(2012 – AEG)
When publisher, AEG announced that it would be releasing a series of 5 games, all revolved around the fictional world of Tempest, much anticipation focused on the depth-driven, heavier titles (Courtier, Mercante, Dominare, and Canalis). However, the small and light filler Love Letter, may have surpassed them all in popularity and recognition. Recently awarded Dice Tower’s 2012 Party Game of the Year as well as its Family Game of the Year, Love Letter is designed by Seiji Kanai, whom some will know from his other card games including the R, RR, and RRR series, as well as his upcoming Lost Legacy design (somewhat of an offspring of Love Letter).
In Love Letter, players take the role of suitors, attempting to charm the distraught Princess Annette, whom has locked herself in her tower after the recent arrest of her mother, the Queen. Players will attempt to deliver their own personal love letter to the Princess, though since she is not seeing subjects at the moment while in mourning, players must send these letters through her closest advisers in hopes that theirs will reach her first.
Some advisers are closer to the Princess than others, and are more likely to successfully deliver a message to her Highness. Each time a letter is successfully delivered and the Princess has read that letter, the player that sent it is rewarded with an Affection token. The player that has accumulated the most Affection tokens by the end of the game has wooed the Princess and thus won her affection.
– 16 Royal Subject cards (Guard, Priest, Baron, Handmaid, Prince, King, Countess, and Princess)
– Affection tokens
– Reference cards
– Cloth Storage Bag
Love Letter is made up of a series of Rounds that are played until a winner has been determined. To begin a Round, the 16 Royal Subject cards are shuffled into a Draw Pile.
The top card is removed off the top of the pile and kept face-down to the side of the play area. This will randomly remove a card from the Round so that players won’t know exactly which cards are left in the Draw Pile.
Additionally, in a 2-player game, 3 more cards are drawn from the pile and placed face-up to the side of the play area. They will also not be used during the particular Round.
Next, each player draws 1 Royal Subject card from the Draw Pile to make up their initial Hand. Affection tokens are also placed to the side of the play area for distribution during the game.
After initial setup, the play area should look something like this:
Royal Subject Cards:
Before I get into how the game plays over the course of a Round, I first want to cover the 8 different types of cards that are included in the game and how they resolve. Though there are 16 total Royal Subject cards and 8 different types, there are various numbers of each card, making some more common than others. Each subject has a number located in the top left corner of the card representing how close that particular subject is to the Princess (8 being the closest, 1 being the least close), as well as a particular special ability when used.
– 5 out of the 16 Royal Subjects are Guards. Guards do not have a very close relationship to the Princess (level 1), therefore they are the least likely of the group to be able to deliver a love letter to the Princess.
Special Ability: When a Guard is played from a player’s hand, that player can choose another player and name any other type of Royal Subject that is not a Guard. If the chosen player has that particular Royal Subject in their Hand, they are out of the Round and fail in their attempt to deliver their letter to the Princess.
– 2 out of the 16 Royal Subjects are Priests. Priests, while they do not have a strong relationship with the Princess (level 2), they are closer to her than her Guards.
Special Ability: When a Priest is played from a player’s Hand, that player may look at another player’s Hand and see the type of Subject they currently hold. This can be especially helpful when combined with the Guard’s ability of choosing a player and attempting to name a particular type of Subject in their Hand.
– 2 out of the 16 Royal Subjects are Barons. Barons have a candid relationship with the Princess (level 3) and are more able to successfully deliver a love letter to her than a Priest or Guard.
Special Ability: When a Baron is played from a player’s Hand, that player can secretly compare Hands with another player of their choosing. Between these two players, the player with the lowest Hand is immediately out of the Round and thus fails to deliver their love letter to the Princess. Playing the Baron is one of risk-reward if you do not know what the other player holds. A player could very easily force themselves out of a Round if playing a Baron recklessly, however if you do know or have a high probability of knowledge of what the other player’s Hand may hold, the Baron is quite useful in forcing others out of the Round.
– 2 out of the 16 Royal Subjects are Handmaids. Handmaids have a fairly strong relationship with the Princess (level 4) and are her closest advisers outside of her best friend and immediate family members.
Special Ability: When a Handmaid is played from a player’s Hand, that player can ignore all special abilities from opposing player’s cards until that player’s next turn. The Handmaid is a great way to defend yourself from being forced out of a Round by another player, especially if you believe that a player is going to focus on attempting to take you out during that Round. It is a safe card to play, though not one that is going to be extremely close to the Princess.
– 2 out of the 16 Royal Subjects are Princes. As the 2 brothers of the Princess, both Princes are quite close to their sister (level 5), and provide a strong ability to deliver a lover letter to her from one of her suitors.
Special Ability: When a Prince is played from a player’s Hand, that player can choose any player to discard their card and draw a new card from the Draw Pile. A player can even choose themselves to perform this action. Since the Prince is a level 5 in relation to the Princess, this ability is quite helpful when you have knowledge of another player having a Subject with a higher relationship with the Princess, or even using it on yourself if the other card in your Hand is one that you wish to get rid of.
– 1 out of the 16 Royal Subjects is the King. Being the father of the Princess, the King has a very close relationship with his daughter (level 6). Though since he has had something to do with the arrest of his wife, and mother of the Princess, their relationship has been a bit strained and he is not as close to her as he once was. Still, he has a high probability of being able to deliver a letter to her.
Special Ability: When the King is played from a player’s Hand, that player can choose to switch hands with another player. Most player’s will want to hold on to the King since he is one of the closest subjects to the Princess, however his special ability is quite useful when a player has knowledge of opposing player’s hands.
– 1 out of the 16 Royal Subjects is the Countess. Being her best friend, the Countess is extremely close to the Princess (level 7) and will almost always be able to deliver a love letter to her friend if you’re able to get a hold of her.
Special Ability: While the best friend of the Princess, she does not get along with either Princes or the King. At any point when the Countess is in a player’s Hand and their Hand also includes either a Prince or the King, the player must play the Countess from their Hand. The Countess is the only Royal Subject card that has no special ability once it has been played from a player’s hand, however player’s may use her in order to bluff that they may be holding a Prince or King in their hand.
– 1 out of the 16 Royal Subjects is the Princess herself. The closest subject to the Princess is obviously the Princess herself (level 8). If a player is able to hand deliver the love letter to the Princess, she will obviously always receive it.
Special Ability: While the Princess always allows a player with her card in Hand to deliver a letter successfully, she is also a dangerous card to own. If a player ever has to play the Princess card from their Hand, that player is immediately out of the Round and they fail to deliver their letter.
As discussed before, each player will start each Round with 1 Royal Subject card in their Hand. Each player in clockwise fashion will take an individual turn until either all other players are out of the Round or the Draw Pile has been emptied.
On a player’s turn they will draw 1 card from the Draw Pile to bring their current Hand size up to 2 cards. Then, that player must choose to play one of the cards from their hand and discard it in front of them, thus resolving the special ability associated with the card.
For instance, Player A starts the Round with a Guard in Hand and draws a Handmaid from the Draw Pile. He chooses to keep the Handmaid in his Hand for now and plays the Guard out in front of him.
Player A then resolves the Guard’s special ability and guesses that Player B has a Priest in their hand. Player B (required to be honest) announces that he does not have Priest in his Hand. Thus, Player A’s turn has ended. If however, Player B did have a Priest in Hand, he would have immediately been excluded from the Round.
It is now Player B’s turn and he has begun the Round with a Baron in Hand. He draws 1 card from the Draw Pile and acquires a Priest.
He doesn’t feel comfortable in playing his Baron yet, since he has no knowledge of what other players may have in their Hands, so he plays the Priest and chooses to look at Player A’s Hand. Player A is thus required to show Player B that he has a Handmaid in his Hand.
Player C began the Round with the Princess. He draws 1 card from the Draw Pile and receives a Guard.
By choosing to discard the Princess, he would automatically be excluded from the Round, so he chooses to play the Guard from his Hand instead, and uses its special ability to guess that Player A has a Handmaid. Since Player A does in fact have a Handmaid, Player A is excluded from the current Round. Player A will take no more turns for the current Round and Player B and C continue play.
As mentioned before, a Round continues until only 1 player remains in the Round or the Draw Pile is emptied. As players play cards from their Hand and discard them to the play area, all cards are left face up so that players may easily deduce which cards are left in the Draw Pile and opposing players Hands. If only 1 player remains (the more likely scenario), that player’s letter is successfully received by the Princess. If however, the Draw Pile is emptied before all but 1 player has been eliminated, then the player with the Royal Subject card in Hand that is closest to the Princess succeeds in their letter being delivered. If there is a tie in this scenario, then the players will reference their discarded cards during the Round, in which the player who played the highest total value on their cards wins the Round.
The Round has ended by the Draw Pile being emptied with Player B and C still remaining. Player B shows that he has the King in his hand (value 6), and Player C shows that he has a Prince (value 5). Therefore, Player B wins the Round since the King is closer to the Princess than a Prince.
When a player wins the Round (and his letter is successfully delivered to the Princess) that player receives 1 Affection token. Then all 16 Royal Subject cards are gathered and setup for another Round of play. This continues until a player has accumulated enough Affection tokens needed to win the affection of the Princess and successfully court her. The number of Affection tokens needed to win the game is determined by how many players are in the game:
– 7 Affection tokens are needed to win in a 2-player game
– 5 Affection tokens are needed to win in a 3-player game
– 4 Affection tokens are needed to win in a 4-player game
Love Letter takes characteristics of bluffing, deduction, and mild strategy, and successfully interweaves them into a light and quick filler. While there are only 16 cards in the game that make up only 8 types of Characters, the way in which these cards interact with one another makes for some interesting strategy. Choices provided to a player are limited to choosing between the two cards in hand to play, however deducing which cards opposing players have, as well as having open knowledge to which cards have already been played will help one in making the best decision.
At the same time, players will find that there is quite a bit of luck that can emerge in a Round of Love Letter. Players may wildly guess correctly with the Guards ability, or find themselves with a hand composed of the Princess and King together. Love Letter however is meant as a fun, 15 minute filler, and those that are looking for something completely non-luck based should probably stray away from most filler type games to begin with. Also note that player elimination should be a non-issue, as the rest of a Round after a player is knocked out shouldn’t last more than 5 minutes.
By minimizing the game to 8 Characters with 8 special abilities, Love Letter is intuitive and can easily be taught within a few Rounds. Though players won’t need them after a few games, it is nice that summary cards are provided with the game for reference of each special ability. The theme also fits quite well for such a light game, and flows with the more in-depth releases in the Tempest story arc. Love Letter is an interactive, light, easy to learn filler that may top the list of best filler-style games for many years to come.