Love Letter Premium Review - Ignoring The Restraining Order

Dear Princess. . . . From behind the clouds a burst of brilliant light caught your hair it was halo'ed in front of me. You turned and your eyes flashed fire into my soul. I immediately read the words of Dostoyevsky and Karl Marx. . . and in the words of Albert Schweitzer, I FANCY YOU!”
Seriously I want to see someone in real life attempt that one on some random geeky girl they fancy, go for it! Anyway's today we're casting our memories back to Love Letter, possibly the best selling micro game in existence and by "micro" I mean something that is not only really small in size, but can also play in 10 minutes or so. Is it my favourite micro game? Possibly, it certainly ticks the boxes and does the job, though games like Sushi Go and Kakerlaken Poker deserve a good mention as well. I once read a thread where someone described micro games as 60 minutes, please tell me that was a typo, if not I'm sure they'll be very happy playing an 18XX game for 6 hours later. 
We've had a ton of iterations of Love Letter that borderline silly when you think about the original theme of the game, but some have been better than others, Batman being the personal favourite due to the cool additional way of earning points. Now the original AEG version has gotten a massive upgrade in the component quality department and some extra cards. But does the increased price tag justify it when all things considered, it's only a micro game? 

Designer: Seiji Kanai
Publisher: AEG
Age: 8+
Players: 2-4 (8 with additional cards)
Time: 5-15 minutes (with 4 or less players, we'll get to that)
RRP: £24.99

From the AEG Website:
Love Letter Premium is designed for the person who loves Love Letter. It is presented in a deluxe box with a magnetic clasp featuring a special red velvet tray for storage. Inside you’ll find tarot-sized cards and sleeves for both the classic Love Letter card set and an all new extension to the game that enables play for up to 8 players. Special heart-shaped Affection Tokens are also included.
Love Letter has sold over a half-million units worldwide. It is a classic evergreen product every store should always have in stock. Love Letter Premium is the flagship of the line.
Love Letter™ Premium is a game of risk, deduction, and luck for 2-8 players.

Only Interested In Her For Her Money
The biggest change that people will notice is the component quality. You're paying over £20, the price of a decent filler game, for Love Letter so you want to justify that cost as much as you can. Well from a material point of view, it does that nicely. The box is sturdy with full artwork and a felt interior much like most gaming tables and bye bye to those lame cubes and welcome in some chunky heart tokens, which could even double up as health in some other game if you liked. 
But the best part are the cards, which figures really. Every card is tarot sized meaning you've got no excuse not to be able to read one at the other end of the table and actually I think its unfair to call them "cards" as this is some of the thickest card stock I've seen for a card game. It's one step away from calling them tiles, they're so nice to hold and place down. Now of course you want to keep these in pristine condition, well AEG have thought of that (wished every publisher did) and provided you wish some high quality premium sleeves. 



But not just clear ones, these have the official Love Letter envelope art on the back. A snug fit and once done, you've got a Love Letter set that's going to spawn some double takes from passers by. 

She's Just Not Into You
If you have never played the original Love Letter you'll probably want to test the waters with someone else's cheap pack first. But it's a quality micro game and worth playing. The extra cards in this set only come into play when you have 5-8 players as they are designed with multiplayer in mind. It would have been cool if you could have simply mixed and matched the roles by number rather than be so restricted, but some clearly won't work well in smaller games. However of course there's nothing stopping you from trying.
It's good to see some cards that award additional hearts on top of winning. The Jester is a cool one to use if you think the round isn't going your way so you can benefit along with who you think is going to win. The Bishop is similar to a Guard, but doesn't eliminate the player, instead gets a heart for doing so. And the Constable grants you a heart if you get eliminated during the round. Not every card is particularly interesting though. The Queen is simply just a reversed Baron and the Count has so far been almost useless - simply adding one point to your card at the very end has yet to actually win anyone a round from my experience. My personal favourite is the Sycophant who states that the next card must automatically target a particular player of your choice. I used it to great effect on a player who I knew had a Prince who then proceeded to eliminate the player I deduced had a Princess in his hand. BOOM! 
The game plays out in much the same way though as the original Love Letter - we're not talking a drastic change or even improvement in how the game plays, it's basically allowing you to cater for more players at once for a micro game. Now I'm all for that, but you're competing with the likes of Sushi Go now and given I've recently invested personally in the Deluxe Party box, that's a tough opponent to face off against. 

Too Long, Didn't Read!
So the new cards are nothing special, but they're fine and we accept that unless you know how to play Love Letter like the back of your hand, you are not bringing these out, but here's the big problem. Love Letter is a micro game, that means you can pick it up and put it down in no time at all. When you bring in 5-8 players with all the new cards, that changes dramatically. 
The game length rises exponentially especially if you have slow players about. I was in a 6 player game with some new players and I kid you not, it took over between 90-110 minutes before one of us had 4 hearts in front of us. That's just insane. We had slow players yes, but even so, this is supposed to be a micro game. Now of course this should never have been taught to new players right off the bat, but you see what I'm getting at. The extra cards that potentially gain you additional hearts aren't reliable enough to speed the game up to the end total of 4. And spreading all those hearts among 6-8 players means simply that it's going to take longer to finish. And being eliminated before your first turn from a lucky Guard or Baron is now going to frustrate you as you wait an eternity for the round to end.
So can it be saved? Yes, but only with some house ruling. Firstly I ALWAYS bring in the points rule from Batman Love Letter. If Batman takes out a player, they received an additional point. This worked so well that I now incorporate it into every Love Letter game I play regardless of version. This speeds things up dramatically. Additionally you may want to experiment with reducing the end game trigger down to 3 hearts, possibly even two when you have a full player complement. You could also simply play X rounds and see who has the highest (another preferred way I like to play), that's one of the handy things about Love Letter, it's pretty flexible.

Verdict
There's no denying that the component quality is top notch in this upgrade. The tarot sized cards are great to have and the envelope sleeves are excellent. Chunky heart tokens beat cubes any day and the box is great too - of course this comes at a price, both in money and in portability terms, but that's down to personal preference.
So it comes down to the extra cards and adding up to 8 players. However they aren't game-changing in how they operate and including all of them removes Love Letter's gateway status as they will be too overwhelming to learn at once. The biggest killer though is the game length increase. With 5-8 players this is no longer a micro game, barely even a filler game even. With a endgame trigger of 4 hearts you're playing this for a long time, way beyond the boundaries of what's acceptable for a simple game like Love Letter.
With some house rules, this can be fixed, so it's whether you are comfortable with that. I've incorporated some and it's all the better for it, but without them, you may be less willing to play with the extra cards and that's a big part of the bundle here. If you're a die hard fan, this is a great version to pick up, but if your relationship is purely platonic, stick to the micro boxes. 

If you are interested in this game you can find a copy at your friendly local gaming store - http://www.findyourgamestore.co.uk/

BROKEN RATING - 6 Adequate Kisses

YOU WILL LIKE LOVE LETTER PREMIUM IF:
Money is no object and the component quality appeals to you.
You enjoy Love Letter enough to want to include more players at a time.
You prefer to have bigger cards and were planning to sleeve your copy anyway.

YOU WILL NOT LIKE LOVE LETTER PREMIUM IF:
You just want a cheap, quick micro game - if so just grab one of the basic copies.
You feel that 5-8 players is just too long for a micro game experience.
You lose the portability that the basic game offered and needed that.


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