Love Letter is a popular deduction card game. Very easy to learn and play, and it’s accessible to a broad audience. Several variants are available, so I created a guide to see what are the similarities and differences between different sets and which Love Letter Board Game to Buy. Read the full Love Letter Board Game Review and Buyers Guide below.
Expressing Your Love is Not Easy
This is a story about a Princess named Annette and suitors, looking for a way to her heart. But there is a problem. Princesses are not someone you bump into on a street or look up on Facebook. No, they are hard to get close to and approach.
That’s why our suitors have written a love letter each, expressing their deepest love. The only problem is getting these letters to the princess since she lives in a heavily guarded castle.
But she’s not alone in the castle. There is her family, the people of the court, and the guards. Perhaps you can find a trustee in one of them and have them deliver the letter to the princess for you?
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Overview of Love Letter Rules
Love Letter is played for several rounds. The number is dependent on the number of players and their agreement. In a standard four-player game, players will play until one of them achieves four victories, while in a two-player game, you might play up to seven victories. Victories are marked with tokens, symbolizing Annette’s affection for you.
The objective of each round is to deliver a love letter to the princess. There are two ways to achieve this:
- Have the card with the highest rank at the end of the round.
- Eliminate all other players.
A standard deck consists of 16 cards. One random card is always removed from the round, so that there is some mystery, right down to the last card. In a two-player game, three cards will be removed.
Each player is dealt one card from the deck. The character on the card represents a person from the court, who the player is currently using to deliver the letter. Remember, the person who is the highest in the ranking will deliver the letter.
Taking your turn
Players play in clockwise turns. First, a player will draw one more card, then they will play one of the two cards. The effect of the played card comes into play immediately and you have to apply it, even if it means you lose the round.
Discarded cards remain face-up in front of the players, so they can use them to figure out what other players are doing and which cards could they hold in their hands.
A round ends if the deck runs out of cards, or if everyone but one player gets eliminated. And they go over super fast – I’m talking a matter of minutes per round.
How does one get eliminated, you ask? One of the key mechanics in Love Letter is analyzing and deducing which character could your opponents possibly hold.
Do you think they hold the highest-ranking card, the Princess herself? Let’s play the Prince card then, which makes your opponent discard his character. And if you discard the Princess, you lose. Or you could use the Guard to target a specific character. Guess correctly and that player is out of the round.
When you get knocked out, you discard your card in front of you, face-up, together with your other discarded cards.
It’s worth noting that some card effects demand a level of honesty among players. For example, they must discard the Countess if they also hold the King or a Prince in their hand. Official rules suggest you shouldn’t play with cheaters and that’s very good advice.
At the end of the round, all remaining players (if there is more than one) show their cards and the one with the highest ranking delivers the letter to princess Annette, winning an affection token. In the case of a tie, the player with the highest total value of discarded cards wins.
After that, it’s time for a new round. The winner of the previous round starts. The story says the Princess spoke of him kindly at breakfast.
Characters of the Court
The following characters are included in the standard 16 cards deck:
Rank 8: The Princess
The highest-ranking character is princess Annette herself. Giving the love letter directly to her is the most effective method of delivering it.
However, if you have to, for some reason, discard the Princess card, she has tossed your letter into the fire, and you are eliminated from the round. If you know one of the players might hold the princess card, you could play your prince and make them discard it.
Rank 7: The Countess
Countess Wilhelmina is a peculiar character. She likes to play mind games with Annette and her suitors but is afraid Prince or King might catch her.
So, if you are holding the Countess cards together with a Prince or the King card, you must discard the Countess card immediately. This of course gives a strong signal to other players about the cards you might be holding … or is it just a trick?
Rank 6: The King
King Arnaud IV may be the ruler of the kingdom, but in Princess’s heart, he’s only at rank 6. Apparently, that’s got to do something with arresting Queen Marianna, Princess’s mother.
When you play the King card, you trade your hand card with one of the players of your choosing. That is a double-edged sword, of course, since he now knows what you’re holding. I find that the King card is better to keep in the hand than to play it.
Rank 5: Two Princes
Princess’s brother Prince Arnaud is a very useful card. When you play him, choose one of the players (that could be yourself too if everyone else played the handmaid card or if you decide to do so) and that player must discard his card (without playing out its effect) and draw a new one. Unless that card is the Princess – in that case he loses immediately.
The main use of the Prince is to make other players discard their high-ranking cards. Of course, the Prince has a decent rank himself, so discarding him is always a matter of compromise.
Rank 4: Two Handmaids
Handmaid Susannah is a clever character. She works as a protector. When you play her, you are immune to all effects of other players’ cards until your next run.
Rank 3: Two Barons
I don’t like Baron Talus. He’s a nasty character, trying to get rid of Princess’s suitors. Playing him, you will secretly compare your hand card with that of another – and the player with the lower rank is eliminated (nothing happens if there is a tie).
Using the Baron is a tricky matter. You want to make sure you’ll win the duel, so having a high-hand card and choosing your opponent wisely is key.
Rank 2: Two Priests
Father Tomas is an honest guy. He doesn’t like mind games and is always seeking the truth. Playing him, you choose a player and look at his hand card in secrecy.
Rank 1: Five Guards
Guard Odette is our lowest-ranking character as she doesn’t have access to the Princess. She is, however, very good at revealing others who plot around the royal family.
When you play Odette, you choose a player and name a card with a rank number. If you guess correctly (honesty from the targeted player is mandatory), you knock out the player. If you miss, nothing happens. If everyone is protected by a handmaid, Guard is also discarded without effect.
Extension – More Characters Arrive at the Court
If you want to play Love Letter with more than four players (up to 8), you can add the extension, which introduces 16 new cards with ten new characters with new abilities for a combined deck of 32 cards. New faces add some tactical options and a bit of complexity to the game.
Rank 9: Bishop Vinizio
A weird character, Vinizio can target other characters (naming a number and a player) and if he gets it right, you get an affection token immediately. The targeted player is not eliminated by this but draws a new card. Also, despite being rank 9, he is beaten by the Princess at the end of the round. But only at the end – during the round, he plays as rank 9.
Rank 7: Dowager Queen Tummia
This one works like a Baron, only that a player with a higher rank is eliminated when you play it.
Rank 6: Constable Viktor
You could say Viktor can reach you beyond the grave. If you have him in your discard pile and get knocked out, you get an affection token. It’s basically a free token – you get one if you win or lose that round.
Rank 5: Count Gutram
This is another card with a passive ability that comes into play only at the end of the round and if you have to compare cards. It adds +1 to the rank of your hand card (or +2, if you have two Counts in your discard).
Rank 4: Sycophant Morris
Morris doesn’t do much by himself, but it lets you choose which player will be targeted with the next card played. It offers some tactical options to focus attention on another player or divert an attack away from you.
Rank 3: Baroness Fiona
Works just like the Priest, except that you can now look at cards of up to two players, not just one.
Rank 2: Cardinal Vesper
Cardinal lets you choose two players who then switch their cards. Also, it lets you take a peek at one of those cards. It doesn’t have any effect if not enough players are still in the game, but otherwise, it’s great to add some chaos and gain some information.
Rank 1: Guard Dougaul
Guard is a guard and works exactly the same as Odette.
Rank 0: Jester Darius
Jester likes to bet. When he’s played, you can place a Jester token next to a chosen player. If that player then wins the round, you get an affection token as well.
Rank 0: Assassin
Assassin is a counter-weapon to guards. He’s only effective if he’s in your hand and you are targeted by another player’s Guard. In that case, the Assassin kills the Guard and eliminates the Guard’s player. Assassin is then discarded and you draw a new card.
Love Letter: Digital Edition on Steam
In October 2018, Love Letter on Steam became available. It’s a direct conversion of the original, 4 player game into the digital world. Here are some key facts about it:
- The presentation is terrific. The characters in the pictures look fantastic, they even move a bit to add life to the cards. Background music adds to the atmosphere.
- There is a tutorial available (not that you need it), a single-player mode against bots, and multiplayer.
- Bots are very capable. They hardly make any mistakes, so unless you play optimally yourself, you’ll have a hard time beating them.
- Multiplayer works fine, the only problem is finding players, as it’s not very populated. I haven’t been able to get more than one opponent at a time.
- The user interface is smooth and everything works as expected. As a nice touch, each card has star symbols to tell you how many of such cards have already been played, so it’s easier to keep track if there are any Guards left in the deck, for example.
- The extension is not available. That’s a big shame for me. (Check Board Game Arena if you want to play with the extension).
- No skins or different themes are available. Another missed opportunity, since these would be easy to implement.
- The price is a bargain, especially if you wait for a sale. You can get it for the price of one beer.
Which Edition of Love Letter to Buy?
If you type Love Letter into Amazon, you’ll see that several versions are available (and some hardly available). You’ve got the original, boxed edition, extension, and big-box edition, On top of that, you’ve got all sorts of different themes, where only the names and images are replaced, but the gameplay remains the same (Batman, Hobbit, Star Wars, Archer, Munchkin, etc.).
Here’s what I recommend:
- If you want to play the base game (16 cards that support up to 4 players), get the new edition that’s packed in a bag. It’s the cheapest option. Compared to the original, it has slightly altered graphics, but it’s otherwise the same. You can always get the extension if you later wish to play with more players.
- If you normally play with a larger group, you can buy the big box directly: it includes the base game + the extension.
- As I mentioned, Love Letter comes in many flavors. These two are my favorites (click on the images to see the price on Amazon):
- If you’re feeling the holiday spirit, you can’t miss going with Love Letters: Letters to Santa.
- If you like horror, especially the type of horror from H.P. Lovecraft, I recommend Lovecraft Letter.
Love Letter is a tiny card game, that is a perfect filler game since rounds are finished in minutes and the entire game in 10 minutes. It’s something you play when you get knocked out of something bigger, or something you teach new players when introducing them to the board gaming hobby.
I’d argue it’s not even meant to be played for longer periods. Luck plays a big role in it and sometimes you’ll get into situations where you’ll have your hands tied (i.e. you will have to discard the Princess and lose). It’s the same for everyone and at first, it’s fun to see someone lose that way. But if you play too long, it can get frustrating.
Another problem is that there isn’t much skill involved in Love Letter. If you’re a somewhat capable player, you’ll grasp the meta and tactics very rapidly. And if you play against another player like that, you might just toss a coin and have the same chances of winning.
It’s a game that’s meant to be played for fun, not for competition and it should be treated as such. And as such it delivers fast and fun gameplay that makes rounds pass like lightning.
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