They’ve escaped… Again. A mass break-out at Arkham, and its Rogue Gallery is on the streets again. Bane, Two-Face, The Joker… Left unchecked, who knows what evil they might bring to the streets of Gotham. It’s up to you to bring them in. Well, you and a few others; but you’ll do it best. In fact, you’re going to bring in the the most dangerous villains, and show up your rivals while you’re at it.
Maybe your a vigilante fighting against the rising tide of villainy in the world… Or maybe you’re playing Love Letter: Batman Edition.
Love Letter: Batman Edition is designed by Seiji Kanai and jointly released by Cryptozoic Entertainment and Alderac Entertainment Group. Played by 2 to 4 players, the game suggest a playtime of 20 minutes, but in my experience it tends to be a bit longer.
The goal of the game is to be the first to gain 7 “batman tokens.” The tokens are generally gained by capturing the most valuable villain in a round. Gameplay is fairly simple; players are given a card with a character and ability on it. On their turn, players draw a new card, and choose one of their two cards to discard, activating its ability. Abilities can serve to gain information, protect yourself, or eliminate other players. A round ends when either there are no more cards to draw (in which case whoever has the highest ranking villain wins a token) or when all but one player has been eliminated (in which case the remaining player wins a token).
The game is quick to learn, and quick to play. A round can be a mere matter of moments, depending on the cards played. Even if it lasts as long as it can, the 16-card deck means that there’s a max of 6 or so turns each in a 2 player game, and less than that with more players. The instructions printed on each card are fairly simple to understand, with the rule book going into a bit more detail for more complicated situations. Typically, though, simply doing what the card says is all you need to know.
The game does force you to think strategically, at times. Higher value cards are good for the end game, but make you a target early on. Sometimes, you might find yourself forced to discard cards you’d rather keep. Since you can also see what cards the other players have discarded, and each player is provided a reference card that shows how many of each card is in the game, you can try to reason what cards other players have from there. Of course, as there is always one card removed from the round secretly, it is impossible to card count with 100% certainty.
The game is fun enough to play, but the real draw of it might be the flavor. Who doesn’t like the idea of capturing super villains in Gotham? The rule book plays this up, pairing explinations of game mechanics with commentary about “serving justice to a corrupt world” and scum not being “allowed to walk the streets among hard-working citizens again.” It’s a funny read.
One minor complaint I have about the game design, though, comes in the ranking of characters. The card abilities are based on the abilities from the original version of Love Letter, but with Batman characters replacing the courtiers from the original game. But it doesn’t seem like a lot of thought was put into making the characters and abilities make sense in the world of Batman. Robin is ranked as a higher villain than Bane, for instance. To my mind, the characters could have easily been arranged in a slightly different order and match up to abilities and ranking in a more sensible way.
The other concern I have with the game is in the art. The illustrations are based on DC’s New 52 revamp from 2011. The costume and art seems fairly sexualized. And, while the male characters get muscles and action shots, the three female cards get… Uh… Well, they get boobs. Lots and lots of boobs. And, while some people will argue that that’s just the card art remaining loyal tot he New 52 look, I think it would probably have been easy enough to draw the characters in their New 52 costumes without also framing them in such a way that their breasts were oddly pronounced and front-and-center in their cards.
All in all, Love Letter: Batman Edition is a quick game, that’s fun is not marred by it’s simplicity. It can be learned in seconds, and played in half an hour or so. Playing strategically might take a bit more familiarity with the game to get to, but the game is not built in a way to give one person being familiar with it a huge advantage. A bit of help, maybe, but not to a game-breaking extent. If you’re not bothered by the… interesting artistic choices, it’s a great game for a quick play session, or as a palate cleanser between heavier, lengthier games. Who knew putting a stop to villainy could be so quick and easy?