Star Wars: Jabba’s Palace (A Love Letter Game)
- Designer: Justin Kemppainen (Seiji Kanai designed the original version)
- Players: 2-6
- Age: 10+
- Time: 15-20 minutes
- Played on review copy provided by Z-Man Games
Love Letter has been one of my favorite microgames ever. The original version came in a super small packet of sixteen cards, and that set got a LOT of play when it first came out. It was the perfect sort of game to play while out (you know, back when you could go to restaurants and bars with friends). The game fit in your jeans pocket, could be explained in 3 minutes, and just about everyone could understand and enjoy it.
The original version could be summarized as: “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.”
Since this first English version, there have been a LOT of new versions, as it’s a game which is very easily re-skinned and modified. In the past, we have looked at Hobbit and Infinity Gauntlet themed Love Letter games, and most recently, Princess Princess Ever After. Interestingly, the Love Letter franchise has been used by multiple publishers, most recently AEG and ZMan.
This newest version is set in the world of Star Wars. You might be familiar with some movies set in this same universe where the Rebel Alliance tries to save the known universe from the evil Galactic Empire. Star Wars: Jabba’s Palace brings players into a section of the third movie (or should I call it the sixth…) where the Rebels infiltrate the lair of Jabba the Hutt in the vast deserts of Tatooine. I’d explain it further, but really, if you don’t know the story, go and watch the movies.
The deck is composed of 19 cards, split up into Rebel (Red) and Jabba’s forces (green). Each card has a number on it, somewhere between 0 and 8, and the alliance of the character on the card is seen in both the color of the card as well as an icon in the bottom right. The deck is shuffled to start the hand and one card is secretly discarded. Each player is then dealt a single card as their starting hand. One of the 4 agenda cards is chosen at random and placed face up on the table – this card outlines the victory conditions for the particular game (it does not change between hands). Each player is given a reference card which helpfully summarizes all of the cards, distribution and effects.
This version of the game varies a bit from the original goal of Love Letter. Here, you will succeed by best fulfilling the criteria on the agenda card and/or eliminating the other players. As mentioned earlier, you start the hand with one card, and on your turn, you draw a card from the deck and then play one of those cards, enacting the instructions on the card you played.
If the deck runs out of cards, the player who best achieves the goal stated on the agenda card wins; they take a victory token from the supply. If there is a tie for the agenda, all tied players get a token. Alternatively, if all other players are eliminated from the round, the last player standing is the immediate winner, and the winner takes a token.
It is also possible to gain a victory token if you survive the round and have Han Solo as the card in your hand at the end of the round.
The game is won by the player who reaches the target number first (i.e. in a 4 player game, the first to 4 tokens). It is possible to have multiple winners. If there is no winner, shuffle the deck and deal out another hand. The player who won the previous round starts the next round.
As with all Love Letter games, it’s frankly amazing how much strategy can be derived from such a small number of cards. The game forces you to play your cards wisely (to avoid being eliminated and such) as well as using your intuition/deduction to try to determine what your opponents have. Luck plays a large role too, because sometimes it just helps if you randomly draw the card that you need to use this turn…
This version feels a bit different due to the agenda cards; and I like the way that each of the four cards makes the game play a little different. Though I am loathe to institute house rules, part of me wants to be able to change the agenda each round just to experience a bit more change with each hand. As with many of the newer versions of the game, there is more than one way to score points; and I am in favor of this change. It gives the players a few more things to consider (i.e. trying to nurse poor Han to the end of the round to get a point from him). It is possible to tie for the agenda, and one of the agenda (My Kind of Scum) actually awards two victory points each round.
Many of the actions copy those from the original, though there are some nice additions. The Rancor eliminates the player with the lowest non-zero card in hand; the players count upward from 1 until someone shows a card and is eliminated… Jabba and Luke can be used to eliminate a player with a hand card of the opposite faction. Jabba’s lair was definitely a dangerous place, and the card actions portend plenty of eliminations.
The artwork is solid, with the cards having illustrations of familiar characters from this iconic scene in the movie. The victory tokens have the familiar outline of the buildings with rounded roofs that the home planet is known for. I like the fact that the reverse of the player aid card shows the mouth of the Sarlacc – you flip your player aid over when eliminated. This is quite thematic as most of the defeated characters in the scene end up in the maw of this fearsome desert creature.
Han is still frozen in carbonite but Leia is not yet in her bikin but rather in her raider disguise. The game comes in a hangtag case, and there is no box. The whole game is stored in an included pouch
Each version of Love Letter offers something slightly different, and I think the biggest draw for this one will be the theme. Star Wars games are always popular, and I think placing this great franchise in that setting is a surefire winning combination. The small size and low price point (MSRP $15) make this a easy addition to your collection or a nice gift for either a gamer friend or a Star Wars fan.
Rating: I love it!