Living in Japan for three years, I was pretty familiar with the game Love Letter, created Seiji Kanai. It was pretty popular over there, and since accessing the rules in both languages was simple, it was easy to play it with Japanese friends. I even had a coworker who used it as a teaching tool with his students. Since I’m also a huge Lovecraft aficionado, when I saw Lovecraft Letter at a store in DC last week, I knew I had to have it.
First, I’ll discuss the hardware of the game. It’s incredible well-made. I’ve been a board and card game person for a while now, but it seems like in the last few years they’ve really picked up steam in the United States (and also experienced a similar boost in popularity in Japan, actually, though I can’t speak for any other countries). I remember buying games I was fond of but being really disappointed in how cheaply they were produced back in college, but I can’t think of a game I’ve bought in the last three years that I’ve been disappointed with.
The cards are unique and the artwork is beautiful.
They’re also pretty sturdy cards, but since the point of the game is to deduce what cards other players have, any unique markings or wear marks on the cards would make it incredibly difficult for players who know one another or are familiar with the deck to be able to play fairly, as such the game includes a full set of custom card sleeves along with several extras (at least 5 or so for a deck of, I think, 25). It even comes with clear sleeves for the rule cards.
They also have sanity markers, which look like poker chips and have a really nice weight to them.
For those of you unfamiliar with the original Love Letter, I would recommend you at least give that a try, too. However, if you’re only interested in this game due to its Lovecraft theme, then you’ll be happy to know that you don’t need to know anything about the original game in order to understand this one. The game is entirely self-contained.
We played a five player game all the way through, which ended up being a total of eight or nine rounds. Given how many rounds of play and how many players we had, we were able to use a good number of the unique Insanity effects during the game. Like the original Love Letter, the point is to be holding the highest value card at the end of the round, and whoever wins a set number of rounds first wins the overall game. Outside of the extra cards (there is one additional card of each number when compared to the original game, which all have “Insanity” effects), players are either “sane” or “insane” in any given round, which changes the way that round wins are counted.
Personally, I think I like this game a little bit more than the original, and not just because I’m fond of the theme, I prefer the gameplay as well. It does run a little longer (though, since entire games can end instantly due to the Cthulhu card, it can also end more quickly than the original), but it is harder to predict. The other game had so few cards that it just came down to card counting, whereas this game has enough additional cards that making predictions of who has what is a little harder to do, especially early on in the game. Additionally, the Insanity effects add a “risk vs. reward” element to the game that is not present in Love Letter. All of the new mechanics work well and can be pulled off. For example, I actually managed to win the entire game by playing the Cthulhu card at the proper time.
The only criticism I have for the game is that there is a lore error in the rule book, which I found incredibly off-putting. It mentions that the Deep Ones “mate with human females” which is true, but not exclusively so. They mate with humans of either gender to produce hybrid offspring, in fact most of the examples we have in “Shadow Over Innsmouth” are of men married to female Deep Ones, not the other way around. Again, this seems like a minor error, but it also evokes a sort of sexual horror element where women are victimized by sea monsters. Not only is it blatantly sexist (given that the creators assumed it was only women in spite of that directly contradicting the source material), but it also ascribes to the Dagon mythos the sort of sensationalism that Lovecraft despised and would have never indulged in.
To those of you who did enjoy the original, this game is much more than a reskin. It’s more than different enough to justify buying it. If you liked Love Letter, odds are you will like Lovecraft Letter, but it plays with the core elements of the game enough that you definitely feel like you are playing something completely different. I would totally recommend this game to anyone who enjoyed the original Love Letter and wants something that is a little less predictable, and to any fans of Lovecraft media who are up for a fun, deduction-based card game.
Rating: 4.75 out of 5 Stars
Designer: Seiji Kanai
Artist: Vincent Dutrait, Kouji Ogata
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG), Arclight, Pegasus Spiele, Switch Games