So, Love Letter. The spiritual predecessor to the Lost Legacy modular card game series, Love Letter pioneers the “draw one, play one” mechanic it shares with its successor but opts to avoid the generic fantasy/sci-fi theme of Lost Legacy and instead shoots for the much-less-commonly-used generic Renaissancey theme. Whew, dodged a bullet on that one, everyone. (That being said, there are plenty of of other themes for Love Letter. Here’s at least 40. And Batman!)
But anyways. You all play as various suitors to the Princess who are trying to pass your love notes between various high ranking nobles so that, by the end of the day, the Princess (or the person closest to her) gets your love note. Now that I have explained the theme, I am going to put that theme in a box, throw that box into the ocean, and never speak of it again. It hardly matters. Let’s move on.
As with Lost Legacy, each card has an image, some explanation on the card, and then a number, like so:
You’ll need to shuffle the cards and place one, face-down, out of the game. Sound familiar? Well, unlike Lost Legacy’s Ruins, you almost never can interact with that card. Here’s a quick rundown of what cards you should expect to see in the game, handily included with Love Letter:
Note that the numbers on the left are the cards’ numbers and the numbers on the right are how many of each card are in the deck. This is pretty critical. Once you’ve shuffled and dealt a card to each person (and one out of the game), you can get started. Your play area should look like this:
In case you were wondering, that’s why I opted for blue card backs for Lost Legacy. They pop out a bit more from the table. Now to Gameplay.
Like I said, Love Letter is the original Lost Legacy, so they share much of the same mechanics. On your turn, you draw a card from the deck so that you have two cards in your hand, like so:
Then you immediately discard one and resolve its effect. Note, if you were reading the card earlier carefully, that means if you discard the Princess, you lose. Yup.
Your goals are either to eliminate every other player or to have the highest-value card once the deck is depleted. Let’s talk quickly about what the cards do.
Meet the Cards
So, since they’re numbered, I can do this super simply.
- Guard (5 in deck): You choose a number (except 1; you can’t choose Guard) and choose another player. If they have that card, they’re eliminated. Unlike Lost Legacy, you do not get to see their hand. Bummer. There are many more of these in the deck relative to Lost Legacy’s X or 8s.
- Priest (2 in deck): You get to see another player’s hand. There’s not much else to say.
- Baron (2 in deck): You compare hands with another player. The person with the lower card is eliminated, and ties mean both players stay in. Humorously, this means you can draw two Barons on your turn and be forced to play one. More interesting is that given the card distribution you have around a 50% chance of not being eliminated if this happens on your first turn, but I haven’t done the exact math on this. Fun card to play, though. Baron + Princess is an instant elimination for another player, since there’s only one Princess.
- Handmaid (2 in deck): Until your next turn, cards played by other players cannot affect you. This affects Guard, Priest, Baron, Prince, and King. This is particularly interesting because of our next card.
- Prince (2 in deck): Choose any player (including yourself). That player discards their hand and draws a new card. The discarded card’s effect is not resolved. Note that if you Prince someone holding the Princess, they lose. This is particularly relevant because if your only options to Prince have just played a Handmaid, you must Prince yourself, even if that would cause you to lose. Bummer. Note that if you Prince someone and there are no more cards in the deck, they take the card that was out of play. This way they still have a card, though the game is over so you just compare cards to see who wins.
- King (1 in deck): Trade hands with another player. Not a great card to have in your hand, unfortunately. Made worse if you trade hands with someone and give them your Guard. Then you basically lose. Made even worse if the last card you draw is the King and the Princess, meaning you get to choose who you trade hands with and give the game to. Or you can discard the Princess and just lose out of spite.
- Countess (1 in deck): If you ever have this card and either the King or the Prince in your hand, you must discard the Countess. Incidentally, if you have the Princess in your hand with the Countess and don’t want to lose instantly, you must also discard the Countess. This throws some players off, but basically the card’s effect is “If the other card in your hand is 5 or higher, you must discard the Countess.” Kind of a bummer because you’re signaling what your card might be, but you are’t explicitly confirming unless all the other cards are already in other player’s discards.
- Princess (1 in deck): If you ever discard this card, you lose. Ultimate bummer, because now you’re always forced to play the other card in your hand.
Again, like Lost Legacy, there are little cubes you can use to keep score, but I prefer playing this one as a short microgame until we get bored.
Not a whole lot to talk about here with only 16 cards, but still worth looking at some synergies.
- Using the King to get rid of the Princess early is usually a good move. Nobody really ever plays the King (it’s kind of bad), so an early play is a pretty strong signal that you have a card worth getting rid of.
- Keep track of what cards have been played. I know this one is obvious, but that helps with the Guard and the Baron so you don’t get surprised.
- Be mindful of how many cards are left in the deck. Unlike Lost Legacy, this isn’t modular, so there are only ever sixteen cards in the entire game (fifteen, technically, since you always leave a card out). Don’t plan up a big strategy only to have it not play out because you only get like, four turns in a four-player game.
- If you have a Guard and the Princess, checking to see if another player has a Prince is a pretty good idea, but it also signals that you might have the Princess. Just a note. Why else would you be looking for the Prince, rather than another equally common card?
- Playing the Handmaid is pretty much always positive. It’s not quite high enough of a card that it will likely win you the game to hold on to, and Love Letter is pretty aggressive about player elimination. Especially in larger games, knowing that you’re safe for a full round is usually a pretty serious advantage.
- If you have a Baron and a Prince or higher, it’s probably worth playing the Baron. Sure, you might get yourself wrecked, but say you have the Countess (7) and the Baron and you lose to another player (since they have the Princess ), everyone knows what card they have (since they can only have a higher card, in this case, the Princess).
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Quick. Especially if you’re not playing very seriously, this game can be over in easily less than five minutes.
- Fun. Again, it helps if you’re not taking it very seriously, but Baroning someone and losing immediately is kind of funny. We jokingly call that “falling on your own sword”.
- Easy to learn. Not that many cards, so it’s very simple to explain to new players.
- Portable. Only 16 cards, like I said, so it’s very easy to throw in a backpack or a purse or a fanny pack (hey, you do you) and take with you somewhere.
- Comes with a nice bag. They stopped doing that in the later Lost Legacy games and it’s sad.
- Thematically related to other games. They have this whole Tempest line of games (Canalis, Courtier, Dominare, Love Letter, Mercante, Patronize), which is kind of awesome. I only have Dominare (which is lengthy and VERY DIFFICULT, like Risk but with influence and control of a city-state), but I’d love to get the other ones and just have a Tempest day.
- Really easy to re-theme. Don’t like Renaissance? Just get one of the literally dozens of rethemes online. Like I said, only 16 cards. In fact, some versions of the game have duplicate 8s and 5s that are the Prince and Princess, respectively, if you want to retheme the game to be less heavy-handed about traditional gender roles, which is totally your call.
- Too many Guards. It’s possible that everyone can have a Guard in a four-player game, which is just kind of obnoxious. Means that nobody is really getting eliminated for a round, and then it’s difficult to eliminate everyone else. They seem to have fixed this by only having three max of any one card in Lost Legacy.
- Getting stuck with certain cards sucks. It’s a bit frustrating when you draw a certain card configuration (Prince + Princess against a Handmaid or King + Princess in the last few turns of the game) that all but guarantees that you will lose the game. It would be nice if there were other ways around that, but that’s a consequence of the game’s simplicity. Normally this would be a “con”, but since the game is so short it’s really hard to get that mad about it.
- Not particularly great with two players. Given the possibilities of card combinations, there are a number of ways you can start the game such that one player immediately loses. While that’s fine for a three- or four-player game, with two players it means you’re just reshuffling the deck a lot and wondering why you went through the trouble. Sometimes it’s fun with two players, but a lot of times you end up here.
- It’s just not as fun as Lost Legacy, to me. You can almost emulate the entire game of Love Letter with Lost Legacy cards, but even though you can’t quite it just feels like a skeleton by comparison. Lost Legacy has more cards, has modularity going for it, and honestly has fewer irritating card combos.
Overall: 6 / 10
This used to be one of my favorite games to play with friends, but Lost Legacy just really nuked it for my group (both in terms of variety and increasing the player count to 6 or 8 [with three decks, yes, I did it]). We haven’t played it in a while, and honestly if we’re looking for a short microgame we usually default to Lost Legacy instead just due to its variety / the additional ways to eliminate players hilariously (the Second and Third Chronicles do a lot for that). I really could see myself playing it if I’m in a certain mood for it, but it’d have to be as an interlude to Dominare or while playing other Tempest games. Then I think I could get really into it. But, if you’re not looking for an entire set of games, I’d just recommend to get Lost Legacy instead. It does everything this game does and more.