A Gamer’s Valentine’s Day Question: What Board Games are there about Love?

AEG’s fire-hot Love Letter, its most recent English-language edition comes in a sexy velvet bag.

Valentine’s Day is here again, and somewhere between the flocks of half-naked, infantile archers, mountains of terrible chocolate packed in heart-shaped boxes and overpriced long-stem roses as far as the eye can see, there’s something to do with love in the middle of it all. Now that I’ve just made you realize that you’ve not yet made dinner reservations to that place that does the fish your paramour favors, you may find yourself asking “but what board games are there about love?” Of course, I’ve got a few to share with you that may add a little cardboard romance to your Feb. 14th.

First up is Love Letter, a new game that just recently released from publisher Alderac Entertainment Group. It’s hardly had time to cure into a collectible, although supplies are scarce because the first English printing of it sold out almost as soon as it hit stores. So there is an uptick in its value, with some sellers listing the $12.95 retail title for as much as $50, but that value will plummet as it becomes more available in subsequent printings.

Originally published in Japan by Japon Brand, designer Seiji Kanai’s game is a micro-masterpiece of minimalist design. The game is nothing more than 16 cards and about as many cubes stored in an embossed red velvet pouch. The rules are probably about half a page long. But its simplicity belies an intriguing game of bluffing, deduction and observation. Each player represents a suitor attempting to get a courtesan or attendant to deliver your love letter to a princess. In game terms, whoever has the highest value card remaining in play when the 16-card deck is exhausted has their letter handed to the object of desire and wins the round.

The exotic and mysterious Japon Brand first printing. Not sure what that clown is doing in there.

Each of the cards represents a different character with a unique ability that either provides information about what cards another player has or eliminates them. For example, the Guard allows a player to effectively play “go fish” with another player’s two-card hand and eliminate a card if they correctly guess one of them. If the Countess card is ever revealed in a hand with the King or Prince, they’re eliminated—you can probably guess why.

It’s such a light, capricious game and anyone can immediately appreciate the romantic theme and artwork. Gameplay is simple, quick and dramatic. As far as games with a romantic theme go, there frankly isn’t anything better.

Even though Love Letter is technically hard to come by these days, even tougher to get in the U.S., at least, is Liebe und Intrige (Love and Intrigue, obviously), a delightful German game with an all-too-rare literary theme—it’s effectively a Jane Austen board game, suitably packaged in a pink box that looks like a book. Published in 2007, the game has never been made available in an English edition.

Liebe und Intrige is about a time when people were not so happy to be in love, as that sour-looking couple demonstrates. The designers of the game (right) seem to be much happier to be living in 2007, showing the game at Germany’s Essen Spiel fair.

Players represent families trying to marry three daughters, all ranked numerically for their overall reputation, beauty, and education. These traits correspond to the things that a gentlemen suitor is looking for in a romantic partner with each suitor card featuring a minimum value for each quality. There’s a bit of set collection, as the goal is ultimately to gather three matching suitor cards and thus marry that particular daughter.

There’s a bit of skullduggery involved, as well, as some drama as traits can change due to the play of action cards and on-board effects—it wouldn’t be a proper Jane Austen-style romance without some ups and downs. Suitor cards can even be stolen from other players, requiring a roll of the dice.

Liebe und Intrige is fun and light, and I for one really appreciate that it’s a literary-inspired game with something other than another ersatz Tolkien theme. There’s actually a passing resemblance to a love-themed game that may be more familiar to some readers—the classic Mystery Date, published by Milton Bradley first in 1965, but also in 1970, a version with an electronic phone in 1999, and in 2005.

Play “Spot the Differences: Other than genuine 1965 graphic design (left) and kitsch 2005 facsimile (right) between these two editions of the game, 40 years apart.

Somewhere along the way, it was determined that the game was for girls 7+ instead of 6-14. My, how times have changed.

Once again, you’re trying to collect a set of three cards, but this time you’re attempting to get three cards corresponding to a different type of date and what you should wear on that date. Once you’ve got your cute outfit together, you get to roll a die and turn the doorknob on the “Mystery Door”, which reveals your date. Maybe you get the tuxedo wearing hunk… or maybe you get “The Dud.”

Frankly, it’s a terrible game. But as an activity for young girls, just starting to get giddy about love and boys, it’s something of a time-honored classic. It’s fondly remembered and early versions of the game can sell for $50 or more. The most recent High School Musical edition can probably be found at yard sales and thrift stores for about 50 cents.

Michael Barnes is a lifelong game player, collector and enthusiast. He has parlayed his passion for games into several successful ventures, including a retail hobby store, two popular gaming Websites, and 10 years of widely read commentary and criticism about both tabletop and video games.

 

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