As much as I love complex games that can last for hours, the realities of life just don’t afford that amount of time. Sometimes you need to scratch that gaming itch, but only have ten minutes to squeeze out of your schedule. Luckily there is a genre where games are designed to last no more than 30 minutes; sometimes they may not even last that long. Among these kinds of games exists Love Letter, a game known for its simplicity. It is perhaps also the game with the most diverse adaptations that I know, having re-skins such as Batman: Love Letter and Munchkin: Love Letter. A game with so many versions must have something special to it, right?
The original Love Letter is set in the Tempest universe, a continuing story told throughout many games. In this game, new political alignments arise in the wake of the Queen’s imprisonment. You play as a noble trying to pass your love letter to the Princess (I’m assuming for political advantage and not love). The characters on the card represent the person carrying your note and how close they are to the princess; the higher the number the more effective they are in bringing your note to the princess. The only reason I know this story is because of the instruction manual. The mechanics gave no indication this was the motive for any of our actions. I could not immerse myself in the plot of the game, mostly because I focused too much on counting cards and not the story we were creating (more on that later).
This game is incredibly easy to learn. Everything you need to know about the game fits on one card. You’ll only reference the rule book for the rare tie breaker. One round with four players should be enough for everyone to understand the basics of the game. Unfortunately, that means everyone will learn that card counting will be the most effective strategy. The game only has sixteen cards. Although you burn one each round, once the table establishes a metagame, everyone will quickly deduce its identity. At that point it is only a matter of accusing the right person and not drawing an unlucky hand. The mechanics have little depth thereby making it a highly casual game. It is a good game to play if you want to introduce new people to tabletop gaming. However, the game’s simplicity will inevitable bore experienced board gamers.
Art and Pieces
I am not a big fan of the art in this game. The lighting on the character’s skin makes them look waxy. Most of the characters have oddly drawn features (the Prince card looks the strangest, with the King not far behind). The biggest disappointment however is the Princess; the game splatters her image everywhere. She ultimately comes across as a generic looking noble woman instead of the all-important figure behind the story of the game. It’s no surprise then that this game has so many version; if the Princess is not important enough to make memorable, then why not replace everyone with whatever eight characters you can imagine?
The publisher printed the game on better materials than I expected. They printed the cards on fairly thick stock. This means the cards won’t scuff with each shuffle, which is important when each round only last a few minutes. The cards should not be any easier to count and the last thing you want is a card with a noticeable mark. I was surprised that the game came with wooden blocks for victory points. I expected plastic pieces considering how inexpensive the game cost. The pieces should be durable enough to last multiple playthroughs, but I don’t see myself testing those limits any time soon.
Love Letter is supposed to fit within the microgame sphere of games. The average game should last about the twenty minutes advertised on the box. In my experience, a four-person game can last anywhere between 20 minutes to 50 minutes. To be fair, the time frames might change depending on the number of players. The game ends when a player receives a specified number of victory points, which in a four-person game means the first to win four rounds wins the entire game. However, in a game of four people where each person knowing the limitations of the rules and the cards, the game can easily drag on much longer than probably intended by the game designer.
To break down the math of how this game can drag on, assuming one minute between rounds to shuffle and deal and three minutes to actually play, a game with four players going to the last round (around 13—each player with three points and trying to get the game ending fourth) will last over 50 minutes. This is what occurred when I played. Normally the last round of a close game is an exciting, nail-biting experience. But after 13 rounds of repetitive game play, no one at the table seemed to care who won or lost, or about the game at all.
The game sells between $8 to $12 dollars for the regular box edition. I’ve found out that there is a deluxe edition that can seat up to eight players. That version comes with a plethora of new cards and characters and sells for about $30. I only played the regular edition and can only give my opinion on that version’s worth. It’s an inexpensive game, but I cannot say I would spend my money on the game in retrospect. The game lasts about half an hour on average and I cannot see myself playing it more than a handful of times. I think I would rather spend those $12 on a movie ticket and get two hours of entertainment instead of thirty at that point.