Thursday, 9 April 2015

Love Letter: Batman Edition Review

Good day to you, ladies and gentlegamers! As we've mentioned in the past, we thoroughly enjoy every review we bring to our readers, but we get an extra bit of joy from reviewing a new release - purely because of the fact that it allows us to feel as though we're on the ball for once!  So, brace yourselves for probably the shortest gameplay walkthrough we've ever brought you, as we take a look at Love Letter: Batman Edition by Seiji Kanai, from Alderac Enterainment.

Love Letter itself is a very popular and well-established casual card game, and has been a staple of many gamers' collections for quite some time.  Even with comic book heroes very much ascendant in recent years, this is probably one of the most surprising games to receive a superhero paint job!
To date we haven't actually played the original Love Letter so will be unable to draw direct comparisons, but we're chalking this up as an advantage as it leaves us able to dissect the Batman Edition on its own merits, and give it an unbiased score.

Love Letter: Batman Edition is a competitive card game for 2-4 players, in which each player takes on the role of the Dark Knight, and has to outshine the other Batmonei (we established this as the plural of "Batman" on a Hobbynomicon podcast!) in recapturing the escaped inmates of Arkham Asylum.
At the beginning of the review we mentioned that this would probably be our shortest gameplay explanation to date, and this is entirely down to the fact that Love Letter: Batman Edition is a mind-bogglingly simple game to play - to such an extent that we were left wondering why we never picked up a copy of the original version.  Before you click away though, we like to think our Cards Against Humanity review proved that simple mechanics do not a bad game make, and similarly our Arkham Horror review went to show that complex mechanics don't necessarily pave the road to a good gaming experience.  So stick with us as we go through Love Letter: Batman Edition and see how it plays out...

Contents-wise, Love Letter: Batman Edition is a very light game.  There are 16 Game Cards, each printed with lavish artwork depicting either Batman, Robin, or one of the many major supervillains from the Batman universe (for those DC fans interested, with the exception of The Joker they're all New 52-based).  Each of these cards contains a nice, plain-English explanation of how that card functions, which we'll go through shortly, and a number in the top-left corner which dictates the card's value (the higher, the better).

As an extra little assist for players, there are also four card lists included in the box, explaining the value of each character, the card's abilities, as well as a reminder of how many of each card are in the deck (there may be five Batmonei, but there is only one Mr J!).

"I'm Batman!" "No, I'm Batman!" "I'm Batman, and so's my wife!"

This just leaves a bag of small wooden Batman tokens, which are used to keep track of the scores across each round, and the rulebook.

And that's it!  Not a great deal to look at (although certainly very pretty), but let's put them all together and see what happens...

The aim of Love Letter: Batman Edition is to gain 7 Batman tokens before any of the other players, through rounding up the highest-valued Arkham escapees.
To start the game the Game Cards are shuffled and then one card is randomly discarded face-down, not to be used throughout the rest of the game.  Lover Letter: Batman Edition is a game of bluffing and deduction, so having one unknown card missing from the deck adds an extra challenge to the latter.
Each player draws a single card to create their starting hand, and then the round begins.  During each players (very quick) turn, they draw one card off the top of the deck, and then have to discard one from their hand,  Some of the cards have positive effects, some have negative effects, either of which can be used to try and misdirect the other players about the remaining card.  Some can be used to eliminate other players from the round, whilst some eliminate the player who discarded it, and one way to win the Batman token for the round is to be the last Batman standing.
If the deck is depleted then the round finishes, and the player with the highest value card in their hand wins the Batman token, or - in the event of a tie - the player with the highest value of discarded cards wins.

Confused?  That's fair, it's a far simpler game in practice than on paper!

For example...

Going back to Batman himself from the earlier photo, his discard ability allows a player to guess at the card in another player's hand.  At the beginning of the game this could be an outright guess, but as more cards are discarded deduction can start to creep in.  Of course players do have to rely on complete honesty from one-another, but frankly anyone who can't be trusted through a casual game has no place in any gaming group, in our opinion!  Batman is the lowest value card in the deck, so keeping him in hand serves very little purpose in the long-run, so he will usually get discarded/activated a lot.

Harley Quinn is a high-value escapee, with a value of 7 (second highest only to her puddin' - The Joker - himself), so keeping her in hand is usually going to be a good play.  However, her ability forces her to be discarded if Two-Face or Poison Ivy are drawn.  In the example above the player has just drawn Bane, who allows players to basically play a quick game of Top Trumps!  Now whilst the obvious play would be to discard Bane and hope Harley's 7 is enough to knock out an opponent, a sneakier play might be to discard Harley, leading the other players to believe either Two-Face or Ivy is in your hand.  Throwing the other players off the scent for a turn like this can be a devastating move, especially with such high card turnover and fast deck-depletion.

Each character in Love Letter: Batman Edition serves a different purpose, and learning how and when to use them most effectively is the key to victory... that, and a good poker face.  Catwoman, for example, allows a player to look at an opponent's hand.  Two-Face allows a player to trade hands with an opponent altogether.  Robin allows a player to ignore the effects of other cards for a full turn.  And The Joker (a personal favourite) puts the player who discarded him out of the round - you are playing as Batman, after all, so allowing Gotham's most notorious criminal to slip through your grasp is grounds for immediate dismissal.

As mentioned above (although now with a bit of context!) being the only non-eliminated player wins a Batman point, or after the deck is depleted, having the highest-value inmate in your clutches snags you that little wooden bat-symbol.  At the end of each round the deck is shuffled and the process is repeated until one player has 7 of those coveted points.

So that's Love Letter: Batman Edition.  With a learning time of roughly 90 seconds (no kidding, that's actually how long it took us to get a game going!) it's one of the quickest and easiest games to pick up on the market, but with some light-hearted theatricality and deception, it's still incredibly fun to play.
The physical components of the game are manufactured to a high standard, and the artwork - as mentioned earlier - is very nice to look at.  Being a quick game to play, it makes an excellent warm-up, wind-down, or intermission game to any games night, and the turns rotate so quickly that it feels more like a party game, as you always seem to be taking an action of some sort.  It's simplicity and short play-time make it an excellent game for younger gamers with shorter attention spans as well, so if you have a young Bat-fan in the family and you want to draw them into your gaming hobby, this might be a good place to start!
Criticisms of the game come very few and far between, however we've always prided ourselves on our impartiality, and so will work to find any negative points we can.  First of all it's not so great with just 2 players.  Even with the mystery card removed at the beginning of the game, the deductive side of Love Letter: Batman Edition falls a little short when you only have one opponent to outfox.  The only other criticism (and ye gods we're having to scrape the nitpicking barrel here!) is that there will inevitably be people getting upset over the choice of villains in the deck.  With a limited-sized deck and so many Arkham alumni to choose from, some people will end up having their favourites missed out.  (On a personal note, the inclusion of The Joker, Harley Quinn and Catwoman was enough to keep me happy, anyone else is purely a bonus!)

The Good Points
  • Quick to play.
  • Even quicker to learn!
  • An excellent entry-level game for younger gamers, or those new to the specialist game scene.
  • Nicely tactical, in spite of the simple mechanics.
  • Very well presented, with nice artwork throughout.
  • "I'M BATMAN!"
The Bad Points
  • Limited appeal with only 2 players.
  • No Riddler or Penguin, to name but two, so Nigma and Cobblepot fans will be disappointed.
  • Very difficult to resist the urge to growl "I'M BATMAN!" with the Batman card in hand.  Anyone?  Oh, maybe that's just me then.
Recommended Number of Players: 3-4
As mentioned, Love Letter: Batman Edition struggles a little with 2 players, but it comes to life with 3 and excels with 4.

Average Game Time: 20 minutes
Each round of Love Letter: Batman Edition only lasts a couple of minutes, but with a target of 7 Batman points a full 4 player game has the potential to cap at 25 rounds!  However, this is unlikely to happen, and 20 minutes is a good average game time, which can even be shortened if needed by reducing the number of required points.

Replay Value: High
With its short play-time, this is a good game for filling gaps, whether a lunch break, or a pause between bigger games on a game night.  As a result, it's likely to be a game which is played little and often, and so will be very easy to keep coming back to.

The Future: Darkest just before the dawn...
Okay we have to admit that comment wasn't really relevant, but we just thought it'd look really good there!  Love Letter: Batman Edition is a standalone game, so really doesn't have anywhere further to go.

Price: £14
The RRP on Love Letter: Batman Edition is £14, and there are two versions available.  We've shown you the boxed version (as we like having pretty boxed games filling our shelves), but there is also a bagged version, which doesn't come with the box, but includes a Batman-embroidered canvas bag for ease of transportation.  Both retail for the same price, and with both Love Letter and Batman being very popular, we imagine it will be readily available on the shelves of most gaming stores before long!

 Tea consumed during this review: Typhoo, milk and 2 sweeteners.  Brew Rating: 7.5/10

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1 comment:

  1. Okay, so I'll start by saying, I've played the original Love Letter and I absolutely love this version! It's quick and simple to pick up on which makes it easy to play with just about anyone. However, and you knew there was a 'however', the choice in wording for a certain card is causing a discrepancy. That certain card - a "personal favourite" of yours - The Joker, which takes the place of The Princess from the original Love Letter game has my friend and I arguing every time over its actual effect/rule.

    See, in the original Love letter you are vying to get your letter to The Princess by eliminating the other suitors. So having The Princess in your hand and then 'losing' it from your hand by being forced to trade it with The General card, you are eliminated from the round.(The General is equivalent to Two-Face)

    Now, here's where my friend likes to fight me on the ruling and why I say the wording used is causing confusion. The Joker says 'If you discard this card, you are out of the round' yet discarding in this game is playing the here's the scenario that causes confusion and grief:

    Joker + Two-Face
    -whether Two-Face is used against you whilst you have The Joker in your hand
    -Joker and Two-Face are possessed by the same person
    Does that not mean that the person who has to relinquish The Joker from their hand is out of the round??? After all, if we are all playing as The Dark Knight, does that not mean that losing The Joker from your hand is grounds for immediate dismissal from the round?!

    I think it should be

    My friend thinks that it shouldn't and that the player who has to trade away The Joker should remain in the round all because its not 'discarding' the card.

    I just don't see why it wouldn't correlate with the way the original game is played and in that scenario You're Out!

    I'd extremely appreciate it if you could clarify this for my friend and I because no matter how many times I go blue in the face trying to explain this to him he just doesn't get it.