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Board Games With OB #18: Love Letter

Welcome to Board Games With OB, a somewhat profane, possibly semi-regular feature where OregonBeast gets a board game he likes and briefly explains how to play it and hopes you would be interested in playing it, too. Because board games are fucking awesome.

"Hey, want to see a game that's taking over the world?"

Ooo, the next new big thing! You can't wait to see what massive, gigantic monstrosity is. You expect a game with so many wood bits it takes half a tree to make like Terra Mystica. Or a game in a box so big you risk a hernia moving it like Twilight Imperium. But low and behold, this amazing game, this world changer, is 16 playing cards and 13 little wood cubes. And you don't even really need the cubes, just the cards.


Initial reaction: You've got to be fucking kidding me.

But, nope, Love Letter, this game so small and simple that it'll be a challenge to find it for more than $10 'Murican new, has become wildly popular. Because in those 16 cards exists a game of deduction, risk-taking and an occasional lucky break that will bring the most snobbish big-box gamer and newbie who's only played Sorry! their entire life onto equal footing. A game small enough it could literally fit into many coin purses can keep a group of four entertained for hours.


Meet the next big thing that fits into any pocket. Yes, even the pocket of a pair of skinny jeans. Hello, Love Letter.

Illustration for article titled Board Games With OB #18: Love Letter

Game: Love Letter
Players: 2 to 4
Gametime: 20 minutes
Designer: Seiji Kenai (Japan)
Key Mechanics: Deduction, hand management

Story: Oh, the fair, beautiful princess. (or, in some editions if you choose, prince, but we'll stick with princess for this write-up) All you lowly commoners in the kingdom hope to get your letter of adoration in her beautiful hands. But as she is a beautiful princess, access to her is locked up tighter than Fort Fucking Knox. Your only hope is to get your letter into the hands of as high-ranking a castle personnel as possible. Or, if you're really damned lucky, the Princess herself. And all those other people trying to get their love letters to the Princess? Fuck 'em. TAKE THEIR PUNK ASSES OUT.


What do you do? Love Letter is played with a 16-card deck. This deck is made up of eight different types of cards. Each card has a numerical value ranging for 1 to 8, and each of these cards shows up a different number of times in the deck.

A round of Love Letter is played by first shuffling up the deck. The top card is burned off and kept face-down, leaving a deck of 15 cards to play. Each player is dealt one card. On a player's turn, they draw the top card off the face-down deck and choose one card to keep and one card to discard. The effect of the discarded card is undertaken, then play moves on to the next player.

Illustration for article titled Board Games With OB #18: Love Letter

Well, what are these cards and their effects? Well, the cards at each value have a different name based on what version of the game you have. The names given here are for the standard American edition of the game and the special Kenai Factory limited release (the copy I have):

  • #1: Guard/Soldier - There are five of these cards in the deck. By discarding this card, you can choose another player and try to guess what card they have their hand. If you guess correctly, they are eliminated from the round. Guess wrong, and play continues.
  • #2: Priest/Clown - There are two of these cards in the deck. Discarding this card lets you pick another player. That player then has to let you see (secretly, so other players can't see it) the card in their hand. Play then continues on.
  • #3: Baron/Knight - The showdown card. There are two of these cards in the deck. Discard this card and you get to pick another player. You secretly compare hands. The player with the lower-ranked card is eliminated from the round.
  • #4: Handmaiden/Priestess - The card of protection. There are two of these cards in the deck. Discarding it means you are protected from the effects of other cards until your next turn.
  • #5: Prince/Wizard - Two of these cards in the deck as well. Discarding this cards allows you to force another player to discard their current card and immediately draw a new card. You can even choose to force yourself to discard. A good way to either take out a player you think might have a high-ranking card or an opportunity to get yourself a higher-ranking card.
  • #6: King/General - Only one card in the deck, and it's the old switcheroo. Discard this and you can force a trade of hands with another player.
  • #7: Countess/Minister - Only one of these in the deck, and only one card that can beat it. But these high odds of success comes with a catch. If you have this card, and the combined ranks of the two cards you have after drawing and before discarding equals 12 or more, you're eliminated from the round. If you draw this card and the ranks equal 12 or more, you have to immediately discard it, which immediately tips off the other player the card in your hand has a rank of at least five.
  • #8: Princess/Prince - Just one of these cards in the deck, and it is unbeatable. Well, it's unbeatable so long as you have it. In another player can force you to discard this card, you're eliminated from the round.

Rounds continues until one of two things happens: Either all of the player except one have been eliminated, or the deck has been exhausted. If it's the former, the surviving player receives a token of affection from the princess. If the deck is exhausted, the surviving

Illustration for article titled Board Games With OB #18: Love Letter

players compare the cards in their hands. The highest rank gets the token of affection. If there is a tie, the players who discard the highest total rank of cards gets the token of affection.

How to taste sweet, sweet victory: The goal here is to get the tokens of affections from our lovely princess. How many it takes to win depends on the number of players. In a 2-player game, it's the first to seven. In a 3-player game, it's the first to five. In a 4-player game, it's the first to four.


So, what makes this game awesome?

  • Simplicity. Hard to find many games simpler than 16 cards.
  • Strategy. While it sometimes can fall flat in a two-player game, the deduction becomes incredibly complex in a four-player game, where you have to really pay attention to what cards each player is playing for a chance to take them out with a soldier or knight.
  • Speed. The game plays incredibly fast, making for good filler material.
  • General excitement. Deduction games in general (like The Resistance, which was discussed here) always have a sense of tension as you try to figure out who is who, and there's always going to be at least one surprise reaction of "Whoa, you were the PRINCESS?" during this game.
  • Affordability. This game is going to normally retail for $10 or less.

Watch it played: Here's a review video for Love Letter from Canadian retailer Starlit Citadel. (opens in new tab)


Previous Board Games With OB: [Takenoko] [Snake Oil] [Tsuro] [Dixit] [The Resistance] [Hey, That's My Fish!] [Ticket To Ride] [Survive: Escape From Atlantis] [Castle Panic] [Small World] [Qwirkle] [Elder Sign] [Carcassonne] [Jaipur] [Tokaido] [Blokus] [Puerto Rico]

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