The title and premise of the game, LOVE LETTER, will put most guys off but this one is worth a play, for the mechanic of the game alone, if not the theme.
The premise of the game, Love Letter is exactly this: All of the eligible young men (and many of the not-so-young) seek to woo Annette, the princess of Tempest. Unfortunately, she has locked herself in the palace, and you must rely on others to take your romantic letters to her. Will yours reach her first?
Love Letter is a game of risk, deduction, and luck for 2–4 players. Your goal is to get your love letter into Princess Annette’s hands while deflecting the letters from competing suitors. From a deck with only sixteen cards, each player starts with only one card in hand; one card is removed from play. On a turn, you draw one card, and play one card, trying to expose others and knock them from the game. Powerful cards lead to early gains, but make you a target. Rely on weaker cards for too long, however, and your letter may be tossed in the fire!
The entire game consists of a small, 24 page rule book, 4 reference cards, 16 game cards, 13 “Tokens of Affection,” and a Red Velvet Bag with “Love Letter” embroidered on it to keep everything in.
If you’ve hung in there, reading this review even after “Tokens of Affection,” and “Red Velvet Bag” – you’re either gay or really secure in the fact that you are not gay. It’s the indecisive men who get weird about this sort of thing. So yay you – you know what gender you are attracted to. Or you are a girl and are always smarter than guys, anyway.
That said – this game is one of the most original, unique and subtly challenging games on the market, and it costs less than $10. It can be learned in 5 minutes and the more familiar the players are with the game, the more interesting it gets. All that, and it’s a 4-player game that takes only 20 minutes. Maybe I should have opened with that part?
Anyway, the game is remarkably challenging and fun. Designed by Seiji Kanai and published by AEG, it currently has three licensed English versions available, and then some others.
American Original: I don’t know what to really call this version, but American Original works. It is the common version of the game and the one I own, with Victorian style artwork. All components are quality and fit in the red velvet drawstring bag nicely.
Kanai Factory Edition: The artwork works very well with the theme. It is a boxed version, so no red velvet bag for you, and it has extra cards so you can play for the hand of the Prince, or two different Princesses. Now, this does not change the game at all, but does allow you to flavor it to your group’s preferences.
Some of the cards are named differently from the American Original version, but play the same and have the same effects as their counterparts in the previous version. The big difference is the Minister, who replaces the Countess.
While the Countess card is commonly a handicap card, the Minister card can put you out of the round if your total hand of 2 cards is over 12 points (and the Minister counts as 7). In a game of only 16 cards, this can change gameplay dramatically.
Love Letter: Legend of the Five Rings Edition: This is an upcoming version, (announced but unavailable as of this writing). It sounds very cool but I don’t know much about it yet.
Rogue Editions: An artifact of a good game mechanic is that someone will theme the game differently to suite their own needs or ego. Love Letter has had unlicensed “Print and Play” versions of the game done to the themes of Dr. Who, Star Wars, X-Files, Alice in Wonderland and more. If you choose one or more of these downloadable versions, consider buying a retail version of the game, so the designer and publisher are compensated for their game being ripped-off.
I admit, after playing this game over and over, I broke down and bought little plastic hearts to use as Tokens of Affection, instead of the red cubes.
All said, even now, a year later, Love Letter remains on my go-to filler game list. Either retail version has quality components and is well worth the modest price tag. It is one of those rare games that transcends theme. It is also a great gateway game for wives or girlfriends.
If you enjoy any kind of gaming at all that involves other people, Love Letter is a win.