Seiji Kanai’s Love Letter is pretty fantastic. You can read our review of the original (well, original to those of us outside of Japan, anyway) Tempest-themed version to see why we think so (and we certainly aren’t the only ones to thing that). Now, AEG has released a second English-language version of Love Letter that uses the art and characters from the original Japanese – the Kanai Factory Limited Edition. This is a standalone but since you can already use that link up top to get to the prior version review, this review will just look at what’s different about the Kanai Factory Limited Edition.
So, the cards look different. Here’s one – that’s probably better than just describing them anyway:
As you can see, they have the card name in Japanese and in English (the original Japanese version also had the name in both languages; the only change is that the card text is now in English instead of Japanese), and there’s an icon below the card number to tip you off to what it does. Whether the original or the Tempest art is preferable is a matter of taste, it seems to me – personally, I like the Tempest art better (I think AEG did a bang-up job putting together the art assets for that shared world), but then, no one is rushing out to dub me an art critic, so ….
Also, there are two promo versions of the target of your affections – one a Princess with glasses, and one a Prince (there is a Prince in the Tempest Love Letter, but he’s a sibling of your target, not the target himself). Does this really matter? Probably not. But it’s nice to have a little less gender stereotyping (some of us have been known to have little rants about that sort of things on their podcasts for special occasions).
For packaging, the Tempest Love Letter came in a cute little velvet bag, and the Kanai Factory Limited Edition comes in a small box (the original original Love Letter came in an envelope). Point to the Tempest version for being more distinctive.
In addition to the cosmetic differences, there are two mechanical differences between the Tempest version of Love Letter and the Kanai Factory Limited Edition. The #7 card – the Countess in the Tempest version and the Minister in the Kanai Factory Limited Edition – is significantly more brutal in the original Japanese version. The drawback on the Countess is that you have to discard her if she’s “caught” with the #6 King or #5 Prince. The drawback on the Minister is that if you ever have him and the #8 Princess/Prince or the #6 General or the #5 Wizard, you lose. The upside of the Minister, it seems to me, is that you have to think about just holding a high-value card in your hand – in Tempest Love Letter you’re very likely to be playing the 1-4 cards and keeping the 5-7 cards in your hand, unless you have a particular play in mind (for example, making an opponent discard the Princess). In the Kanai version, however, it’s a dangerous game to hold onto the Wizard or General for too long (and a really dangerous game to sit on the Minister; IMHO if you draw him right away it’s a legit play to just play him for no effect so you don’t risk an auto-lose later). On the downside, losing to drawing a card (e.g., I have the Wizard in hand, I draw the Minister, I lose) seems to vex players more than the other ample quantities of instant-lose in Love Letter. I think it’s because there’s just a different sort of feeling to losing to another player taking a deliberate action to play a card on you, and the random self-destruct of the Minister.
The other mechanical difference is that you play to four wins no matter what, instead of varying with the number of players. Of course, one could apply this rule with either the Tempest version or the Kanai Factory Limited Edition, so it doesn’t seem to me a matter of concern. Just pick whatever game length you like best.
All in all, Love Letter is a great game in either version. If I, personally, had to pick only one to go out and buy (and you should really own Love Letter), it would still be the Tempest version. But since that includes a lot of personal preferences like art and the packaging, I’m sure a lot of folks would go for the Kanai Factory version instead.