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Adam Porter
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With thanks to Mr Penguin for use of image


As Love Letter continues to grow in popularity, I wanted to revisit the earlier 2-player card-game from the same designer. Love Letter started out in a similar manner to R, packaged in a paper envelope with Japanese pen-and-ink artwork adorning each card. R features two sets of eight cards (16 cards total) and a rule-sheet... and that's it. Seiji Kanai is the master of economic gaming. With that statement I am not putting him in the same category as 18XX designer Francis Tresham, or prolific Euro-designer Friedemann Friese, but instead I mean that Kanai's games are cheap: cheap to produce; cheap to buy. Yet, Love Letter has carved itself a niche in the gaming world, and similar "micro-game" titles are emerging such as Coup and Council of Verona. Maybe Kanai is onto something.



With thanks to Lloyd for use of image


Very Brief Summary of the Rules

This rules explanation will focus on the basic game - not any of the 25(!) additional variants listed on the rulesheet.

Two players are each given an identical hand of eight cards, numbered 0-7. They play a card face down on the table and then both reveal their card. The highest card wins the round and gains a point. Both cards are discarded. The first player to win four rounds in this manner wins the game, which tends to happen in under 5 minutes.

However, each card has a special mandatory power:

The Clown (0) nullifies the existing round and puts it on hold. This means the winner of the subsequent round will be awarded two points instead of one. (One point for the victory and one point for the "on hold" round).
The Princess (1) wins the game if the opponent has played the Prince.
The Spy (2) allows you to delay picking your card in the next round, until you have seen your opponent's card.
The Assassin (3) wins if he is the lowest strength card played in the round.
The Minister (4) counts as 2 victories if he wins.
The Wizard (5) nullifies the special power of the opponent's card.
The General (6) gives +2 strength to your card in the subsequent round.
The Prince (7) wins the round automatically, unless played against the Princess.

Hence the game involves predicting which card your opponent will play based on what they have played previously, and hence which cards are left in their hand.



With thanks to Lloyd for use of image


Components

The artwork is nice. Other than that, there's not much to say. It's just 16 cards in a paper envelope with an A4 sheet of paper for rules.



With thanks to LittleNapolean for use of image


How well does the theme hold up?

The rulebook tells of two princes from opposing factions combatting to take the throne. Each has a weakness - they are in love with the princess of the opposing faction. This is all irrelevant of course. Several of the cards make some sort of thematic sense: the spy allows you to pre-empt your opponent's move, the wizard uses his powers to reduce the powers of the enemy, the general is strong in combat.

Complexity

There is no complexity here. If you can play rock-paper-scissors, you can play this. The rules state "This is not a long, strategic game in which you think carefully each round. Use it as a way to decide game order, or instead of rock-paper-scissors." If found this little paragraph refreshingly honest and under-stated!

The Luck factor

The first couple of victories in a round will be entirely decided by a lucky card selection. After that, players can start to assess their opponent's position and judge which card she is likely to play. The game is so short, it is hard to come back from an unlucky start, but it's not impossible to see the game switch around again, and it's all over so quick you can just play another game regardless. The luck here is extremely dominant, but that is not to say that there is NO strategy. I would rather play this than a short dice game like Cthulhu Dice, for example.

What does the game offer to keep bringing me back for more plays?

Firstly, it is very unusual, so you won't have many other games like it. It fills a niche in that it is extremely portable, plays in five minutes, with a 30 second rule explanation.

Secondly, the rules offer 26 different variants, on a single side of A4! I can't pretend I have tried them all, but they do offer different experiences - some are terrible luck-driven non-games; others are subtle re-workings of the basic game involving drafting cards, or assymetric decks etc.

How much interaction is there between players?

It is total interaction: one-on-one battling card-play, with lots of bluffing, poker-faces, and analysis of your opponent's motives.

Will my non-gamer partner and friends enjoy it?

Oddly for such a short simple game, I think only a gamer will really appreciate the cleverness of this design. To someone who is not a board-game/card-game fan, this will probably seem frivolous and pointless. That is not to say that it is too complex for them - far from it - but it feels more like an experiment in boiling a card-game down to its bare bones than a true "game".

What other games is it like?

It's like a simpler (!) two player only edition of Love Letter. Other micro-games in this genre include the afore-mentioned Coup and the upcoming Council of Verona.

Aside from these card-games I can only really liken it to short dice games like Zombie Dice or Cthulhu dice, both of which I find rather pointless with far less charm than Kanai's games.

Positives:

- Eccentric
- Attractive art
- Portable
- Plays in five minutes
- Rules explanation takes 30 seconds

Negatives:

- Very luck-driven
- Very brief
- Very hard to get hold of a copy
- Could seem a little pointless

Is it a keeper?

It's so delightfully odd that it brings a smile to my face every time I play it. It gets people laughing just at the sheer ridiculous simplicity of the gameplay; yet R isn't without strategy. I love the artwork too. Love Letter has paved the way for more of these style of games, and R is a very close relative of that title. Well worth seeking out a copy if you can find it.

See my other reviews at http://boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/146115/europhile-reviews-a...
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Yellohat
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Nice review of a great little game! I also admire many of Seiji Kanai's games and R for sure is no exception.
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Mark McGee
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Seems like a streamlined version of Yomi or BattleCON: War of Indines, being primarily based on bluffing and predicting your opponent. Are you familiar enough with those games to make a comparison? Having not played R, I can only guess.
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Adam Porter
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meshnaster wrote:
Seems like a streamlined version of Yomi or BattleCON: War of Indines, being primarily based on bluffing and predicting your opponent. Are you familiar enough with those games to make a comparison? Having not played R, I can only guess.


I haven't played those games, but yes Yomi looks like a similar premise: Each player plays a card from their deck and the two players compare the result. Undoubtedly, BraveRats is going to be CONSIDERABLY simpler. I would hate someone to pick R up thinking they were getting some sort of fighting simulation...
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Stéphane Athimon
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Nice review of this two players game.

I think a French company was about to release it but this company is now a part of Blue Orange games.

They were offering the original game (in French) and another version where the characters done by Noboru Sugiura were replaced by rats.

The name of this version was Braverats, and the story was situated in the highlands.

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Bruce Murphy
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Jactalea. They were releasing a french-language-only version, and I think they already had.

B>
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Stéphane Athimon
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Yes Bruce, you were right, but due jactalea has disappeared, and all the games they were about to release belong now to Blue Orange game, so I think it will take a little time just to reorganize the schedule of the different releases they have.

I have contacted a former member of Jactalea in order to get the release date for the French. If I have any answer, I'll post it here. :-)
 
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Bruce Murphy
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sathimon wrote:
Yes Bruce, you were right, but due jactalea has disappeared, and all the games they were about to release belong now to Blue Orange game, so I think it will take a little time just to reorganize the schedule of the different releases they have.

I have contacted a former member of Jactalea in order to get the release date for the French. If I have any answer, I'll post it here. :-)


I'm on the jactalea updates mailing list as a reviewer. They announced brave rats (the adaptation of R) was announced in the same email that they announced the merger, so I imagine it's going ahead.

This will hopefully see Jactalea games be more easily available in the US and other places in the future, which would be a very good thing for abstract games.

B>
 
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Stéphane Athimon
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I got the answer this morning, the release date for France is in october for Braverats / R (The text will be in French and both version the original one with the Japanese Illustrations and the other with the new illustrations will be available) The japanese one will be offered with the new French one.

ANd you are right Bruce, Jactaléa games may become more available. ;-)

 
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