Love Letter Review

By Chris / October 28, 2018
Love Letter - feature

Can you deceive and bluff your want into the princess's good graces?

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Platforms

Android & iOS

Game Length

15 Minutes

# of Players

1-4

Game Publisher

Z-Man Games

App Developer

@Nomadgames

Our Rating

Multiplayer Options

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    Synchronous  Online
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    Cross-platform
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    Online leaderboards
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    Random matchmaking

Overview

Love Letter is a deduction/bluffing, hand management card game from Nomad Games. One to four players are trying their best to get their love letter into the hands of the princess, using various members of the royal household to try to achieve that goal. The game is played out across many short rounds, the first player to win a certain amount of those rounds, depending on player count, has succeeded in wooing the princess and wins the game, this usually takes about fifteen minutes, but that can vary greatly if many more or less rounds are needed before one player wins. 

The basic gameplay mechanic of Love Letter is incredibly simple. On each turn, a player will have a card in their hand to begin, they draw a new card and must play one of the two cards. Cards can be played as actions against opponents or they can be played against the player themself. At the end of each turn, the player will have one card in their hand and the next player will take their turn.

Love Letter is played out across many short rounds. A player wins a round either by having all of their opponents eliminated, or by having the strongest card when the round ends. The game is played through sixteen cards; eight unique cards, with duplicate copies of some of the less powerful cards. In each round, one card is blindly discarded and won’t be used in this round, others may be discarded face-up depending on the player count.

Each card has an ability and an influence value. The influence values range from one to eight. Should a round reach the point where there are no more cards to be drawn, all players reveal the card in their hand and the player with the highest influence card winds that round. 

The eight cards and their abilities/influences:

  • Princess - If you discard this card, you lose (influence of 8)
  • Countess - Must be discarded if she is in your hand with King or Prince (7)
  • King - Trade hands (6)
  • Prince - Force opponent to discard (5)
  • Handmaid - Protection from card effects until your next turn (4)
  • Baron - Compare hands with opponent, lowest strength card is out of the round (3)
  • Priest - Look at another player’s hand (2)
  • Guard - Guess a player’s hand, if correct they lose this round (1)

I could get lost for a few hundred words trying to describe the interplay between cards, but I’ll save us all the trouble. To summarize; it’s an amazingly clever game. Every card is powerful in its own right, and once players fully understand all of them the game really starts to shine.

Love Letter is a fast paced game heavily reliant on luck, but it is a lot of fun. You will have rounds where an opponent blindly guesses your card correctly using a guard on the first turn, and you’re out. Other things that are entirely luck based and might be super frustrating in a longer game get washed away in Love Letter because a round only takes about a minute or so to play. A quick loss is fine, you’ll be back in the game soon enough. 

One entirely fair question I had when I heard about this port, and I’ve seen this asked across all forms of social media as well, was how Love Letter would do in digital form. So much of the fun of the game lies in the bluffing/deduction side of things, and much of the fun there comes from staring down friends across the table to try to crack them. Your results will vary, of course, but I personally think that the digital version of Love Letter holds up quite well without the in-person aspect. This isn’t a fully social game like Coup, ONUW, or The Resistance. This is a really clever card game with some social aspects in play. I think the app really shines a light on how well designed the game is and how fun it can be even without sitting across the table from friends.

love letter - menu

Barrier to Entry

Love Letter is a simple game once the basic “you must play/discard a card each turn” is understood. The game steps you through this learning process slowly through a tutorial. It does a good job of emphasizing certain points and through two rounds it makes sure you see all of the cards at least once. There is an in-game help menu with a brief text overview of the rules along with a brief description of each card. All of this is enough to teach new players the game, so no complaints here. 

Look and Feel 

love letter - guards

The app looks and controls great. The game is mostly drag-and-drop and that works seamlessly as you would hope. There is no undo button, but pretty much everything you do opens up previously hidden information, so an undo is fairly impractical for this game. You can speed up the game animations through a settings option if you want to play quicker.

Visually, the game presents the cards in big, bright digital form and they take up most of the screen when you zoom on them, letting the quality artwork shine, with some subtle animations for added effect. If you zoom into a card you can see three different views on the bottom portion; a symbol representation of what happened as a result of playing the card, a text description of the same, and the basic rules for the card. All of the information is presented and is very easy to find in case you forgot or missed a previous turn.

I have seen one bug to report in the early stages after the app release. On Android, during my first AI game I had the priest card freeze on me twice, causing me to have to quit the game. I haven’t seen it in any games since, however.

Multiplayer

Love Letter features real-time, cross-platform online play with random matchmaking. Selecting a public online game will place you into a game. Once two or more players join, a 30 second countdown will start, after which the game will begin. There is presumably a timeout on each player’s turn, but there is no indication on what that timeout is. Real-time play works how you would expect, I’ve had no issues with the games I’ve played.

The other game option is to play a private game. You can create a game, when you do so you are given a room key/share code that others can use to join your private game. The app doesn’t let you directly send invites to friends through the app, but does have an option to share the room key with another app. If you send it via text, for example, it will have a message saying “Let’s play Love Letter!” with a link for the recipient to click. This is a fairly crude way to handle online game invites.

The app store listing for the game mention local multiplayer. There is no option for any type of pass-and-play mode that I can find. Perhaps local multiplayer is intended to be through the private game mode? If you and some friends all had the app, then one person creating the game and the others simply typing in the room key to join would be a much easier way to play than inviting via text or email or whatever else.

love letter - game

Single Player

Single player games can be played against one to three AI opponents, all of the same, unnamed difficulty level. When starting a game you can choose the number of tokens needed to win and toggle on/off the ‘hide seen card stars’ option. I feel like the AI is decent, they usually make the obvious move if it’s available. AI in a bluffing/deduction game like this is always a tricky endeavor, I feel like the AI in Love Letter is good enough to make the game enjoyable, but most players will likely prefer online play.

What Else?

At the end of a game, online or off, points are doled out to each player. You get points for which place you finish, points for each token you earned, and points for bonuses accrued during the game. These points go towards your overall score which is ranked in an online leaderboard.

The Wrap Up

love letter - victory

Love Letter is an exceptionally clever game, managing to pack a lot of fun into a small package. Each round is full of luck and bluffing and tactical decision making and flies by in just a minute or so before you get to do it all over again.

The downsides of the app begin with the crude online invite system. It’s 2018 and we’re using room keys and text message invites? The lack of local pass-and-play is also a fairly big omission. An app of a game like this should work as an advertisement for the physical game, and passing a phone around the room with friends to play a game or two is the ultimate advertisement. Beyond that, despite my enjoyment of the app, I’m sure others will disagree on how well the game ports to digital form. Some will surely miss the social aspect of the game to the point of finding the app unappealing. There are also some nagging bugs in the early going, hopefully those get ironed out quickly.

I thought a digital version of this game would be a bit pointless as I always considered Love Letter’s fun to come from the social aspects. However, the digital form of the game really allows the game to shine through and I have found myself having a lot of fun playing digitally which I honestly wasn’t expecting. The app is well made, some odd multiplayer design choices and early bugs aside, and lets players jump in and play a game quickly. Ultimately, the shortcomings here are notable so the score suffers a bit, but if you are looking for a game to jump into quick real-time online games, you will likely find a lot to enjoy in Love Letter.

Love Letter is surprisingly fun in digital form, but some odd design choices hold it back.

What we like


- Looks and plays great

- The digital version really shines a light on how cleverly designed the game is

What we don't like



- The online friend invite system is dated and clunky


- Lack of local pass-and-play


- Some players might miss the social aspect of the game in digital form


Our Rating

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