Review: Infinity Gauntlet: A Love Letter Game
|Length||20 minutes or less|
Designer: Seiji Kanai, Alexandar Ortloff
Publisher: Z-MAN Games
Category: Deduction, Card Game
Player Count: 2-6
BoardGameGeek Rating: 7.4 (72 votes)
While I know many game night choices are intended to fill an evening (or evenings) with fun to be had, I love to keep “microgames” on hand. A while back, I reviewed Love Letter, and it’s one I still like to pull out and play from time to time. When I heard about a “Marvel version”, they had my attention, and I asked my local game store owner to get in on stocking it. He, too, is a fan of the original game, so along with a longtime friend, the three of us cracked into Infinity Gauntlet: A Love Letter Game. The experience gave me a good idea on how to review a title like this that attracts those familiar with the original gameplay, as well as those coming to it as an inexpensive and approachable Marvel tie-in game.
Whereas the original game had only sixteen cards to play with, this title expands on its card count. The game comes with 36 nicely finished cards, 9 plastic power tokens, 2 plastic sliders (for damage tracking), and a nice cloth bag to keep it all together for on-the-go play. Thematically, the game focuses on super-powered battling, but the art isn’t inherently violent in reflecting that. In fact, the artwork and card presentation were a big draw for me, with each card vibrant and easy to look at. The recommended age is 10+ on the box, but that comes down more to ease of play, rather than the content deterring the younger ones away. As stated in the Love Letter review, this game, likewise, doesn’t involve deception tactics in its deduction, and I appreciated that. I know many gamers who refuse to play deception-based games.
To begin, it’s worth being clear that this is not simply a re-skin of Love Letter (hence, the renaming). It takes the gameplay that was based within one small deck and more or less doubles it, offering a hero deck and a villain deck. One player will be tasked with the Thanos deck, containing thirteen cards depicting the Mad Titan, his Black Order, and, of course, the Infinity Stones with various power levels shown by a large 1-7 on their card. Parallel to that, the other player(s) use the hero deck, containing sixteen cards depicting a wide range of Marvel heroes with power levels between 1-6. Those power levels are key in “fight” encounters, and that power level can be boosted by a +2 Power token if a player has gained one.
Each side has a set amount of damage they can take (depending on player count), and if either side takes the maximum amount, they lose. Hero players will only ever have a maximum hand size of two cards (sound familiar?), but the villain player will start with two cards and have a maximum hand size of three on their turn. That may sound unfair, but it is all there to keep things balanced… as all things should be. I won’t reveal the full powers of each card assigned to all of the hero/villain identities (part of the fun for us was seeing who all was included and what they could do), but there are many parallels to the card actions of Love Letter. For an effective and more comprehensive explanation of how-to-play, Z-Man Games has put together a very good demonstration video, linked to in the game’s rulebook. In a small nitpick, I was a little perplexed at the power levels assigned to some heroes (as is demonstrated below), but this is done more to pair heroes to actions that fit their characteristics that more-or-less fit what returning Love Letter players are used to from that game (with some exceptions).
Even as it took some getting used to, those differences to that original title were what drew me in here. For one, hero players are all working together (even with limited to no knowledge of what the other players have available in their hand to play), so there is no “knocking out” fellow players like there was before. No, heroes are all in this together, as the Thanos deck player plays first and, frankly, has more at their disposal. If the hero card overpowers what Thanos plays, Thanos takes damage, and vice versa. That provides the general flow of the game, but along those lines, the game has a built-in natural timer; as Thanos cards are played and revealed, Infinity Stone cards are used (which closely resemble the attributes of other villainous cards but amplified). If Thanos plays and reveals all six Infinity Stone cards, that player snaps their fingers in victory, and the game is immediately over. Never fear though; attentive heroes can stand a chance by keeping an eye on what’s been played from both decks and planning what is yet to be played.
The Infinity Stone mechanic takes what seemed to me to be a more complicated variation of Love Letter and gives the game an urgency, which works in its favor. Yes, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes may be at players’ disposal, but the clock is always ticking. Aside from the looming threat of collecting them all, when the Thanos player draws and plays some of the Infinity Stone cards, they can really shake things up individually. All of this makes for fun elements in a game that is over in minutes, not hours. I have friends who are all-in on the relatively new Marvel Champions, and I, too, enjoy that game. I have witnessed sessions of that game taking the entire evening, yet I’ve never heard any complaints. Likewise, for an older Marvel game that I have reviewed (with tons of expansions), Legendary: A Marvel Deck-Building Game offers a vastly replayable experience that comes from the sheer amount of product on offer and the customization that comes from combining so many different card sets. However, some players like experiences that offer compact, easy-to-set-up fun that doesn’t take the entire evening. Infinity Gauntlet: A Love Letter Game is exactly that, a perfect game to pull out over lunch or while waiting for a ride.
As I stated in my original Love Letter review, there is versatility in the Love Letter concept, and my game store owner friend and I were pleasantly surprised to see that versatility expanded and adapted to fit the Marvel theme in ways that made sense. The mechanics go a long way in making this release feel unique to itself in certain ways and enjoyable for its own reasons, apart from the game it evolved from. What I initially expected of the game was different than how it turned out, and it made both of us familiar with the original title won over by the flow of this game. For my friend who had never played either game prior, he played as Thanos, and he did indeed win with a snap. It was a game that he said he’d gladly return to. That leaves my assessment as a win-win for the experienced and uninitiated alike. I believe many may find themselves drawn even more to the gameplay, as a result of all that goes right in this version. For what you get here with quality components and gameplay, it’s hard to beat for the money.
The Bottom Line
Cleverly expanding the mechanics of Love Letter while perfectly marrying them to the theme, Infinity Gauntlet: A Love Letter Game brings something for most players who are looking for a quick game to bring out almost anywhere that lives up to the name while carving out an identity of its own.