Anyway, the Guard card, what does it do? It is essentially a sniper with one bullet, you can use it to guess what card another player has in their hand, and if you are right, they are out of the game. Love Letter has a win condition of either having the highest card or being the last person standing. In my experience, the last person standing win condition is usually the most prevalent, so the Guard card is essential to achieving this win condition.
So, we know it's essential, but why is it fun? I believe it is fun for a few reasons:
Love Letter has two significant differences between itself and the old version of my game, Love Letter has a tiny deck of just 16 cards, and you play all cards face up. This works perfectly in conjunction with the Guard card as the percentage of likelihood that any player has any particular card at any given time is constantly ticking down. Of course, this is muddied when you are playing with more than just one other player, as you could be doing the calculations for one player when it's the other player that has the Princess, but this clear transparency of cards that have been played, and thus a clear transparency of what cards haven't been played, creates an even more stimulating effect.
At the start of the round, if a player guesses a card correctly, it's pure luck. It makes for a significant moment in terms of shock value, but at the same time, the player doesn't truly feel like they have earned it.
However, when we make it to the middle game, it's possible to weigh up the chances even to a 50% chance (excluding Guard cards) that a player has one of two cards. Getting this right makes the player feel so intelligent; it's just a straight-up shot of dopamine to the cranium. I haven't had a feeling like it in any other game. There is still enough chance that it could be another card that the player feels like they earned it, but through thinking about the odds, the player feels brilliant for getting it right rather than just lucky.
This doesn't just have to be based on what cards have been played either; it could be down to how they have been acting or what cards they have specifically played themselves. For example, if someone plays a Prince straight away, I'm always going to guess either Princess or King as there is no way they would play a Prince if they had a card lower so early on, but that's just me.
Anyway, back on track, we've talked about how the player feels during the early and mid-game, but what about the end game? When there is just one more card to pick up before the end of the game, and you have a Guard and a Baron in your hand, you know you aren't going to win via the highest card win condition, so you have to use this Guard you have to guess correctly. Usually, in this scenario, unless you know the card discarded at the start of the game (to make sure you can't straight up card count) is a Guard, then it's about a 50% chance again in guessing it right unless you have been paying attention to how they have been playing then it could be closer to a 100% chance of guessing it right. At this point, the danger is it is too easy for a player that has managed to keep hold of a Guard until the end or was just lucky enough to draw it at the end to guess correctly. Still, this guess is so essential, that the moment is so tense, and that there is still a slight chance of getting it wrong leads to some of the tensest moments in gaming I have experienced, and some of the most shocking when I get it wrong.
I have just outlined three very different yet all valid and credible experiences when using just one card that does just one thing. You could do the same for almost all the cards in Love Letter, which speaks just on how well designed it is. After looking at Love Letter, I made the appropriate changes to my game and innovated on the deck system that Love Letter uses to fit my game as my game is more similar to Coup. However, I'll be making a blog post about the deck system in my game in a different post further down the line.
In conclusion, I have yet to find such a great combination of deck mechanism and card that compliment each other so well; it does motivate me to continue designing games so one day I can do the same. What do you think of this combination of a transparent and easy to count deck system, coupled with a versatile card such as the Guard card? Let me know in the comments below. Also, comment on any games you think have a similar quality as I'd love to give them a go.
Hello, my name is Niall Crabtree, and this is my comprehensive blog showcasing all of my game development endeavors and successes, as well as essays on game design.
Receive an email every two weeks with all the articles I produce so you never miss one!