16 cards?!?!?!? Yes!!! 16 cards!!!!! How can a card game with only 16 cards be fun and re-playable for an audience of very critical hobby gamers? When it comes to AEG’s Love Letter, the answer is easily seen after just several rounds. Read on!
Love Letter & Tempest
Love letter is one of AEG’s four new shared-world games due to debut at Essen Spiel 2012. AEG created the shared-world Tempest city-state to be a revolutionary new way of game design. They’ve created all of the story, the character relationships, and art for the shared-world. Designers then incorporate this content into their games and subsequently continue an ongoing storyline between all the games in the series. For example, at the end of one game a character might get imprisoned which then affects their presence in subsequent games.
In the case of Love Letter, Designer Seiji Kanai set Love Letter’s story setting in-between the events of Philip DuBarry’s Courtier and Jim Pinto’s Dominare. At the end of Courtier, Queen Marianna has been imprisoned for high treason. Her daughter, Princess Annette, was so heartbroken by this that she locked herself away in the palace. In Love Letter, the players play the roles of suitors trying to get their love letters in Princess Annette’s hands so she can once again experience some joy in her life.
So what does one get with Love Letter? The game includes 16 character cards, four reference cards that summarize the character cards, tokens of affection to track scoring, and 24 pages of rules printed on a card sized booklet. The character cards are very easy to read and have the excellent Tempest artwork common to all of the Tempest games.
The character cards include eight different characters from the Tempest city-state and each has its own value along with its own unique card effect text. The cards include Princess Annette (8), Countess Wilhelmina (7), King Arnaud IV (6), Prince Arnaud (5), Handmaid Susannah (4), Baron Talus (3), Priest Tomas (2), and Guard Odette (1). The higher their value, the “closer” they are to the princess and the more valuable the character is. Card effects are the meat of the game and include such things as trading hands, looking at someone’s hand, guessing a player’s hand, and discarding a hand.
The player finishing the round closest to the princess (or is the last one remaining in the round) is the one that delivers their love letter and scores a token of affection. The game is won by scoring seven tokens of affection in a two player game, five in a three player game, and four in a four player game.
Setup & Game Rules
The rules read extremely well. I rather like that AEG printed the rules on the little booklet as I dislike the large fold out sheets present in many other card games. The reference cards help summarize the card effects for each character and also give you the card counts so you can maybe deduce the cards remaining in the deck or the other player’s hand.
Setting up the game and teaching someone to play Love Letter and can both be done in mere seconds. You don’t need a lot of time or a lot of room to play this game. Shuffle the 16 card deck and remove one card when playing with three to four players. In a two player game, you remove four cards. This offers a decent randomization of the cards to keep people from being able to guess the cards all too easily. Each player then draws a single card from the deck which is their starting hand. Throughout the rest of the game, you will only have a ONE card hand… that’s it! I know… I know… you’re still skeptical right now… but read on!
How’s the game play? VERY fast paced and VERY addictive! It reminds me of playing solitaire on the PC where as soon as a game is over, you tell yourself “Just one more game!” Or akin to eating chips out of a snack bowl… Gotta have one just one more! And one more… And one more!
On your turn, you draw a card and then discard back down to one card. The card that was discarded is placed face up in front of you and the card’s effect text is resolved. IF the round’s not over, the next player draws, discards, and resolves their discarded card. IF the round’s not over, REPEAT!
Why do I keep writing “IF the round’s not over”? Rounds happen quickly, especially after players learn the cards and start getting a feel for what card the other player might be holding. Think the other player might be holding the Princess? Play the Prince that forces them to discard their hand. If the Princess gets discarded that player loses the round immediately! Score! Or maybe play the King to swap hands to steal the Princess away from the other player. Do you really want the Princess though? Sure she’s the most valuable card at a value of 8, but if you are forced to discard her you immediately lose the round. It seems life is fast, furious, and not always fair in Tempest. Just as you get that good card, your opponent plays that one card that pushes you out of the round.
This game is all about aggressive plays, risk taking, and fast action. Push the other player(s) out of the round before they do it to you. If you hesitate, you will usually find yourself out of the round and screaming to play again.
When played fast, that’s where Love letter shines. The first few rounds go a little slow as the players read the card effect text on each card. Each and every round gets faster and faster as people remember the effects like that the Handmaid is protection or the Guard lets you guess a player’s hand. With so few cards, most people will have all the cards memorized within four rounds. The trickiest part of the whole game is remembering several simple rules on which card effect rules apply when the cards get discarded through game play (some apply and some do not), other than that, the game is a breeze.
Overall, this is an extremely fun game with little down time. I don’t think I would be far off if I said it is almost intense at times. You often find yourself holding a card that you tensely hope will survive until your next turn so you can whammy another player. Chances are high that you may not get another turn but that anticipation is just part of the excitement!
The portability of this game is also a fantastic draw for me. It easily can be taken anywhere and played anytime. Play it on the commute if you take the train or bus, play on your lunch break, or even play while walking down the halls of Gen Con (as was posted on BGG). Play it before a 3+ hour game to get everyone in the mood, or play it afterwards to wake everyone up again. But, be warned, it’s sometimes hard to stop and you may find yourself playing Love Letter for longer than you expected.
This one’s a winner in my book! Check it out!