Guest Game Review: Love Letter

We have guest review of a tabletop game that has a romantic element. Huge thanks to Suzanne for submitting this review and thinking of the Bitchery.

In addition to raising two valkyries and tending a growing menagerie, Suzanne reads and reviews romance and comics in Southern New Hampshire. She runs a site devoted to romance comics and assists a couple of authors with their romance-writery needs as well.

My husband and I play lots of board and card games, but we have small children, so I’m always scoping out new games that have a two-player option and don’t take hours to play. Love Letter fits the bill on both counts.

Before I get started, this review is based on the “Premium Edition” of Love Letter.

There are several variants, one of which is much cheaper and the only difference appears to be that the “tokens” aren’t heartshaped. Some of these variants have a different “flavor,” like Batman, Adventure Time, Legend of the Five Rings…it’s a whole series, I guess? They all have the same mechanic, so pick your poison.

In this edition of the game, your objective is to win the heart of a grieving princess. She’s holed up in her chambers, and the only way to win her affections is to send love letters via various members of her court. In a 2-player game, there are 16 cards total, divided unevenly between 8 levels of courtier. For example, the 5 Guards are each level 1. The Princess (only one of those for obvious reasons) is level 8. The other cards are 2 Priests, 2 Barons, 2 Handmaids, 2 Princes, a King, and a Countess. The game can accommodate up to 8 players, and for 5-8 players, you add another set of characters and the mechanics are slightly different.

A table with cards on it

Each of the character cards has a different effect, such as looking at another player’s hand, and these effects are pretty much what determines if you have the highest character value and win or lose a given round. In a 2-player game, you play until one player has 8 “tokens of affection,” cute red wooden hearts. On your turn, you draw a card and discard a card, following whatever the effect/action is on the card you’ve discarded. Sometimes this means you win the round on your first play. Sometimes the game forces you to lose the round. Sometimes, the best times, you get to actually strategize and manipulate your opponent(s) into losing.

The Guard card, where a player chooses a number other than one. If a selected player has that numbered card, they are knocked out of the round.

The game is quick, especially once you have the card effects and point values memorized. It’s also sort of… boring? I was hoping that it would be more strategy-based, but in a 2-player game, there were too many rounds during which one or the other of us won the round without the other player even drawing a new card. This is one of the downsides to many games that claim to be suited for 2 or more players. Often, if a game is designed for a group, it’s not designed for dueling. Many games, such as Smallworld, Bohnanza, or Takenoko, have specific mechanics or boards for 2-player scenarios, which give the game a different dynamic and improve competition. This one appears to be played the same for 2-4 players, with the dynamic not changing until you hit 5 or more players.

In the end, I’m giving this game a C+. I liked the art, and I appreciated that the game is quick to learn and to play. I can’t recommend it for just two players, however, as it felt more luck-based than strategy-based. I’ve heard that it’s great as a party game, and I definitely think it’d pair well with a glass of wine and a group of friends. If you want to see it in action, Wil Wheaton’s boardgame show, Tabletop, did an episode with four players and they make it look like a lot more fun than my own experience.

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