Reviewed by: Herb Levy
(Alderac Entertainment Group, 2 to 4 players, ages 10 and up, 20 minutes, $11.95)
Winning the love of a beautiful princess is the stuff that fairy tales are made of. It is also the theme for a very clever game, part of a series of games set in the fantasy world of Tempest published by the Alderac Entertainment Group: Love Letter.
Love Letter, designed by Seiji Kanai, comes in a variety of packaging styles, from boxed to blister pack, but the game components remain the same: 16 cards (plus 4 play aid cards) and a package of “heart tokens” (which are cubes and, in some editions, pieces actually shaped like hearts).
The 16 cards are shuffled and one card randomly removed from play. (Three cards are removed when playing with only two players.) Everyone is now dealt one card. The cards of the game depict the different members of the royal court, from the lowly Guard (five of these, valued at 1) to the beautiful Princess (the one and only, valued at 8). The goal of the round is to either be “the last man standing” with every other player out of the round OR have the highest valued card in your hand when the deck is empty at the end at the end of a player’s turn. In both cases, you are rewarded with one heart token.
On a turn, the active player draws a card and then, from his hand of two, must play one. Any effect caused by that card immediately happens and every card has a different effect.
Guards (valued at 1) allow a player to guess another’s player hand. Guess correctly and that player is OUT for the round. (Because such a large percentage of the deck is made out of these cards – there are FIVE of these out of the 16 cards, you cannot accuse a player of holding a Guard.) The Priest (valued at 2) lets you look at another player’s hand. The Baron (3) lets you compare hands with another player; the lower valued hand – and the player who has it – is now OUT. The Handmaid (4) makes you immune to the effects of any played card until your next turn. The Prince (5) allows a chosen player (including yourself) to discard their hand while the King (6) lets you trade hands with another player. The Countess (7) must be discarded if caught with the King or Prince and, finally, the Princess (8) will lose the round for the player holding her if she is discarded.
As mentioned, with the round completed, the winning player receives one “heart”. Depending on the number of players, anywhere from 4 to 7 heart tokens will award victory – and the love of the Princess – to the lucky player.
Removing a card from play right at the start prevents the “card counters” among us from having a decisive advantage. Although one of the victory conditions for a round is being the last surviving player and player elimination can be a serious flaw in a design, this facet of play is not detrimental to the enjoyment as a round only lasts 10 or 15 minutes so an eliminated player is not out of the action for long. With only two cards at your disposal each turn, decisions as to which to play can sometimes be obvious. Yet, even so, a little deduction in trying to figure out which player has which card can go a long way (especially when playing a Guard card or Baron to eliminate an opponent). The fact that the game is so small is also a plus as this is a game that is easy to carry and bring along with you to while away the time.
The play aid cards given to each player are simply superb in listing all of the cards and their powers as well as providing a thorough overview of a game turn and victory conditions. Although lots of effort is done to incorporate the game into the Tempest world (Courtier, another and completely different game set in the Tempest world, was featured back in the Spring 2013 GA Report), all the background provided (about the Princess and the members of the court), while interesting, has no impact on the actual game play. It should be mentioned that the artwork (credited to Andrew Hepworth and Jeffrey Himmelman) is exceptional, a pleasure to look at, and helps draw you into the beautiful Tempest fantasy world.
The game mechanics of Love Letter have proven to be highly adaptable as AEG has issued other games using them, teaming up with Steve Jackson Games for Munchkin: Loot Letter (also designed by Kanai) and releasing a series of science fiction games, designed by Kanai and Hayato Kisaragi, that includes Lost Legacy: The Starship and Lost Legacy: Flying Garden so fans of this style of play will be able to surround themselves with variations on the theme to keep them amused.
There has been, over recent years, a surge in the amount of designs from Asian game creators that have found their way onto the gaming tables of America and Europe. Love Letter is a prime example. As with many of these designs, the game system here is both simple and elegant and yet provides lots of play value using just the barest minimum of components and rules. For opening or closing a heavy session of game play, Love Letter is a game you will love.
Winter 2015 GA Report Articles
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