We’ve maintained for some time now that Love Letter is one of the best card games around and is, quite possibly, the greatest micro game released to date. Love Letter is perhaps the game most responsible for establishing my enjoyment of board games, I played other games along the way sure, but it was Love Letter that I played week in and week out, that truly brought about my gaming ‘habit.’ It’s the yard stick against which we at Rollin’ Dice Show measure all other small card and micro games, and so far, has yet to be beat.
We’re not the only people that regard the game so highly, and it’s benefitted from a huge amount of publicity since it was first published in 2012. This has led to there being a large number of different versions of Love Letter, to the point that you might not know which one you should get. In this article I’m going to break them all down for you, so you’ll know which one best deserves it’s place in your gaming library. In an effort to keep it relevant I’m going to keep updating the article as more versions of Love Letter are released (last updated 7th September 2015).
Before we dive into the different versions of Love Letter though, let’s have a little run over what the game is and how it’s played. A game of risk, deduction and luck for 2-4 players, Love Letter sees you trying to get your love letter into the hands of the Princess while deflecting the letters from competing suitors ( the other players). From a deck of only sixteen cards, each player is dealt a card and one card is removed from play. On your turn you draw one card and then play one card. In the base game there are 8 different card types, their card ranks and effects are as follows:
The round ends when either all but one player has been eliminated, in which case that player wins the round, or when the deck has run out in which case the player with the highest rank card wins. Upon winning you receive a ‘token of affection,’ the number of these required to win the game varies depending on how many players there are.
The game is wonderfully simple, and incredible portable, which makes it fantastic for introducing games to those new to the hobby, or just for having a few games of at the pub/café/on the tube etc etc.
While not the original version of the game, which was only released in Japan, this is the one most people will recognise as Love Letter and follows the rules as described above. It fits into the Tempest universe established by AEG, which sees each game in the series telling a small part of an overarching story set in the Medieval city state of Tempest. The game comes in a red velvet patch which makes for easy transport, and it can also be bought boxed.
This is a special edition of Love Letter: Tempest that is only available directly through AEG. The only differences between this and the OG version is that the colour scheme has been changed to better suit a wedding, with many on the characters clothes being changed, notably the princess is in a white wedding dress. The velvet pouch is also white.
The Kanai Factory edition is the closest to the original Japanese version of the game. It’s got the same gorgeous art, and uses the same characters. Whilst most of the cards have different names compared to the Tempest version, they have the same effects. The only exception to this is that the Minister (replacing the Countess) has a passive effect of knocking you out if your hand ever has a total of 12 ranks or more. This version also comes with a choice of two different princess cards and the princess can be replaced with a prince, meaning that you can better tailor the game to your group. This is the version that I own, and is by far my favourite; its only downside is that it comes in a box rather than a bag, making it a little less portable.
This edition of the game makes use of another of AEG’s established universes, that of L5R. The game plays exactly the same as the Tempest edition, although the character names and roles have been changed to better suit Legend of the Five Rings. The game comes in both a box and a drawstring pouch, which is a plus, and the artwork is arguably to a higher standard to the Tempest version. Ultimately, this’ll be the one to pick up if you’re looking to spend more time in the L5R universe, or perhaps if you just prefer feudal Japanese to medieval European styling.
Urgh, Munchkin. I used to have quite a soft spot for the hugely popular game series from Steve Jackson games and with its vast library or different versions I suppose it spilling over to Love Letter was inevitable. The game plays in the same way as the Tempest version of Love Letter, but each of the characters and roles have been replaced with art, monsters and items from Munchkin. The princess is replaced by a loot pile, with the narrative being you’re trying to get your hands on the loot rather than get a letter to the princess. It has both a box and a drawstring pouch and also comes with an exclusive card for Munchkin. If you’re a die hard fan of Munchkin and can’t bear to have anything that looks remotely different grace your gaming table then I guess this’ll be the one for you.
As you can probably guess from its title, this is a Christmas base retheme of Love Letter, where you are trying to get your Christmas list to Santa. All of the characters and roles have been replaced with Christmassy characters, but other than that the game plays the same as the Tempest version. The game comes in a drawstring pouch. I’d recommend this if you have small children, and you’re looking to play over the winter season, but other than that I’d give this one a miss. The artwork is charmingly whimsical, but it’s difficult to recommend a game that’s so specifically tied to one month of the year, especially if you already own a copy of Love Letter.
This was brought out to coincide with the third Hobbit movie, and features artwork and characters taken directly from the film. It’s notable since it introduces a rank zero card: The One Ring; during a round this card does nothing, but at the end of a round it counts as a rank seven. The other difference to the Tempest version is that it has two different rank three cards: Tauriel and Legolas. Legolas functions the same as the Baron in the Tempest version, targeting lower ranked cards, Tauriel works similarly but targets the higher ranked cards. The game comes with both a box and a pouch, although a pouch only option does exist. If you’re a big fan of The Hobbit then this might be the one for you, and the addition rules do help change things up a little bit. Honestly though, I think I’d be a lot more enthusiastic about this were it Lord of the Rings rather than just The Hobbit.
The second game to make any changes to how Love Letter plays is this Batman variant. In the game, guards have been replaced by Batman, Handmaids by Robin, and all other cards are characters from Batman’s Rogues Gallery. In addition to gaining a point (tracked with little Batsignal tokens) upon being the only player left in a round or for having the highest rank card at the end of the round, you can also gain them by using Batman’s ability to correctly guess a villain card, knocking them out. The game comes in a drawstring pouch and features artwork from the comics. My only complaint with Love letter: Batman is the art, yes it’s lifted directly from the comics, a fact that so many people seem to be fawning over. That’s not good enough for me though. There is such a wide breadth of art to choose from for Batman that I find it incredibly disappointing they’ve chosen the images they have, which are just a little basic and underwhelming. It’s not enough to put me off playing the game, but it is enough to prevent me from buying it.
The Adventure Time edition of Love Letter sees the characters of the popular show trying to gain the affections of Princess Bubblegum. All of the characters from the Tempest version have been replaced with characters from Adventure Time, who are all cosplaying as the characters they replaced and have the same abilities. Some of the card titles have been changed, with Royal Soldiers replacing the Priests, Gossips replacing the Barons, Companions replacing Handmaids, Heroes replacing the Princes, Wizard replacing the King, and Lady replacing the Countess. The game has a new win condition which is as follows: if the player plays a ‘Hero’ card (rank five), either Finn or Jake, and makes a player discard the other Hero, they reunite the iconic best buddies and win the round. The artwork is a wonderful painterly version of the typical Adventure Time style and the tokens have been replaced by different coloured gems. The game comes in either a box with the above artwork, or as a bagged version. Personally I’d recommend the bagged version for it’s portability and because the detail of Jake with love in his eyes is pretty dang cute.
This is coming out later this year, and probably after the Adventure Time variant. AEG are playing their cards close to their chest at the moment, so we really don’t know much at all about Once You Go Blackmail. The narrative revolves around collecting the most dirt on Mallory Archer so she’s forced to hire you as an agent, but ultimately it doesn’t look like this will affect the turn-by –turn gameplay all that much. The characters are lifted directly from Archer, and some of the abilities have changed. For example, Lana Kane replaces the Countess, and her ability is to collect each other player’s hand and the hidden identity card, then shuffle and re-deal these cards. The love tokens have been replaced with Pam’s dolphin hand puppet. The game went to press in January for an expected Summer release.
Most owners of Love Letter have probably had the issue of it only handling up to four players, I know that I have. Sure, you could play it with five or six, but it makes everything end just a little too quickly for there to be any real strategy there. Enter the upcoming Love Letter Premium, released in mid to late 2016. This version allows up to eight players thanks to the inclusion of an additional set of cards. What cards you’re suggested to use will depend on the player count.
The pack introduces the Assassin (value 0) which eliminates an opponent if they make you reveal your hand, the Sycophant (value 4) who makes you the target of all played cards until you play another, and the Bishop (value 9) which allows you you name a player and a card, if that player has the card then you gain an affection token. New additions also include the Queen (value 7) which acts as a Baron, but the player with the higher value card is eliminated instead of the lower, and the Constable (value 6) whihc allows you to gain an affection token if you are eliminated while you are holding him. If you played the Count (value 5) during the game he adds 1 to the value of the card in your hand at the end of the game. The Jester (value 0) allows you to name another player, if that player goes on to win the round then you gain an affection token at the end of the game, and the Priestess (value 2) allows you to choose two players who must then switch cards and one of those players must show you their hand. Finally the Baroness (value 3) lets you see two other players hands.
In addition to the extra character cards, the whole set has been increased in quality, it is a ‘Premium’ set after all… The cards are of a thicker stock, and have been supersized, the affection tokens are large and wooden, and the hard-sized box has a magnetic closure. Nothing says ‘premium’ like unnecessary magnets.
AEG are also going to release all the extra characters from Love Letter Premium with standard-sized cards as an expansion to Love Letter so those of us that already have a copy, or just prefer a smaller form-factor, can enjoy all the juicy new stuff.
Currently, unless you’re terribly excited by one particular franchise, the best version to get is probably either the Tempest or Kanai Edition, although the Adventure Time stays true enough to the original formula whilst still keeping things fresh. One issue with this suggestion is that the Kanai Edition is supposedly limited, but you can still find it online pretty easily. Yes, some versions of Love Letter have brought in new ideas, but most of these don’t really add an awful lot to the enjoyment of the game. Perhaps the best addition so far is getting points for catching players using Batman in the Batman edition, but this is something that can easily be implemented in any version. If you want a reason to justify that within the theme then it’s just that the Princess wants to marry a righteous man, and in catching criminals you are showing her that you are lawful.
If you’re willing to wait a few months and you only want to purchase the one set then Love Letter Premium will be the one to spring for. Personally I think it’s a shame that they chose the Tempest version over the Kanai Edition for some premium loving, but it makes sense given that’s considered by many to be the original. My own preferences aside: this will be the ‘ultimate’ version of the game, the higher quality components in addition to the fact it’ll handle an extra four players makes the set a damn good purchase. Heck, even if those additional roles turn out to dilute the simple purity of the current game play it’ll still be a nice object to have and play good old ‘standard’ Love Letter with.
It’s also worth noting that there are a whole host of custom print and play versions of Love Letter to be found, so if you like the idea of the game but just don’t like the theme behind any of the current options available then check out Board Game Geek, as it’s incredibly likely someone’s already made a version that’ll suit you.
Adventure Time, aeg, Archer: Once You Go Blackmail, Batman, Kanai Edition, Legend of the Five Rings, Letters to Santa, Love Letter, Munchkin Loot Letter, Premium, Sejei Kanai, Tempest Edition, The Hobbit