Love Letter: The Hobbit – The Battle of Five Armies
- Designer: Seiji Kanai
- Publisher: Cryptozoic Entertainment / AEG
- Players: 2-4
- Ages: 8+
- Time: 5-10 minutes
- Times played: conservatively 30+ in the past month with review copy provided by Cryptozoic
Love Letter is an older game which has been re-released with a number of different themed versions in the past year. I have honestly not played this game much since the summer of 2013 – my original copy is in my travel kit of games, and it gets played occasionally, though I don’t think it had hit the table in the past year or so.
While at Origins earlier this year, I saw a bunch of games that interested me at the Cryptozoic booth – and when I received a nice parcel of games from them, Love Letter: The Hobbit was included. My two boys have been avidly watching the Hobbit movies in the theaters, and the face of Bilbo Baggins on the packaging instantly generated interest in the game amongst the kids. This is exactly the sort of response that Cryptozoic is going for…
I know that I tried to play the original version with the kids back in 2013, but they weren’t overly interested in it. However, once you put recognizable characters from the Hobbit onto the cards, the kids now can’t stop playing it! On our recent vacation, the kids played this at every opportunity – in hotel rooms, in trains, at bus stops, in the English Gardens… pretty much anywhere they had space to throw the cards down.
Rather than re-invent the wheel, now is a good time to revisit the original OG review of the base game.
Love Letter – Originally Reviewed by Matt Carlson (4/30/2013)
Sixteen cards, a few red cubes, and 2-4 players; a game doesn’t get much simpler than this. I know of no other game able to pack so much interesting interaction in so few components. In Love Letter, players are trying to get their love letter delivered to the princess who has locked herself away in sadness after the death of the queen. The cards in the deck represent the various members of the court. Players start with a card, draw one more, then play one of the two in hand. At the end of the game, the member of the court remaining in one’s hand represents who carries your letter to the princess. The player with the highest value card remaining in their hand wins the round, first to win a set number of rounds (depending on the number of players) wins the game. What looks at first glance to be a simple game of luck quickly turns into a challenging game of deduction due to the special actions granted by playing each card. Quick, fun, portable, cheap even! This is the quintessential carry-with-you game that you can play while waiting at a table, probably even waiting in line! It’s one downfall lies in its limited play of 2-4 people, 5 or more players need not apply.
The game is small enough that the gist of gameplay is related in the introduction of this article. However, some discussion of the card actions is necessary. The deck of cards consist of a few high value cards (8/7/6), two each of middle value cards (5 through 2), and five copies of the 1 value card. Each card has a name (1’s are Guards, for example) but for now we’ll stick by the numbers. The cards have cleverly designed associated actions which are what make the game interesting. For example, the level 8 Princess would be an automatic winning card BUT if you discard her for any reason you automatically lose the round. This means if someone plays a 5-Prince (one player discards their hand) or a lowly 1-Guard (name a player and a card, if you correctly name their card they’re out of the round) they can eliminate that high-value 8 card from the running. In a pinch, there’s the 6-King which lets a player outright trade hands with another player.
Other cards seek to grant information, the 2-Priest lets you look at a hand, while the 3-Baron makes it a competition between your held hand and another player’s with the low card holder eliminated from the round. Holding the 7-Countess is great, but if you ever draw a 6-King or 5-Prince you are forced to discard her. This not only drops you down in value but exposes to the rest of the players that you likely own a King or a Prince. A player’s one defense is the Handmaid card which makes a player immune to any “attacks” for a single round.
Using astute card play and wise deductions makes for a fun, intense (but short) game. While having a high card (via the luck of the draw) is helpful, it is even more important to play well. I’ve seen games go to a high card of value “3” as well as some where everyone (but one, of course) was eliminated from the round entirely. To keep the deduction component strong, one card is always secretly removed from the game before starting – thus making everyone just a little unsure where that “missing” card might lie.
Despite, or perhaps due to the small game size, it still has a touch of class as it comes in a nice little red velvet carrying bag, easily slipped into a pocket. Yet another way I can draw gaming newcomers into trying out a game. I like the portability, while the game isn’t deep, it is deep when contrasted with the time commitment. Even a full game is under 20 minutes. If it played up to 5 or 6 players I could find more uses for it in social situations (I’m rarely out and about in groups of 4 or less) but I can concede that the game might slow down or rely on far more randomness with more players present.
As the game stands, I rank it as an “I Like it.” It does what it is supposed to do (be a fun, quick game with depth) and I like that sort of game, there are definitely times where that’s the best game to play/have on hand. However, it just doesn’t quite make it into that upper echelon of “I love it!”, but it is close.
Changes from the original version
The gameplay and rules are pretty much the same as in the original version – the biggest differences here are the identities of the cards and the addition of a new card, the “0” value card.
In this version – the numbered cards are:
- 0 – The One Ring
- 1 – Smaug
- 2- Bard the Bowman
- 3 – Tauriel/Legolas Greenleaf
- 4 – Gandalf the Grey
- 5- Kili the Dwarf and Fili the Dwarf
- 6 – Thorin Oakenshield
- 7 – Bilbo Baggins
- 8 – Arkenstone
With the new card, there are now 17 cards in the game instead of 16. The One Ring card, which is valued 0, has a value of 7 at the end of the round. There is no value 0 card in the original Love Letter.
One other difference between the versions is the #3 cards, Tauriel and Legolas. First, there are two different cards with value 3, unlike the base game which had 2 identical Barons. Legolas is just like the original Baron – it causes two players to compare hands and the player with the lower card is knocked out of the game. However, Tauriel is the reverse of Legolas/ Baron.Tauriel causes a showdown and knocks out the player with the higher card in hand. Thus, when you get both Tauriel and the Arkenstone in your hand, you’ve automatically lost. If play the Arkenstone, you lose automatically… If you play Tauriel, you’re left with the highest card in the game in your hand, and thus you lose. This doesn’t really bother me too much – it’s just a bad luck draw in a game that usually lasts under 5 minutes.
I do enjoy this new version a great deal – though a lot of this is because I’ve been able to play it with the family all through the vacation. The game does feel a bit different with the changes as noted above. Our games tend to last about 5 minutes or so, and when we play Love Letter: The Hobbit, we end up playing between 5 and 10 games in a row. For awhile, we were keeping track of game wins with the included bag of gems, but by the end of the week, we were just playing the game and enjoying it without keeping track of how many wins each person had.
This version of the game comes in a nice green felt/velvet bag, and it has proved to be invaluable on our most recent trip. I’d highly recommend this for anyone who needs a game for a short time or in a small amount of space.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it!
- I like it. Dale Y
- Not for me…