Most Saturday’s for our Alternate Realities, I look at video games, but since it’s December and people might be on the market for playing some games with the family, I am taking a slight detour this week. We’re still in the realm of Alternate Realities, thank Rassilon, because if this next one tied in with ours, we’d all go stark raving mad. But I suppose that would be OK, because raving madness can still win the game when playing Lovecraft Letter.
Love Letter is a card game that was released by Alderac Entertainment Group and designed by Seiji Kanai in 2012. It was so popular that many different versions developed including a Batman Love Letter. I’ve never played any of the Love Letter games because, thematically, I was not really into any of them; I had heard how good they were and decided to stick with my video games instead. Then one day I came across Lovecraft Letter, a Lovecraftian take on the Love Letter games. I bought it for the family and promptly… put it on a shelf for about 2 months. Then I took it on holiday with me, figuring that, with no other distractions, I’d be forced to learn it. And learn it I did!
At the time, the kids and I had been experimenting with Magic: The Gathering, and while that game is interesting, detailed, complex, and time consuming, sometimes simplicity of design and game play win out over complexity. I point this out because Lovecraft Letter is brilliant in its simplicity. Each person gets a hand of exactly 1 card. Before they play a card, they pick a card and make a determination on which to play. Basically it’s a 50/50 split on what card will offer a better outcome. There are 25 cards in the deck but one, the Mi-Go Braincase, always sits to the side for a special move. Along with that one, for the card counters in the family, one more random card gets taken out at the start of every game. (If you are playing a two player game, instead of one random card, you have to remove 5 to really throw people into a frenzy!) There are 6 reference cards which reminds the player how many of each card exists and what each card does, but once you’ve played a time or two, you don’t need it. Besides, each card clearly states what it can do. There are sane cards and insane cards. Sane cards can only do one thing, while insane cards have two abilities listed. The first time you play an insane card, it uses the sane rule but from that point on, every subsequent move has to have a sanity check completed first. This entails drawing a card from the deck. If that next card is sane, you remain in the game. An insane card, sets you over the edge and you’re out for the rest of that round.
My sons are both minions of Cthulhu and tend to eject me from a round rather quickly but sometimes I think the stars are right to help them and it’s not just that they team up. For instance, I may start with a card that says “if you play this card, you are out of the round”. Obviously that means whatever the other card I pick up is, will be the one I play… and then pick up the only other card that says the same thing! When Yog Sothoth isn’t pulling the universal strings of ones game play, you can be very clever in the way you play each round. Some cards prohibit any action from being taken against you until your next card is played. Some allow you to compare the card in your hand with an opponent with the higher number winning, turning that battle into a more interesting game of war.
To win, the player has to score either 2 sane victories or 3 insane ones. How do you keep track, you ask? Tokens! 40 of them in fact. The tokens are ludicrously high quality and I almost want to carry one around as a charm, but seeing how some of my rounds go against the kids, I think better of it. When you win, the token faces up to indicate the type of win. Rounds typically take 5-10 minutes. To play this game, you don’t need a whole lot of time, and the setup could not be easier. Furthermore, the game provides you with card sleeves – 40 of ‘em! I thought: why do I need these? Then I put them on the cards, and it made shuffling easier and protected the cards, to boot! Best of all, this card game retails on Amazon for an affordable $20. (Every other Lovecraft based game I see in stores tends to be more than the video games I play!)
For fans of Cthulhu, you’ll see a lot of old friends: Deep Ones, Mi-Go, Professor Armitage, Nyarlathotep, the Necronomicon, and of course, the big guy himself, Cthulhu. Easy to learn: yep! Easy to master: nope! Fun: absolutely. It has become one of the two go-to games in my house. I’ll talk about the other next week, to give you other gaming ideas before getting back into the video games! For now, I’d say the stars are right… go get a copy before the game company “cheapifies” it like so many other games do. You’ll get cardboard tokens or no card sleeves, and that’ll really drive you mad… you cultists.
Ia! Ia! Cthulhu Hasanawesomenewgame! G’veitatry! ML
PS: If you want to buy this game as a Holiday Gift, there’s no better song to sing while you order this game: