From Your Devoted Lover....Ewww! - Batman Love Letter Review

Batman Love Letter...................riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight! This is one of the most strangest variations for a game I've seen to date. Not content with milking the cash cow that is Love Letter, AEG have gone one step further and merged it with the Batman franchise. Yet they've called it Batman Love Letter when really it should have the last part in brackets or written as "A Love Letter Game" because as it's currently shown, that's just weird!

Pretty much every gamer out there knows what Love Letter is and we've seen plenty of spin offs for the game which at first glance appear to be exactly the same game, just with a different veneer. That being said, the original game is very popular being one of the few micro games to make the BGG Top 100. Some will scoff at micro games thinking that there is a fad going on or that micro games don't count for high rankings and I'm on the defending team for this argument. If a game is that much fun or ticks so many boxes that it's appealing to a wide audience of gamers, then it deserves to be given credit for it. Size really doesn't matter at the end of the day, nor does the production price point. 

So we have two sides of a coin with regards to this version. Those who have never played Love Letter and those who own a copy, but are wondering if this is worth getting to replace the original, which was more my line of thinking. Given the small size of the game, this shouldn't take long......



Designer: Seiji Kanai (2015)
Publisher: AEG
# of Players: 2-4
Ages: 8+
Play Time: 5-20 Minutes
BGG Rank/Rating: 1405 / 7.62


Batman Does Not Love, He Broods

In the original game the premise was that you were trying to send a love letter to the princess. Here it's a little different in that you're actually hoping to catch the Joker. There is a small deck of 16 cards numbered 1 to 8 with varying quantities of each (more lower than higher). The aim of the game is to either eliminate the other players or to be left with the highest ranked card at the end of a round, ideally the Joker.

Players all start with one card in their hand and one card is removed from the deck which is out for the current round. The entire turn sequence is simply to draw a second card from the deck and then play a card from your hand. As you do so you will trigger the special ability on that card which range from swapping hands, peeking at other hands or attempting to eliminate other players by way of comparing rank numbers or guessing their hand correctly. If an ability causes a player to be eliminated, he is out of the current round. If at least 2 players remain when the deck runs out of cards, everyone compares their hands and the highest ranked card wins the round and gains a point (Batman token).

An alternative way to gain points is to successfully catch criminals with Batman, the Rank 1 card. This card allows a player to guess which card another player is holding. Should they be correct, the other player is eliminated and the Batman player gains a token (unless the card was Robin). Rounds will rinse and repeat in this fashion until one player has obtained 7 tokens.

Simple Plot Twists

That's probably the shortest rules summary I've ever had to do. And to be honest, that's one of the reasons why the father of this game has done so well, it's just so simple to teach and play that any non-gamer could get it in their first play through. Love Letter is based on risk and deduction with players having to make the best use of the cards they get, but while trying to figure out who is holding what card as elimination is the easiest way to win. There's obviously an inherent degree of luck involved which normally would bug me, but when a game takes less than a couple of minutes sometimes to play through a round, that's hardly a major concern.

It's surprising how many boxes the game ticks for a deck of 16 cards. Whether you buy this for the insanely cheap price of £8 or less in bag form or box form, it's small enough to carry in your pocket making it ideal for pub meetings or travelling. It will fit any time constraint you have, whether it's 20 minutes of unwinding in between heavy Euro games or filling in a 5 minute slot while you wait for your last gaming buddy to turn up.

Now for the uninitiated, that's all well and good, but for Love Letter members things aren't quite what we hoped. A lot of us were expecting there to be some new cards or mechanics with this edition to differentiate it more from the original. Unfortunately aside from the themed artwork (which to be fair is fairly decent) the card abilities are word for word, identical to the original game. Even the Hobbit edition had some slight variations, but here it's a carbon copy which was a bit of a let down.


The only new addition is obtaining points for Batman "sniping", which actually works in the games favour. Sometimes it can get a little annoying when a game lasts long enough for all players to have 1 point short of victory, but this little tweak to the rules effectively can speed the game up even more if you're particularly savvy with your Batman cards. It also stops players from instantly chucking away Rank 1 cards as they usually did before (high rank was after all the aim of the game) because the added point incentive means there's another reason for hanging on to the Batman card until later in the round when there are less cards to guess from. As subtle as this tweak is I think it's a solid improvement, though now we know it, we can simply house-rule this into any edition of Love Letter!

Verdict

For those who are new to the Love Letter system, it's a great little micro game that's stupidly simple to play and teach, yet offers a little bit of tactical thought and can be played in a matter of minutes. For the price of less than £8 for a boxed copy, it's a steal and is going to fit into whatever restrictive constraints you could possibly have. Time, space, location, gamer background, all irrelevant when looking at this game. It is as good as you can get for a gateway game.

For those already acquainted with this on the other hand, there is almost zero difference between this and the original - you just have the added winning incentive of getting points with Batman catches. The artwork is an improvement and the little Batman tokens are obviously much better than a red cube, but unless your other copy is falling to bits or you just prefer the theme, there's no need to fork out for this as you can always just house-rule the additional victory condition into it.

Is it the best micro-game out there? Well no obviously, there are others that I might prefer for overall personal enjoyment, but this ticks all the boxes and thus deserves the recognition it gets. 

You Will Like This Game If:

  • You need a filler game that will literally fill a 5 minute slot.
  • You play a lot of games while travelling - pocket sized for easy transport.
  • You require a gateway game that should confuse nobody rules wise.

You Will Not Like This Game If:

  • You're interested in theme as at the end of the day, it's a paste on job.
  • You already own Love Letter and were hoping for more new additions. 
  • You cringe at the thought of sending Batman a real love letter. . . . . . 

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