Love Letter is a game of simple genius. Its rules are basic and easy to play, yet cleverly designed in such a way to ensure an entertaining experience is had each and every game.
The game is played over a series of rounds determined by the number of players. At the start of a round, players are dealt one card each and then take turns to draw one/discard one until the deck is exhausted. Cards each have a numeric value and a set of instructions that must be actioned immediately when that card is played. Some cards are beneficial, some are detrimental, but most can go either way. At the end of a round, the player with the highest value card in their hand is deemed the winner and earns a “favour” (a small token). The game is won when a player acquires the pre-determined number of favours.
Love Letter is somewhat unique in that its story is part of a persistent world with recurring characters. Set in the middle of the Tempest trilogy, the story takes place just after Queen Marianna’s arrest for high treason. The Princess Annette is understandably distraught, so a number of suitors decide to ease her distress by courting the future Queen. Each player assumes the role of a suitor trying to get their particular love letter to the princess and earn her favour. This isn’t as straightforward as you may imagine as she has locked herself in the palace, which means you must rely on intermediaries to carry your message. While not essential to the experience, the story does provide context for the cards and a nice framework for the game.
As mentioned earlier, Love Letter‘s genius lies in the design. Each card represents a person from the palace, who is able to deliver your love letter to the grieving princess. From the Guard to the Priest, or the King up to the Princess herself, each card has a value and set of instructions suited to their character. For example, the Guard is of very low level and therefore not a card you want in your hand at the end of a round. When discarded you’re able to guess another player’s card and if they have the card named, they’re out of the round. This is because the Guard is deemed to have arrested that intermediary and, as such, the love letter would not be delivered.
The gameplay is basic; however, the variety in card instructions allows players to apply a level of strategic acumen. Take the Countess card, for example – second in value only to the Princess, her instructions dictate that she must be discarded if either the King or Prince are also in your hand. That doesn’t mean you can’t discard her at another time to make people think you have a King or Prince in your hand, though.
By forcing players to act, Love Letter can create interesting situations. Say a player is holding the Princess card. This is the highest value card in the game (as it’s deemed the Princess is holding your love letter herself), and the instructions dictate that if you discard her, you are out of the round. A player holding the princess card is always going to play the card they pick up, something an astute player might observe and take advantage of. The strategic approach is further encouraged with the cards themselves designed to encourage card counting. The deck contains only 16 cards consisting of:
– 1 Princess
– 1 Countess
– 1 King
– 2 Princes
– 2 Handmaidens
– 2 Barons
– 2 Priests
– 5 Guards
The quantity of each is clearly indicated and, by keeping the number of cards low, various strategies can be applied. Love Letter perfectly embraces the idiom “the devil is in the details” with all cards designed to complement each other well and provide players with a more interactive experience.
Despite all this, Love Letter relies heavily on luck. Knowing the best tricks and tactics won’t help if someone guesses your card by playing a Guard or you’re forced to discard the Princess. With each turn consisting of merely drawing and discarding, card choices are always limited to one of two. While it doesn’t allow for deep strategy, I felt this worked in its favour as it keeps the game light, making it more accessible.
To summarise, Love Letter is an exceptional card game. It’s a light, fun experience with a low learning curve , and as a result can be enjoyed by many. It balances luck, deduction, and strategy, perfectly creating a “risk versus reward” trade-off that makes for a truly engaging experience.