Going Crazy for ‘Lovecraft Letter’

Lovecraft Letter cover

Your cousin has discovered something in his explorations of Egypt, and has written a mysterious letter—you arrive to find him missing. Follow the clues, but beware the glimpses of forbidden knowledge!

At a glance:

Lovecraft Letter is for 2 to 6 players, ages 14 and up, and takes about 10–15 minutes to play. It will be released on July 1 in stores and online, and retails for $29.99. It is a twist on Love Letter, with some added mechanics and card abilities; I have played with my 10-year-old daughter without difficulty, though the artwork on some of the cards is a little creepier than the original game. (Note: my daughter’s roller derby name is Cthu-Liu, so this brand of creepiness is right up her alley.)

GeekDad Approved 2017

Lovecraft Letter is GeekDad Approved!

Lovecraft Letter components
Custom sleeves, tarot-sized cards, and very nice chips. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Lovecraft Letter Components

The game includes:

  • 25 game cards
  • 6 reference cards
  • 18 Sanity tokens
  • 40 card sleeves
Lovecraft Letter box
The box is designed to look like a hardcover book; the interior has a lovely insert. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The components in this version are akin to Love Letter Premium, though I’d say these are even better. As with that deluxe edition, this one comes in a box with a magnetic flap and a nice insert, tarot-sized cards, and custom sleeves. But the sanity tokens here (used to mark when you win a round) are high-quality poker chips rather than small wooden hearts, which is a nice upgrade. Yes, the box is a little larger than absolutely necessary, which I often complain about, but in this case I think the presentation and aesthetic quality is a nice touch.

Lovecraft Letter sanity tokens
Sanity tokens are double-sided poker chips. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The chips themselves have a Cthulhu head on one side, and an elder sign on the other—both have a foil effect, and are quite eye-catching.

The large cards allows for plenty of room for the artwork by Vincent Dutrait, and I think it’s excellent. The card sleeves are very nice, too: they’re nice, thick plastic, with opaque backs that have the card back illustrated printed on them. Although the game comes with 25 cards, there are extra sleeves provided. The reference cards are double-sided, so some clear sleeves are also included for those.

Lovecraft Letter cards
Examples of a few cards; each “Sane” version (top) is matched by an “Insane” version (bottom). Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The basic cards in this game have the same effects as those in basic Love Letter, though they have been given new card titles to fit the Lovecraft theme. In addition, there are “insane” versions of each card as well: these have the same ability, plus an additional, more powerful ability that can be used if you are insane. The sane cards are marked with elder sign icons (the number of icons denotes the number of that card in the deck), and the insane cards are marked at the top with a small Cthulhu icon. My only complaint about the graphics on the card is the Mi-Go card, the insane version of #5: the illustration includes some translucent wings that cross over the Cthulhu icon, partially obscuring it and making it a little less distinct. Still, the insane ability at the bottom of the card makes it fairly obvious.

Lovecraft Letter game in progress
A game of Lovecraft Letter in progress. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

How to play Lovecraft Letter

The goal of the game is to earn 3 Insane tokens or 2 Sane tokens by winning rounds.

Setup

Set aside the Mi-Go Braincase card face-up, and then shuffle the rest of the cards. Remove one card from the deck face-down and set it aside (in a 2-player game, remove 5 more face-up). Shuffle and deal one card to each player.

Lovecraft Letter Yith
The Great Race of Yith allows me to compare hands with another player—the lower hand will be knocked out. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Your Turn

On your turn, you usually draw a card, then choose a card to play and discard. Each player has their own discard area, showing all of the cards they have discarded. After playing a card, you must use its effect if possible, even if it’s bad for you.

If you start your turn with any Insane cards in your discard pile, however, you are insane. You now have access to more powerful abilities, but you also risk a total breakdown. At the start of your turn, you must flip one card from the deck for each Insane card in your discard pile. If you reveal an Insane card, you are immediately knocked out of the round, and discard your hand. Otherwise, you draw a card and continue play as usual. If you play an Insane card and you already have at least one Insane card in your discard pile, you may use the Insane effect of the card instead of the Sane effect.

Lovecraft Letter sanity check
Since I have two Insane cards in my discard pile (left), I had to draw 2 cards for a sanity check (right). They are both Sane cards, so I survive and may now take my turn. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Knocked Out

There are various ways you can be knocked out of the round aside from failing a sanity check; there are card effects that allow other players to knock you out, and there are cards that will knock you out if you are ever forced to discard them. If you’re knocked out, you discard the card in your hand (without using its effects) and then skip your turns for the rest of the round.

Round End

The round ends either when only one player is left (that player wins the round), or when there are no cards in the deck at the end of a player’s turn (or when performing a sanity check). All players reveal the card in their hand: the highest non-tied number wins the round. The winner of the round takes a sanity token, flipping it to the side to match their current sanity.

How to Win

If you have 2 Sane or 3 Insane tokens, you win the game! Otherwise, repeat the process starting with Setup.

There’s also one other win condition: if you discard Cthulhu and you have at least two Insane cards in your discard pile, you win the entire game—not just the round.

Lovecraft Letter reference cards
Reference cards are double-sided, listing the Sane and Insane card types and abilities, along with the number of each card in the deck. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The Verdict

Since AEG first published Love Letter in 2012, there have been a pile of rethemed versions: Munchkin, Batman, Archer, and so on. Some are strictly thematic changes without otherwise changing gameplay, and others tweak the game a little. I was pleased to note that Lovecraft Letter does add some significant gameplay differences, making the game just a little meatier while still keeping it easy to learn and quick to play.

If you’ve played basic Love Letter, you’ll be familiar with all of the Sane versions of the cards—these pretty much work exactly the same. In fact, if you took out the Insane cards, you could pretty much play the basic game, just with a Lovecraft theme. (Personally, I thought the rulebook should have included that as a learning variant, for those who may purchase Lovecraft Letter without ever having played the original.)

Insanity: Powerful but Dangerous

The Insane cards give you access to more powerful versions of each ability, and they’re really fun to use. For instance, the basic #3 (Great Race of Yith) lets you compare hands with somebody, and the lower number is knocked out. But the insane #3 (Hound of Tindalos) lets you kn0ck out another player if they aren’t insane, regardless of what card they’re holding. The regular #7 (The Silver Key) is nice if you can hang onto it until the round ends, since it’s almost the highest number—but if you also have a card that’s 5 or higher, you must discard it. The insane #7 (The Shining Trapezohedron) lets you win the round if you also have a card that’s 5 or higher.

But, of course, those powerful abilities come at a cost: the more insane you are, the more risk there is of knocking yourself out of the round. I had one game in which I was knocked out three rounds in a row, one turn after I played an insane card (but before I was able to play a second to use its insane ability); each time it was the Hound of Tindalos that did me in. And, of course, the more you use the insane abilities, the more cards you’ll have to draw for your sanity check, and the more likely it is that you won’t get a turn at all.

The Cthulhu “instant win” seems like it would be a rare occasion: you must have two insane cards already in your discard pile and survive your sanity check and manage to play Cthulhu to automatically win the game, regardless of how many tokens anyone has earned. But I’ve actually seen it happen twice so far—once, the player already had Cthulhu in hand, and survived the sanity check. Another time, the player had two insane cards in his discard pile, drew two sane cards for his sanity check, and then drew Cthulhu for the win. Although it can be a surprise win, I like that it adds a bit of incentive to press your luck with those insane abilities.

Lovecraft Letter in progress
Another round in progress. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Although there are more cards in the deck, the sanity checks mean that players may also draw more cards on their turns, running out the deck more quickly, so that balances out the game length. Although the box says 10 minutes, I’ve found the games do go a little longer than that, but I expect it will also shorten once players become familiar with the insane abilities.

Overall, I’m quite pleased with Lovecraft Letter. The component quality is fantastic, and it has breathed new life into Love Letter for me. My daughter really enjoys it, too, though she was too young when the original came out and so for her it’s an entirely new game. If you like the Lovecraft theme and you want to add just a little more depth (and Deep Ones) to Love Letter, I highly recommend it. If you dislike Love Letter, I don’t know that this will be enough to change your mind, unless you just feel the original game is too light. It’s still a fairly light game, but with just a little bit extra.

Look for Lovecraft Letter at your local game store sometime in July!

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this game.

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Jonathan H. Liu is a stay-at-home dad in Portland, Oregon, who loves to read, is always up for a board game, and has a bit of a Kickstarter habit.