Friday, August 2, 2013

Courting Her Royal Hawtness: "Love Letter"

Given all the recent buzz about Love Letter, I really wanted to know how a simple and decidedly effeminate little card game was prompting quartets of hulking, neck-bearded fanboys to plunk down on convention floors everywhere to play it.  Given its Belle from Beauty and the Beast card backs and frou-frou red satin carrying pouch, it's probably the most incongruous game to inspire such glorious sights.


So, when I noticed that Monster Comics Lounge had procured a few fleeting copies a couple of weeks ago I decided to roll the dice and pick it up.  Hey, who am I to resist THE HOTNESS, especially when said HOTNESS only set me back ten bones?

Just in case you've been living under a rock with no wi-fi for the past year, here's the game's deceptively simple premise:

"In the wake of the queen’s arrest, all the eligible young men of Tempest (and many not so young) seek to woo Princess Annette. Unfortunately, she has locked herself in the palace, and everyone must rely on those within the palace to bring their romantic letters to her. Will yours reach her first?

"Love Letter is a game of risk, deduction, and luck, for 2–4 players. Get your love letter into Princess Annette’s hands while keeping other players’ letters away. Powerful cards lead to early gains, but make you a target. Rely on weaker cards for too long and your letter may be tossed in the fire!"

Looking to peruse the full romantic missive directed at Her Grace, especially all the acrobatic Kama Sutra bits?  Then here's a link to the game's shorter-then-an-actual-love-letter rules on AEG's website.  


Keen to see what at the fuss is about, Andrew, Mac and I decided to give this one a spin last Wednesday night.  Here's a rough idea of how the game went down:

ROUND ONE

I managed to knock Andrew out of contention by using the Priest to gawk at his hand and then outing  his Baron with a Guard.  After a Kingly (and annoying) trade, Mac used his own Guard to call out the very same Handmaid he'd just given me.  Jerk.

Point: Mac  


ROUND TWO

I traded the Princess to Mac with the King and then revealed his hand the following round with the Guard.  I then used another Guard to ferret our Andrew's Countess in what amounted to a wild guess.

Point: Me  


ROUND THREE

After I forced Mac to dump his hand with the Prince, Andrew went on a tear.  First he card-counted Mac out of commission and then he used his Baron to humble my lowly Guard.  

Point: Andrew  


ROUND FOUR

Even though there were barely any cards on the table, Mac managed to ferret out Andrew's Baron.  Then, after the King's directive forced Mac and I to swap hands, he used the Baron to overwhelm the Guard that I just picked up.    

Point: Mac


ROUND FIVE

After I virtually eliminated myself with an ill-timed King, Andrew used a Guard to call out Mac's Princess after EVERY SINGLE FRIGGIN' CARD HAD BEEN PLAYED.  "Powers of deduction", my ass...

Point: Andrew


ROUND SIX

After I exposed Andrew's Baron with a Guard, Mac's Princess beat off my King under the orders of the Baron.  Kinky!    

Point: Mac



ROUND SEVEN

With an early Guard, Andrew dragged Mac's Baron kicking and screaming out into the light.  After trading my own Baron to him for a Countess, I nailed Andrew on the following turn with my very own hired goon. 

Point: me 


ROUND EIGHT

After Andrew called out my King with a Guard, Mac nailed him not long after with a Kreskin-like deduction.  At this point in time both Andrew and I became fearful that Mac might have ESPN.  

Point: Mac 


ROUND NINE

Mac used the Baron to outmatch Andrew's Guard with his Handmaid.  After Mac became Mr. Teflon thanks to a second Handmaid I was forced to Prince out my own Princess.  Okay, I know that last sentence sounds mental, but if you get chance to play this game you'll know what I mean.  

Point: Mac 


ROUND TEN

I managed to score my third Token of Affection by revealing Mac's Baron with a Guard.  On a subsequent play, another Guard led me directly to Andrew's closeted Prince.  

Point: me


ROUND ELEVEN

I tried to keep the momentum going by sniffing out Mac's Baron with a Guard, which really wasn't that difficult, since he always seemed to have one in his hand!  Based on the cards that were already down on the table, I had a fifty-fifty shot of eliminating Andrew with my own Baron.  Unfortunately, he revealed a King, which easily trumped my Prince.  As the old saying goes: "if it wasn't for bad luck I wouldn't have no luck at all." 

Point: Andrew


 ROUND TWELVE

Mac knocked Andrew out after his Guard managed to finger Andrew's Countess (!).  When about half of the cards had been tabled, Mac used his unearthly powers of deduction to glean determine that I was secretly concealing the Priest.

Point: Mac    

***

FINAL SCORE
Mac...5 Tokens of Affection
Andrew...4 Token of Affection
Me...3 Tokens of Affection

Mac wins! 

***

REVIEW

PROS
  • Although the game looks ridiculously simple at face value, there's a lot of strategy inherent in those innocent-looking cards.  Not only do their abilities neatly mirror their roles (as well as the game's elaborate backstory), they can also be combined together for some pretty devious results.  For example, a wily player will soon learn the optimal timing for playing a King card.     
  • As a corollary, every play is a potential tell.  For example, if someone plays the Countess late in the Round, then it could very well mean that they're holding the Prince or the King.  Having said that, if it's their first or second card play, then such an action could be perfectly innocent.  
  • The game really rewards players for being observant.  I can't stress this enough: keep a constant eye on what's in your hand and what's down on the table.  
  • For only ten bucks, this is a surprisingly deep game.
  • The rules are crystal clear and quick to pick up and, as such, would be a great game for tenderfoot board-gamers.
  • The production design itself is a conversation piece.    
  • Some may grouse that the game's limited card variety becomes painfully obvious towards the end of a round.  Yes, glancing around the table to inventory the cards that have already been played might not have anything to do with deduction, but this is mitigated somewhat by the absence of one random card every round.  It also creates an immediate sense of urgency, forcing players to act quickly before their identities become blatantly obvious.         
CONS

Honestly, nothing really worth mentioning.

***
Since I have the attention span and learning capacity of Scrat from Ice Age, Love Letter certainly isn't my strong suit, but I can certainly see its appeal.  As a quick n' dirty deduction / trump-playin' card game, this one can pull double duty as either filler or icebreaker.

Given its simplicity, clarity, price point, appealing components, quick play time and surprising strategic depth, there's no reason why Love Letter shouldn't be included in every board gamer's collection.   

As such, the game rates five pips out of six with a tilt towards the Princess's tower window high up above.   Awwwwww...   


***

Looking to pen your very own royalty-inspired Penthouse letter?  Then click on the link below to order a copy of Love Letter and help support this blog!   


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