree of uncertainty about what cards are in play. And don't worry, each player has a guide card that provides a quick summary of all card types, what they do and how many of them there are in the deck.

The game is amazingly simply, highly portable and easy to teach. But you can never really tell how the game is going to turn out given the potentially different playing styles of different friends and all that good stuff. Whether or not you're invested in the whole Tempest family of games, this is a great addition to any collection.

Love Letter is a great gateway game, especially if you want to introduce new players to just how much fun these newer games are. And given the minimal cards involved, you can play just about anyway with just about anyone. It is guaranteed to be an enjoyable experience. The game in the red velvet bag gets a perfect 5 attempts to guess your card with the power of a Guard out of 5.

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