Few good games fit in your pocket, but Love Letter is an exception. It’s a brilliant card game with very simple mechanics that can be played by anyone, anywhere. There are a few different themed editions out there and in this post I will present the original as well as The Hobbit – The Battle of the Five Armies. So either don your finest robes or grab your elven dagger and let’s get going!
In Love Letter the players are trying to get their letter to princess Annette of Tempest, via different people of the court. These people are represented by cards of different values – the higher the value the closer to the princess they are and the more likely to deliver your love letter. Each character has a different ability that will help you in your efforts, and the little rule booklet that comes with the game gives you names and backstories for all the characters. There are 8 characters on 16 cards. Some are represented more often than others. For example, the guard Odette is on five different cards, whereas countess Wilhelmina only has one card.
The game starts with each player receiving one card, and one of the remaining cards is put away (I like to rotate it and keep it at the bottom of the deck). When it is your turn you pick up the top card from the deck and add it to your hand. You now have two cards. From these you must choose one to play, which you then place in front of you. As previously mentioned, each card comes with a special ability. It could give you a chance to look at another players hand (the Priest) or guess what another player has on their hand (the Guard). Some of these actions can force a player out of the game. If you guess right when using the Guard, the other player is out. If you compare cards by using the Baron, the one with the lower card (that’s left in your hand, so not the Baron) is out – make sure that isn’t you! If you are the last person with a card in their hand you have won the round! If the draw pile runs out, everyone who is left reveal their hands – the holder of the highest value card is the winner and receives a token of affection in the form of a nice red wooden cube. I like to call these little tokens “love cubes”. Whoever has the most love cubes at the end of the game is crowned the winner and might even score a date with the princess. As there are 13 tokens, in a two player game it’s first to 7 tokens. A 3 player game is first to 5, and a 4 player game is first to 4 love cubes.
The game plays alright with two players (which I have done a lot of since it’s so portable), but it is definitely better with more players. In a two player game the deck almost never runs out because someone gets lucky and guesses right, or simply uses the Baron and then the round can only continue if it’s a draw. It is suggested that you start with three cards face up to the side during a two-player game, but I’ve played it without a few times. With all cards in the deck the game is slightly longer and a bit harder to figure things out in the beginning – relying more on luck at the start.
The Hobbit version
This themed version largely plays the same as the original game, but instead of trying to deliver a love letter to the princess you are trying to get your hands on the Arkenstone. One purely aesthetic difference is that the wooden cubes you get for winning a round have been replaced by small plastic gems – a really nice touch. But there are two additions to the cards which shakes up the gameplay just a smidgen. The two 3-point cards (the Baron) are the elves. But rather than both making you compare cards with another player and the lower card is out, only Legolas has this ability. If you use Tauriel instead, it’s the player with the higher card who is out. I both like and dislike this feature. It does make for a little more excitement and strategy, but it also creates more instances where you are stuck. For example, the worst combo you can get it Tauriel and the Arkenstone – you will be out whatever you do. I like that this is something that can happen, but I dislike when it happens to me haha. The second change is the addition of a 17th card – The One Ring. This one is special, as it should be. During the game it is worth 0 points (when comparing cards using an elf) and does nothing, but if the round ends with two or more players still standing and you have to compare values to find the winner, The One Ring is suddenly worth 7 points.
The character cards in this game are: The One Ring (0), Smaug (1: guard), Bard the Bowman (2: priest), Tauriel and Legolas Greenleaf (3: baron), Gandalf the Grey (4: handmaid), Fili the Dwarf & Kili the Dwarf (5: prince), Thorin Oakenshield (6: king), Bilbo Baggins (7: duchess), Arkenstone (8: princess).
I tend to play The Hobbit more than the original due to the additions, even if they are very minor. The art is pretty nice even if it’s photo-based, and they have added quotes by the characters as flavour text on the cards which is nice if you’re a fan (I really love how the elves mirror each other with the quotes). I do wish they would’ve split up Fili and Kili, giving them a card each even if they have the same ability. During the game we treat the Elves the same when guessing cards for example (so we don’t have to specify if it’s Legolas or Tauriel), just as you would a Baron in the original. So it would’ve been nice to just be able to guess “one of the dwarf brothers” or something similar. But that’s just a very minor thing and it doesn’t affect gameplay, or enjoyment of the game, whatsoever.
Both of these editions of the game come in two different types of packaging – either a clamshell with a velvet pouch, or a box. As you can see in the beginning of the post I chose the former which is so much smaller and more portable. I think the whole point of this game is that it is perfect to keep in your pocket or bag for whenever you have some time to kill, be it waiting at an airport, in a restaurant, or during lunch break. You don’t carry around the big box, which has exactly the same cards inside. Sure, a box might look nicer and fit better in your game collection, but in that case I would rather suggest you get a nice looking normal box and just store your pouches and other weirdly shaped small games you have in that instead.
Love Letter is a great game which I really recommend. It plays quickly, and if you are really short on time you can decrease the number of tokens needed to win or just play until time runs out and see who has the most. It requires a great deal of luck, but also some deducting skills. There is some in-game text but it’s easy to write up a quick reference card if you’re playing with someone who doesn’t know English. It’s really easy to learn, and there’s always the handy card list to consult if you feel lost. So what are you waiting for? Go woo that princess!
- Title: Love Letter
- Designer: Seiji Kanai
- Publisher: Alderac
- Players: 2-4
- Time: 20 min (if you play with all the winner tokens)
- Type: cards
- Size: mini
- Release year: 2012