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Love Letter (Saturday Review)
Posted On 23 January 2021
Release Date: 2012
Designer: Seiji Kanai
Length: 15-30 minutes
Artist: Kali Fitzgerald, Andrew Hepworth, Jeff Himmelman, John Kovalic
Publisher: Z-Man Games
Complexity: 1.0 / 5
I had to get my message to the Princess. It was vitally important that she would hear this, but I had to be extremely careful. Many people were plotting against her, and against me, so nobody could be trusted. I had to try and get past the guards, the handmaiden and others to reach her. My heart was beating in my throat and my emotions were welling up. I tried to keep it together, because I was so close to delivering to her my Love Letter by Z-Man Games.
I know, Love Letter is almost a classic game, being eight years old. Yet, it still exudes a lot of charm and is a great game to introduce people to modern board games. It’s really easy to teach and learn and relatively quick to play. Everyone starts with a single card and on your turn, you draw a card and then play one of the two cards you have in your hand now. It couldn’t be easier really.
Of course, it’s not quite as simple as that. The cards portray different characters from the royal court, such as guards, handmaidens, all the way up to the king – but the highest card of all is the princess. The aim of the game is to end a round with the highest card – and not be killed or otherwise die during the game. You keep playing until one player has won a certain number of rounds, depending on the number of players.
When you play a card, you get to carry out an action. One type of card allows you to swap hands with another player or make them, or yourself, discard their card and draw a new one. Another protects you from other cards, which is often very important, because a lot of the cards are about ousting other players.
You can try and guess what card someone has in their hand and if you’re correct, they are out. You can also secretly compare cards with another player and if you have the higher card, they’re out. In fact, most of the time you’re trying to knock the other players out of the game and if you’re the last player left, you win the round.
Each round in Love Letter is very quick, so even if you’re removed early on, you don’t have to wait long, because you’re back in the game in the next round. Player elimination really isn’t a problem in the game.
As you can probably tell, Love Letter is a bit of a memory game, because to play it well, you need to know what cards are still in play. Mind you, we always play it open, revealing which cards were played, making it a lot easier. Personally, I don’t like the memory element in games where it’s really just a matter of card counting, so we remove that element and it makes the game more accessible to a wider range of people as well.
Love Letter has a large luck element to it, levelling the playing field further, but it’s not all about luck. You do need to consider which card to play and a bad decision can have fatal consequences.
There is also a good amount of social deduction in the game, because when you play with the same people regularly, you can probably tell if they’ve drawn a certain card and you do need to try and keep a poker face on as much as possible, so that you don’t give away when you draw the princess for example.
The fun in Love Letter really comes from that social element for me. Drawing a card and deciding which of the two cards to play is great, but ultimately it’s watching other players’ reactions as they draw cards or when you announce that you want to compare hands with another player to decide who has the higher one. You keep an eye out for subtle tells to help you choose the player who has a low card and will therefore be removed from the round.
If you want a quick, fun game that is easy to teach and quick to play, then you can’t go wrong with Love Letter.