Designer: Seiji Kanai, Alexandar Orloff
Artist: Monica Helland
Publisher: Z-Man Games
I think Seiji Kanai’s 16-card Love Letter is revolutionary. It is a classic and stands along other genre-defining games such as Dominion, Caylus and Pandemic. It wasn’t the first to introduce microgames, but it was definitely one of the first to spawn awareness of this genre, much like what Pandemic did for the co-op mechanism. Perhaps the game coming out of Japan isn’t surprising given the type of games that are designed by Japanese designers: compact, efficient and with minimal chrome. I remember when the game was introduced, folks couldn’t even find a copy in the market until the AEG reprint came along. Shortly after, a whole slew of Love Letter remakes and reimplementations came out. I haven’t played anything beyond the original, but having a kid at home looking for a short before-bed-time game, Infinity Gauntlet sort of fits the criteria. Moreover, I wanted my daughter to enjoy the Marvel Universe and it’s diverse characters.
This version of Love Letter is probably the most drastic remake of the original. Instead of a competitive one-on-one, this version pits the Marvel Superheroes against Thanos in a many-against-one scenario. Both heroes and villain have their own unique deck of cards with Thanos winning if all the lives are knocked out from the heroes or if all six infinity stones are uncovered and Thanos snaps his fingers. The heroes can only win if Thanos is defeated and loses all his lives.
Like Love Letter, players draw a card and play a card. Except of course, Thanos has a hand of two cards instead of one for the heroes which gives him more options. Play is simple, heroes will try to weaken Thanos and his henchmen by either guessing the correct card or launching an attack to best Thanos or his buddies. Defeat by either side results in a loss of one life. No one gets ousted from the game. The number of life points depend on the number of players, but Thanos will have slightly more life points at higher player count.
Some of the tweaks in the game work well for the theme. For example, Thanos is really powerful with his infinity stones. If he gets all six in either his hand or tableau, he wins instantaneously. The infinity stone powers range from awesome to mediocre. For example, Thanos gets to call out a number and if it matches ANY players’ hand, all the cards are defeated. On the other hand, the players must cooperate to fight Thanos. Individually, they are weaker, but some cards are booster cards to add power tokens during a fight and you can give it to other players. Other cards allow players to peek at Thanos’s hand prior to a battle. Those cards are really useful for a coordinated attack by Ironman or Captain Marvel, the two strongest heroes in the entire deck.
Another new addition to the game are power tokens. These tokens give a +2 to any attack and must be used in a battle. I’d say these tokens are a must for the heroes as their overall battle strength is weaker. If Thanos had a handful of these tokens in his supply, the game will swing in his favor.
In the end, Infinity Gauntlet is still a Love Letter variant. You will have the same snappy card play with minimal decisions to make each turn. So be prepared for a healthy dose of luck as always. I like that the heroes must cooperate to fight well and that is always a thematic plus. But each game probably lasts 5-10 minutes at most and so the lack of control is always acceptable.
The success of Love Letter has always been this stripped down card game that is rapid fire with some minimal amount of guesswork and a huge dollop of luck. Player elimination in this case works well because the game is short and the “take that” element is more funny than serious. There is built in tension from being eliminated. Infinity Gauntlet ports over this familiar system and implements a new victory condition and it still works. There is noticeably less tension at the individual level because there is no player elimination and not all hero cards have a direct impact on Thanos. But really, all is forgiven because the game is short.
Theme wise, you couldn’t ask for a better fit. Collecting all six infinity stones followed by the finger snap by Thanos to win is brilliant and obviously highly thematic. That the individual heroes feel and play weaker also makes a lot of sense. Beating Thanos still requires some synergy and cooperation among players even at the expense of individual player tension. If you have Love Letter, I am not sure you need this experience, though it is probably the most different among all the Love Letter variants. I purchased Infinity Gauntlet for one reason: to play with my child right before bed time each night. These games need to be within the 10-15 min play time and in that sense, the game has met my criteria for success.
Which leaves me with one final, vexing question: Why is Hawkeye not in the game? You have Nebula, Gamora and Vision but not Hawkeye, which is part of the core group of Marvel heroes.
Initial impression: Average; Good (Family)
6 years, 7 months: The game works. I wanted a short all against one version to play with my family instead of just regular Love Letter. I also obtained Monza from HABA at the same time and my kid practically ignored Monza. So, that does something about the game. I think she enjoys a good challenge and she always wants to play Thanos. The game is simple enough to understand and after half a dozen plays, I can see that she is beginning to grasp some tactics for card play. It is still rudimentary but she can look at the cards in the open field and figure out odds of calling out the right card with one of the Infinity Stones. She can also win with Thanos easily. Games that involve a higher dose of luck usually also means kids have a better chance of beating parents and that’s ok at this stage in their development. You also don’t want them to get too frustrated and I never play to lose. So, Infinity Gauntlet check all the boxes. I also wanted her to embrace some of the Marvel characters to “diversify” her cultural exposure beyond popular characters that are less gender-neutral IPs (aka Disney Princesses).