Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Game of Love

Love Letter is a very simple little card game packed with a lot of story. Each player takes on the role of a suitor to the princess of a fantasy land. The princess is out of easy reach, so in order to profess their love, the players must slip their "love letter" into the hands of someone at court, hoping that the right person will deliver it.

Mechanically speaking, the game is played with a very small deck of "roles," ranked 1 to 8. Some roles appear multiple times in the deck, while others are one of a kind. Each player starts the round with a single card, while an additional card is secretly put out of play. Players then go around the table in a simple "draw one, play one" manner, choosing to hang on to their previous role card, or playing it to take the new secret role they just drew. When played, these role cards challenge opponents in various ways, perhaps knocking them out of contention for the round. When only one player is left standing at the end of the round, he scores a point. The whole process then repeats, until one player has 4 points -- and the love of the princess.

The game is ostensibly for 2 to 4 players, though with just 2, I couldn't imagine it being any more fun than a game of War with a standard 52-card deck. Even when we played with the maximum of 4, there wasn't much strategy involved. But there was some. The game had a poker-like vibe to it, from trying not to betray your identity from your facial expression, to trying to deduce your opponents' identities based on their behavior in previous turns. It probably wouldn't be enough to satisfy over a long single session, but for the maybe 15-30 minutes it takes to play the game, it does well enough.

Sometimes you do find yourself "stuck" in the game, with no real way to play out of a pair of bad options. I suppose it's a bit like poker in that respect too. Fortunately, each round moves quickly; with the next round may come improved luck. Hmm... yet again, like poker. Not that I mean to imply in any of this that the game feels as sophisticated or nuanced as your average hand of Texas Hold 'Em. Don't look for ESPN to start annual broadcasts of the World Series of Love Letter.

But most other games as short as this tend to be more shallow than this. So on that score, Love Letter is pretty good. A decent "start of night" or "end of night" game for 4 people. I give it a B.

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