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Which is the Best Version of Love Letter?

Love Letter is one of the most owned games of our generation. According to Board Game Geek, the online database of all board game knowledge, there are 71,000 registered users of BGG who own a copy of the base game. This puts it the sixth most owned game of this board game renaissance we are currently experiencing, just behind Catan, Carcassonne, Pandemic, Dominion, and 7 Wonders. With a presence like that, it is no wonder that Love Letter has become such an established name within the industry.

Love Letter also, rather coincidentally, has a somewhat colourful history. There have been all kinds of different versions to the game, ranging from Batman to Adventure Time, published by 26 different game publishers in the 6 years it has been around. It truly is a masterstroke of both gaming and marketing, showing off Japanese game designer Seiji Kanai for the genius he really is. It is one of the ultimate gateway games.

This does mean, however, that, as with all massively successful games, there is now a whole host of spin-offs, variations, and clones on the market. Today our task is simple – like we have done with Munchkin and Pandemic – we are going to take a look at the different versions of Love Letter to determine which one is the best overall.

Before we begin, please note, as with all of these comparison articles, I have not played all of these versions. Instead, we will be looking at third party data sources to come up with an empirical (and impartial) version of Love Letter that is better than the others.

Which is the best version of Love Letter? Two version - Love Letter and Love Letter: Batman

Love Letter and Love Letter: Batman

Which is the Best Version of Love Letter?

To establish which is the best version of Love Letter we need to determine which versions of Love Letter we will be looking at. For the sake of this analysis, we are not looking at every version from all 26 different publishers. Instead, we are only going to look at versions that fall into two categories –

  1. They have their own main game page on Board Game Geek.
  2. They were released in English.

This means we are not taking Star Wars Love Letter into account because it was only released in Russian. Likewise, we are not taking Harap Alb Continuă… un joc Love Letter (which translates to: Harap White Continues … a Love Letter game) and was only released in Romania.

What this does is leave us with seven version of Love Letter that we will be looking at today. These are:

  • Love Letter
  • Love Letter Premium
  • Adventure Time Love Letter
  • Archer: Once You Go Blackmail…
  • Love Letter: Batman
  • Love Letter The Hobbit – The Battle of Five Armies
  • Lovecraft Letter

When we break down the theme, and depending on how you classify the Cthulhu mythos, we are looking at two historical games, four franchised games, and because of where Cthulhu stands in the “is this a franchised game, or is it more of a genre now” department, I am including Lovecraft Letter as being a horror theme.

Genre of Love Letter Games

This is an interesting split, and one which is not too dissimilar to Munchkin. Obviously, there are more versions of Munchkin so they cover more genres; however, franchises made up the majority of Munchkin versions as well.

What are the Differences in Rules?

For each version of Love Letter, however, we need to really look at the rules to understand the differences in the games. For this we need to divide the games into two sets – firstly, those that use the basic rules versus those versions of Love Letter that use enhanced rules (as well as what those rules are). After that, we need to look at the differences in the number of players.

This is what the split between the standard and enhanced rules looks like.

 

Love Letter Rules

With the current split of games, there are two that use standard rules – these are Love Letter and Batman Love Letter. The other five (Premium, Adventure Time, Archer, Hobbit, and Lovecraft) all add something new to the game. These are, in the loosest sense and not wanting to go into too much detail –

  • Adventure Time Love Letter – There is an additional rule about winning the game with Finn and Jake. There is also a rule where winning the game with a “Companion” card that gains you two tokens instead of one.
  • Archer: Once You Go Blackmail… – The main difference is the discarded card at the beginning of the game becomes an undercover agent card. Some cards allow for you to switch cards with the undercover agent or move it/bring it into the game etc.
  • Love Letter The Hobbit – The Battle of Five Armies – There is something I have written down in my notes only as “The Elf Rule”, where Tauriel and Legolas allow for you to discard different kinds of card.
  • Lovecraft Letter – Brings insanity into the mix.
  • Love Letter Premium – Arguably, Premium adds the most to the game, adding a whole host of new cards. There are nine new ones, including the Assassin, the Sycophant, the Bishop, the Queen, the Constable, the Count, the Jester, the Priestess, and the Baroness.

Batman Love Letter is, as much as it pains me to say as one of the versions I own, identical to the base game – only with Batman as a theme.

The Number of Players in Love Letter

We can also look at how many players there are for each version of Love Letter, showing the malleability of the game. This varies depending on the version, with 4 being the norm. Here we see Love Letter Premium stand out, as well as Lovecraft Letter.

Which is the best version of Love Letter? Number of Players

So, depending how many players you have, this may already be starting to look like a clear-cut decision. If you have a gaming group of seven, for example, then Love Letter Premium is your only choice. If you have five then you could go for Lovecraft Letter or Love Letter Premium, depending on if you like the idea of Cthulhu and insanity as in-game metrics.

Which is the Best Version of Love Letter according to BGG?

Next, we are going to look at some of the basic data from Board Game Geek (BGG) to show and highlight the differences in the game. This includes rating, but it also includes complexity.

Which is the simplest version of Love Letter and which is the most complex?

The complexity of the game is not usually something which determines whether a game is a good one or not. Instead, it can more be used to guide your own purchase decisions based on what is right for your gaming group.

Complexity is a rating from 1-5, as voted on by people who own the game on BGG.

Love Letter by Complexity Rating

What we can see here is that Love Letter, generally speaking, is not a complex game. None of the games are rated above 1.4, and Adventure Time Love Letter actually comes in at 1.03. That is phenomenally low for a game, making it one of the least complex games ever created. To give you an idea, Monopoly has a rating of 1.68 and freaking Pick Up Sticks has a complexity rating of 1.05. Yes, Adventure Time Love Letter is statistically easier than Pick Up Sticks in theory – however, this kind of highlights issues with crowdsourcing subjective data. It is not the most reliable source ever but it is still relatively useful to look at nevertheless.

Love Letter Premium is the most complex; however, this isn’t hugely surprising. It is like Love Letter but just for more people and those additional cards will make it more complex in the long run.

Which is the most owned version of Love Letter?

I mentioned earlier that the base Love Letter game is the sixth most owned game by registered users on BGG. The number also affects these statistics as we are not looking at a representative sample size for each one. Instead, ratings will vary depending on what is most owned.

Number of Love Letters Owned

Oh wow, that is a really unhelpful graph. Okay, so what it tells us is that Love Letter, the base game, is incredibly popular. This is made even more evident when visiting some highstreet bookstores and seeing it on the shelves. It also shows that Love Letter: Batman (or Batman Love Letter depending on how you want to see it) is the second most owned.

To give a bit more context, and to make the above graph slightly more useful, here are the numbers rounded.

Screen Shot 2018-05-20 at 20.22.32

Fewest people own Archer: Once You Go Blackmail…, which isn’t hugely surprising. It has arguably the most niche theme and it is also one of the hardest copies to get your hands on. It is only surpassed by Love Letter The Hobbit, which is easy to get second hand, but not first.

What are the reviews like for the different versions of Love Letter on BGG?

There are two different ways of looking at reviews on different mediums. Firstly, we can look at the aggregated reviews, which is the base number sites like BGG and Amazon provide. That being said, averages and aggregated numbers can be skewed by extreme results. As such, it is always worth looking at the mode, something which gives us an idea of what the most people voted for.

BGG Aggregated Reviews

Although there isn’t a huge amount between the different versions of Love Letter we can note a couple of things. Firstly, the versions of Love Letter that accommodate more players (Lovecraft Letter and Love Letter Premium) tend to be higher thought of, with Love Letter Premium going way out up front. Again, it is worth noting that Love Letter Premium is only owned by 1700 people on BGG, meaning the results are likely to be less reliable than the score for Love Letter (the base game).

Next, Love Letter and Love Letter: Batman score the same on BGG. This could be because they are identical.

Finally, the two franchised versions that add (what are probably) the strangest rules (Love Letter The Hobbit and Archer: Once You Go Blackmail…) are considered the least; however, not by much.

If we look at the modes however we get a different story –

BGG Mode of User Reviews.png

Across the board, 8/10 is the most likely and most common score for any Love Letter game. This shows it is not an extreme skewing the results, but actually that the results are somewhat balanced.

What this leads to is a chart where we can see the overall rankings for each game within BGG based on the Board Game Geek ranking systems. This takes into account the number of people who have voted, and what those votes are, unlike the straight-up aggregated scores.

For this, the lower the bar, the higher it is in the rankings.

BGG Overall Ranking.png

As we can see, Love Letter is the highest, followed by Love Letter: Batman. Archer: One You Go Blackmail… is the lowest ranked. To see this as a table –

Screen Shot 2018-05-20 at 21.07.46

What are the reviews like for the different versions of Love Letter on Amazon?

Of course, taking only one source of data is not recommended, so we will also take a look at the next best rating channel I can think of – Amazon.com. The reason for this is because BGG is a fairly hardcore gaming crowd, whereas Amazon shows more of the consumer perspective. This makes Amazon incredibly valuable as a review source, however, it is not without its problems – namely in the number of reviews. Fewer people leave ratings for games on Amazon than they do on BGG.

“Why not Amazon.co.uk?” I hear you ask.

It’s not because I’m not feeling particularly patriotic (Start Your Meeples being based in the UK), but rather because not all versions are available in the UK. I figured that rather than give a summary of a £41.42 version of Archer: Once You Go Blackmail…, I would just go to the US source.

Looking at the reviews we see a slightly different story.

Amazon Total Reviews for Love Letter

We now see Adventure Time and Lovecraft Letter get the best reviews on Amazon. Once again, Archer: Once You Go Blackmail… is considered the least desirable game.

We have actually seen similar results to these across the board when comes to Amazon ratings. The ratings tend to be a lot higher, as you tend to get more extreme results. Very few people who think something is “Okay” will vote as to whether they enjoyed something or not. This is represented in the Amazon modal reviews.

Amazon Mode of User Reviews.png

For every single version of Love Letter, the mode review was 5/5. This is normal for Amazon, but not for a real-life representation.

We saw similar stories for both Munchkin and Pandemic. There is probably an article here in its own right.

Do we have enough to draw a conclusion to the question: “Which is the Best Version of Love Letter?”

The simple answer to the above, especially for data nerds, is “no”. You can never have enough data, and since gaming is so subjective, it is never easy to say “this version is better than that version”.

That being said, we can try to aggregate both Amazon and BGG to get a result as to which one could be worth investing in for both a newbie and someone well versed in the game.

To do this we are going to use a basic, if not a bit flawed, algorithm. It is flawed because it places so much emphasis on Amazon, which ultimately gets fewer reviews; however, since all Amazon reviews are skewed in the same way, and they all have the same downfall, then this actually weirdly works quite well to give some idea. We will use the formula –

∑=((Amazon*2)+BGG)/2

As I said, it’s not perfect, but it gives an idea.

Which is the best version of Love Letter? Total Aggregated Reviews

To be honest, I’m not sure the above graph is a surprise. Lovecraft Letter and Love Letter Premium are the highest rated, with Lovecraft Letter scoring slightly more. Then we see two versions of Love Letter and Adventure Time Love Letter. Love Letter: Batman is a simple mask of the Love Letter game. Once again, Archer: Once You Go Blackmail… is considered the bottom of the list of the seven. This gives us an order of

  1. Lovecraft Letter
  2. Love Letter Premium
  3. Adventure Time Love Letter
  4. Love Letter
  5. Love Letter The Hobbit – The Battle of Five Armies
  6. Love Letter: Batman
  7. Archer: Once You Go Blackmail…

Yeah, but what is the Opinion?

I started this article by saying that I haven’t played every single game on this list. In fact, I have only really played two versions of Love Letter. That being said, as an experienced gamer, one who has a lot of experience with franchises like Fluxx and Munchkin and Pandemic, I can say that sometimes it is best to go with the basic experience first before going themed and sometimes it is best to go for the theme.

My advice would be to, if you are going into this from the off with no Love Letter experience then it is probably best to go for Love Letter Premium. Where Lovecraft Letter is well thought of, there weren’t a huge number of Amazon reviews, and that does skew the results. Love Letter Premium is the base game, but it is the base game with a few additional enhancements, assuming you don’t mind the difference in price.

If you are well versed in Love Letter then Lovecraft Letter is not a bad shout. It has a theme, the interesting insanity mechanic, and a little bit more to it. Not to mention it is presented really well.

That being said, if you love any one of the particular themes then go with whichever one takes your fancy.

So, let’s conclude this article. I hope you have found it somewhat useful, if not in regards to the conclusion then in regards to having the data in one place. If you did enjoy this and want to check out some other articles then I have done comparisons for Munchkin and Pandemic as well. I am always looking to improve these articles, so please feel free to give me suggestions as to how in the comments below. How can I get that mathematical formula and the numbers of votes to deliver more relevant results?

Let me know your thoughts on Love Letter and the Love Letter franchise in the comments below.

Other “Best Version” Analysis:
Munchkin
Pandemic

9 Comments »

  1. I have Love Letter Premium, and there are a few fantastic pros for that version. 1 – the component quality is outstanding. The cards are really thick, and it comes with custom sleeves for them. You also get heart shaped tokens. 2 – there are new cards that bring it up to 8 players, not just 2 copies of the base cards.

    The biggest downside is that Love Letter Premium is not as portable as the base/other versions – which is largely a matter of personal preference. It’s not humongous, but more back-pack size than pocket size.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Letters to Santa is a good implementation too. My high school boy still takes it to school during the holidays for a quick lunchtime game. All the teens laugh at the theme but all want to win even though they all “know” the secret. 🤫

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ahh I saw that on the list of implementations of the Love Letter rules, but didn’t include it because I couldn’t find an official BGG page. I’ll be sure to look it up though 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve played 3 versions. Vanilla Love Letter, Batman and Loot Letter (Munchkin themed). By far I prefer Loot Letter– but it’s really about the theme for me. As thin as it is on any implementation . . . I just like Munchkin and playing with that art and text over the other two themes.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Munchkin is a strong theme, and a good series of games, but I haven’t heard of Loot Letter. Does it bring in any more rules or is it just the same with a different theme?

      Liked by 1 person

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