Infinity Gauntlet, A Love Letter Game
- Designer: Alexandar Ortloff
- Publisher: Z-Man Games
- Players: 2-6
- Age: 10+
- Time: 15-20 minutes
- Times Played: 3, with review copy provided by Z-Man Games
So, when is a Love Letter not a Love Letter? Well, when it comes in a purple pouch and the future of the universe rides on it. The original Love Letter game, designed by Seiji Kanai, was one of the first minimalist games that I came to love – it was amazing (at the time), how much game could be jammed into 16 cards! Though the rules were simple, the strategy and depth of play rivaled games that came with boxes full of components.
The game was such a hit that it has been passed through a couple of different publishers, and it has had a number of themed spinoffs including a wedding edition, a Munchkin edition, a Legend of the Five Rings edition, a Santa themed edition and many more. When I saw that Infinity Gauntlet was coming out, I figured it was just a licensed re-skin, just in time for the holidays.
However, I’m so glad that I was wrong. The game, which comes in a plastic hangtag shell has a purple pouch inside containing 36 (!) cards and a few tokens. Clearly something different is going on here…. As it turns out, this is not a battle to be the last one standing as in traditional Love Letter. Instead, this is an all-versus-one game where the one is Thanos and the others are the Marvel Heroes fighting against Thanos, trying to save the universe.
Each side has their own deck, Thanos has 13 cards and the heroes have 16. There is also a health card with two clips that track the health levels. Finally, there are 6 double sided reference cards – one side shows the Thanos card distribution and powers while the other side shows that of the hero cards.
The Hero deck is shuffled and each Hero takes a single card as their hand. Thanos shuffles his deck and gets a hand of 2 cards. Thanos gets to play first. Thanos wins if he can collect all 6 Infinity Stones in front of him OR he can cause the Heroes to lose all their life points. The Heroes win only by making Thanos lose all his life points.
On a turn, the active player draws one card from their team deck. Then, you choose one card from your hand (which would be 2 cards for a Hero, and 3 cards for Thanos) – placing it face up in front of you, and then resolving the special action listed on that card. The action may result in the defeat of a card. If this happens, the owner of that card puts it in the discard pile AND loses one life point on the tracker card. Some cards may cause a fight – this means that cards in the combatants’ hands are compared, and the higher number wins… The two cards are secretly compared (so that only the two players fighting know the actual values). If a Hero starts the fight, a card is chosen at random from Thanos’ hand (as he has two cards at all times in his hand). If Thanos starts the fight, Thanos gets to choose which of the two cards he wants to use. The loser of the fight must discard their card and lose a life point. The winner gets to keep their card. Players may sometimes have Power Tokens in their possession. If they have one, they are obligated to play one when they fight. A Power Token adds +2 to the value of whatever card they are using in the fight. You must spend one if you have one, and you can only spend one per fight, even if you have more.
The game ends when either one side is out of life points OR if all 6 Infinity Stones are on the table or in Thanos’ hand. If this happens, he reveals the stones, snaps his fingers, and the universe collapses.
My thoughts on the game
At first, as I said at the top, I was afraid that this was just going to be another Love Letter re-skin, and man was I wrong. This game takes some of the mechanisms that you are familiar with but the overall game plays quite differently. The all-versus-one nature is a very different feel, and it leads to some interesting combination plays.
As in regular Love Letter, there is a lot of hidden information. Players can sometimes look at cards – either thru card actions or through fighting. Here, that information remains private. The Heroes need to be sure to keep that information confidential – it would be unfair to pool information against Thanos. What I like is that I get to use my deduction skills on all the players in the game. One of the hero actions allows you OR a teammate to fight Thanos. If you have been able to deduce what a teammate has, this can make your action much more powerful than using it with the card in your own hand. One of the other Hero cards allows you to let an opponent look at one of Thanos’ card – this can be used to give someone later in turn order a sneak peek at what they might have to deal with.
Early in the game, it’s harder to figure out what Thanos has in his hand, but as he lays out Infinity Stones on the table, it becomes much easier to deduce what he has in a deck of only 9 or 10 cards. The Heroes wax and wane – they have 16 cards between them, but as they play cards to the table, the size of the remaining deck can slim all the way to zero – at which point Thanos knows for sure which cards are in hands (though maybe doesn’t know which card is in which hand…)
Games are still quick, though not quite as lightning fast as base Love Letter. Our games have tended to be around 15 minutes, which is just right for this light deduction game. It’s short enough that you can easily play a series of games where everyone gets a chance to be Thanos – or you can just have this on hand as a nice opener to your game night as you wait for everyone to arrive.
I’m a fan of Love Letter, but I’ll admit that the game was starting to feel a bit samey. This new version is a great improvement to the series, offering some new game space to investigate. The MARVEL theme will surely appeal to the masses, and the game is the right size as to make a perfect stocking stuffer for the holiday season to come.
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Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers
Matt C. I enjoy Love Letter and can see how it may be a bit over-played in some groups. My family (particularly the more boardgame-adverse) has fallen in love with the original game. For me, it beats out several of the other options that they would otherwise choose (Monopoly Deal, for example.) Infinity Gauntlet is nice in that it brings familiar mechanics to a slightly more involved game. If one has played Love Letter, this is just a tiny step up in complexity so it remains entirely approachable within my non-gaming household members. As a fan of co-op and team games, I also like the idea of a one-vs-many game. Again, our wise sage gives good advice when he points out it would make a great stocking stuffer. My one concern about the game (after only a couple handful of games) is that it feels like at the 2 player mark (when the heroes go twice in a row) the game seems to tip in the heroes favor while the 3 player game feels like it might give Thanos the advantage. In any case, the game is short so a run of bad luck (or <ahem> bad decisions) is quickly remedied by simply giving the game another round. Since the game is set up to play one and done, I think it may technically be a shorter game than Love Letter since that requires several rounds of play to determine a winner. Now if I could only get my boys to let me get a chance at playing Thanos once in a while….
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
I love it!
I like it. Dale Y, John P, Mark Jackson, Matt C.
Neutral. James Nathan
Not for me…