I have previously suggested that games like Fluxx and Munchkin are, in their many incarnations, the closest we get in tabletop terms to the bland shovelware that we see with alarming regularity on game consoles. Looking at the games market at the moment, can we add Love Letter to that list?
Love Letter is a very simple game with very few components. The entire game consists of just 16 game cards, some cubes or other tokens to keep score, a couple of reference cards and a rulesheet. It all fits into a cool little drawstring bag. The rules are very straightforward and the whole thing can be picked up very quickly. AEG describe their game:
Love Letter is a game of risk, deduction, and luck, for 2–4 players. Designed by Seiji Kanai, the game features incredibly simple rules that create dynamic and exciting player interactions. Players attempt to deliver their love letter into the Princess’s hands while keeping other players’ letters away. Powerful cards lead to early gains, but make you a target. Rely on weaker cards for too long and your letter may be tossed in the fire!
They go on to give a rundown of current and future releases in the Love Letter line. With so few components to adapt, the game is easy to retheme and put out as another new product:
- Love Letter Tempest Edition is part of a series of games based on AEG’s intriguing Tempest setting.
- Love Letter Kanai Factory Edition is a limited release and features the charming art and graphics from the original game first published in Japan.
- Love Letter Legend of the Five Rings is based on AEG’s original Love Letter rules and features the compelling art and characters of the L5R universe.
- Love Letter Wedding Edition is an edition of the game that features new art and components to make it the perfect gift for your wedding guests or party.
- Munchkin Loot Letter is the wild and wacky combination of Love Letter and Steve Jackson Game’s Munchkin! Can you be the first to get the Loot? All the fast fun of Love Letter without all that icky kiss stuff.
- Letters to Santa is a Christmas-themed edition of Love Letter. Can you get your letter to Santa to fulfil all your Christmas wishes?
- Love Letter: Batman Edition puts you in the role of the Dark Knight as you rid the villains from the streets of Gotham City!
- Love Letter: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies sends you on a quest to reclaim the Arkenstone, but beware the machinations of Smaug the Dragon!
- Love Letter: Adventure Time challenges you to pull Princess Bubblegum away from her lab long enough to find love.
- Archer: Once You Go Blackmail… puts you in the heart of Archness, using the Love Letter engine to play a game of intrigue and cunning… and likely a lot of phrasing.
So, we have a relatively simple game that takes very little work to adapt to a new theme. The publishes (AEG) have taken advantage of this to release various different version of the game with different themes and licenses. The game is so small, cheap and simple that people would not, in my mind, grudge buying more than one version of the game, and thus profoundly similar products do not necessarily have to cannibalise the sales of other such products.
I do consider Love Letter‘s copious incarnations to be shovelware, but I am somewhat more generous in my thoughts about this one as, unlike Fluxx and Munchkin, I actually like the game.