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Graham Rutland
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The full review, including images, can be enjoyed at Ludimus in Londinio

BoardGameGeek Edit: I've had a few people slam the title of this review - please read it carefully including punctuation. I've employed quotation marks to underline two points:

1) People negatively stereotype this game when I break it out to play. I'm quoting them, and thus, by extension, not expressing a personal opinion that it's 'just a girl's game' - it isn't and I think any such held belief is nonsense. There's no such thing. There are gamers' games.

2) The 'not just' should make even clearer the point I'm trying to make. This isn't the 'Citadels for girls' that many dismiss it as.

Hope that clarifies - please read the full piece before weighing in on someone incorrectly. - CR.

Set in the Renaissance-esque world of Tempest, Love Letter joins a universe and continuity already occupied by no fewer than four other stablemates, and while I am unfamiliar with the Tempest setting, Love Letter seems to me to be the easiest and most accessible route in and has my interest very much piqued for the other titles in the series: Courtier, Canalis, Dominare and Mercante.

But our focus for now is Love Letter, which represents the efforts of up to four suitors (the players) to win the hand of Tempest’s Princess Annette, who has become hot property after recently becoming next in line to the throne following the Queen’s arrest. One caveat: in response to the crisis, Annette has locked herself in her chambers and will see none. Sending the eponymous love letters to Annette, the suitors must ensure that their own letters are passed up Tempest’s hierarchy (and so closer to the Princess) whilst those of their rivals are lost or misdirected. At the end of this (very often short) game, the suitor with the most letters delivered is declared successful and is granted audience to plead their suit to Annette. Whether or not the winning suitor is ultimately successful is a story for another time.

I love complex games with a myriad of bits and pieces, so Love Letter is just about as far removed from my preferences as you can get. A deck of sixteen, solitary cards in eight flavours of varying quantities comprises the entire game, albeit rather nicely presented in a scarlet velvet pouch alongside thirteen score cubes.

And that’s that.

But that would be to completely underestimate and fail to do justice to the tactical nuance, second guessing and outright treachery that makes up your average game of Love Letter. In the absence of pieces and rules legion, the self-centred competitiveness of real would-be suitors takes centre stage and reminds us that, actually, very little has changed in the world of wooing in four-hundred odd years. If you have ever asked someone close to your would-be belle or beau to pass a note, put in a good word, find out more or ask them out for you, then you have played Love Letter in real life. Likewise, if you have ever fought over a particular target of your desires, or, worse, found yourself left to stand by and watch as someone else sweeps them off their feet, you too have played Love Letter in real life. In either case, it can be a rather complex and hostile process, usually with a victim somewhere. To its credit, then, Love Letter can be related to instantly.

Play centres around eight characters who populate Annette’s day to day life (in varying quantities across the 16-card deck) and so have the potential to deliver suitors’ letters to her. Characters are graded from 1-8 dependent on how close they are to Annette, both in actual physical proximity and emotional confidence, and therefore how likely they are to deliver a particular suitor’s letter first. The characters range from guards, priests, barons and handmaidens through princes, the king himself and up to Annette’s most trusted countesses (essentially those aforementioned best friends of your idol) and even the Princess herself. After all, for some people there is no thrill in the hunt, and perhaps you’ll just drop the pretence, eschew protocol and manage deliver the letter to Annette yourself.

At all times, suitors have a hand of one card. The card they hold is the person presently carrying their love letter for this round. On their turn, suitors draw a second card and must then choose one of their two cards to discard. Unlike other games, however, ‘discard’ is synonymous with ‘play’. While the remaining card will continue to carry the love letter onward, the discarded card enters play and will have some sort of effect on gameplay, ranging from protecting oneself, manipulating and viewing other player’s hands right through to knocking them out of the round completely. With that in mind, rounds of Love Letter are very poker-esque, and comprise equal quantities of deduction and downright guesswork as well as remembering what has been played or been seen in other players’ hands. To aid in this, four reminder cards are included which allow players to recap the eight different personae and how many of each there are in the deck.

Play continues until the round ends. This is either when the 16-card deck is exhausted and the day is therefore over, or one player is left standing (everyone else’s letters ‘went missing’). For this reason, rounds can last several minutes in some cases and as little as five seconds in others, making Love Letter both wonderfully quick and unpredictable. In the event of an exhausted deck, the player holding the highest ranked card is deemed to have delivered their letter closest to Annette – that character, in turn, is imagined to be able to deliver the letter most quickly and readily on your behalf. In the case of ties, the player with the highest value of discarded cards is deemed to have made the most effort to get close to and court Annette (an effort that has not gone unnoticed, if you will) and is declared the winner. Either way, the winner is awarded a single scoring cube from the pile of thirteen.

Play then continues in this vein until one player commands the majority of the scoring cubes. This helps keep game lengths relatively constant across different numbers of players, since the same pool of thirteen is always shared, and ensures that no single game of Love Letter exceeds 20-30 minutes. With experienced and swift players, games can potentially be played in fewer than 10 minutes.

Love Letter is an incredibly simple game to pick up and enjoy, with relatively little reading required and the manufacturer’s recommendation of ages 10+ about right. Its brevity and compact size mean that it is a perfect warmup game or respite between longer games to keep on your person and even play on the go. That same brevity is, however, a double-edged letter-opener; Love Letter is completely unsuited to longer sessions. The sixteen cards only offer so many different strategies, and, much as in Citadels, groups playing together long enough in a sense create their own meta in a short space of time, seizing on particular strategies and counters time and again. But the lightness of the very subject matter on which the game is founded leaves you able only to infer that the game is designed to be played in these short bursts, and provided this rule is followed, you’ll love it.

4/5 (Full details of LIL's scoring system can be found on the blog)

I liked:
+ Nice Renaissance theming and artwork – beautiful presentation in velvet bag;
+ Simple, easy-to-learn premise reliant on a very small number of pieces;
+ Very well priced – a superb token gift, stocking filler, prize or pocket money spend;
+ Quick, satisfying play perfect for warmups and in between longer games;
+ Part of an established universe of games, meaning other games are available.

Watch out for:
- Unsuited to longer play sessions;
- Romance theme and ranking mechanic draws dismissive comparisons with Citadels, making the game a tougher sell to some players.


You might also like:
Citadels, which also centres around the ranking of eight characters, but instead expands with these characters going on to build cities which contribute to victory, or Libertalia, a pirate board game which also centres around a core mechanic of character ranking.
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Rich P
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Please consider using a less offensive title for your review.
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Dave Lartigue
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"for girls" Rolling my eyes here.
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Kevin Green
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Huh. I guess I gave it a pass because it was "NOT" that, and the text makes it seem the reviewer was taking steps to debunk opinions he ran into. But the other posters are probably right.

Nice review.
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Graham Rutland
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Now I'm back at a computer I can give a more developed answer.

The title, you'll note, is written:

Not just " 'Citadels' for girls "

I realise that with a small font that's not abundantly clear. The 'Citadels for girls' part is deliberately put in " " marks for 2 reasons:

1) I'm quoting the near-sighted remark I often get when I break this game out - the use of quotes is universally understood to mean 'these are not my words but someone else's';
2) I'm invoking a degree of sarcasm at the expense of the same people with the 'not just' and clarifying that this game is quite a bit more.

No offense is intended in that title except to the same people that wrongfully dismiss a game as 'for girls' when there is no such thing, just as they dismiss some games (or even games in general) as 'for children'. There are games 'for gamers' and I'm additionally pretty active in trying to encourage more female players into what is a male-dominated hobby.

You'll note I then came full circle in my review (which I gather you perhaps didn't take the time to read) and added that:

"- Romance theme and ranking mechanic draws dismissive comparisons with Citadels, making the game a tougher sell to some players"

I think that pretty clearly sums up the incorrect, negative view that players have of the game if the title did not.

I can only apologise if that wasn't clear either from the title or the content of the review!
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Graham Rutland
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kmancheese wrote:
Huh. I guess I gave it a pass because it was "NOT" that, and the text makes it seem the reviewer was taking steps to debunk opinions he ran into. But the other posters are probably right.

Nice review.


Actually Kevin you were correct and not the other posters - see above.
 
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Josh Chen
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I got the what the title meant also.
Don't worry about those who doesn't bother to read. Nice review.
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