Duration: 20-30 minutes
Designer: Senji Kanai
Suitable for: families; couples; casual gamers and hobbyists
In Love Letter, players are suitors seeking to win the attentions of a beautiful princess. So begins a game of deduction and bluff as players try to get their letter into the hands of the princess through various agents at the palace and to foil their opponents’ plans.
How does it play?
Love Letter is played over a number of rounds. Each round a player is dealt one card which represents the character currently carrying their letter to the princess. On their turn players will pick up one card and then play one card face up – which can either be the first card from their hand or the one they just picked up. Play continues until there are no more cards left to draw.
The aim of each round is to avoid being eliminated and to hold the highest value card at the end of the round (when the princess receives multiple letters she will listen to her most trusted confidant). The winner of the round gets a wooden cube as a token of the princess’ affection. Rounds keep going until one player has enough tokens to win (7 in a two player game; 5 in a three player game; 4 in a four player game).
Let’s meet the characters
When each card is played, it will usually involve taking an action as described on the text of the card. These actions help the current player or play tricks on their opponents.
The cards and their values are:
1) Guard (5 in deck): when played, the active player can guess the card of an opposing player other than guard. If they guess correctly then the opposing player is out of the round.
2) Priest (2 in deck): when played, secretly look at another player’s card.
3) Baron (2 in deck): when played, secretly compare the value of your remaining card with that of an opponent of your choice. The player with the lower value card is eliminated from the round.
4) Handmaid (2 in deck): current player is immune from all other card effects until their next turn.
5) Prince (2 in deck): force an opponent to discard their card.
6) King (1 in deck): force an opponent to trade hands with you.
7) Countess (1 in deck): no action when played, but must be played if the other card in a player’s hand is a prince or king.
8) Princess (1 in deck): a player who plays or discards this card is automatically eliminated from the round.
Because all characters are played face up, as the round progresses it is easier to deduce the remaining characters.
However, because a card is discarded from the deck at the start of the round (plus an extra 3 cards in a two player game) players will never have complete information when making their deductions – even towards the end of round.
Look and feel
The theme of Love Letter is easily accessible for all types of gamers, including children. With that said, the theme isn’t particularly deep.
The artwork on the cards is pleasant, and nicely done. Although in my eyes the prince looks like an eerie combination of Brad Pitt and Robert Redford.
The standard version of this game comes in a bag rather than a box. While this makes the game super portable, it does make it easier for the cards to get damaged.
The counters are simple wooden cubes which represent symbols of the princesses’ affection. These can easily be replaced with heart tokens for those who want to add to the theme a little bit.
Love Letter is a really fun game that plays quickly with minimum downtime between turns. It involves a mixture of deduction, bluffing, and luck – with plenty of excitement along the way. Sometimes the cards will conspire against players, but such is the life of those trying to woo a princess.
The game plays differently with two players than with 3 or 4, and the combinations that work great in a two player game can be troublesome when there are more players in the mix.
While there aren’t many components in this game, there is a ton of replayability. The rules are simple to learn but there are additional layers to the game that reveal themselves over a number of plays. This game is excellent value given how inexpensive it is.
Because the identity of each card is quite important it can affect gameplay if the back of a particular card becomes marked. Unfortunately the cards don’t have a white border around the edges, so over time may become scuffed. As such, I recommend protecting the cards with plastic sleeves.
With quick and fun gameplay and simple rules, Love Letter makes an excellent addition to any game collection.