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Subject: Love Letter- The "game" that plays you. rss

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Don D.
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This is the latest in a series of reviews I am doing of games that made it onto my Essen Bought Games List. I typically have chosen to review mostly games that had little to zero reviews written about them at the time, however this review is being written because my opinion differs greatly from most of the information that is currently out there right now. I have played Love Letter three times with four players and once with three players.

Overall Conclusion: Love Letter is a game that is fun in theory, but at the end of the day, honest reflection on the game leads to a very poor conclusion about the game; mostly due to the lack of meaningful choice.

What Is Good About Love Letter:

thumbsup It is cheap! You can get this game for about $7 from discount retailers (when it is in stock). That's a pretty hard to beat price for a popular game

thumbsup It is easy to teach the rules and there is not a lot of complexity. Both of those facts make this a good game to use with non gamers

thumbsup It can have some satisfactory moments of triumph and shared laughs as things go well for one and poorly for another. At the outset of playing the game, it can be tense.

thumbsup There is room for some bluffing in this game, which is something I enjoy. The room for bluffing is not HUGE, but it is there and can lead to some tasty occurrences when people fall for your trap.

thumbsup The velvet bag is pretty cool and certainly unique for a game "box"

What Is Bad About Love Letter:

thumbsdown It is entirely too long for what it is. The promised play length on the Geek is 20 minutes. In no world that I can imagine does this game play that fast if players are actually thinking in the times that the game allows you to think. The shortest game I clocked came in at 50 minutes. The other three games all lasted about 60-75 minutes. The only way I can see a drastic reduction in this play time is if you are using non gamers or people who are just tossing cards around completely at random at ALL times. The game plays to a a number of won rounds dependent on the number of players, but the way the games seem to shake out is that everyone picks on the players leading in such a manner that it is highly likely that most players will win a substantial number of rounds until one person finally breaks through. In a four player game, the first person to win four rounds wins the game. So, such a game could be as short as four rounds or as long as 13 rounds. The three, four player games I played lasted 12,13, and 13 rounds- which seems highly likely to be the norm to me.

thumbsdown The "deduction" about individual players in this game is borderline useless as players reconstitute their hands so rapidly. While playing this game, I kept wanting to make deductions based on card play, NOT just based on cards discarded. This proved to be mostly fruitless, though, once you realize that players reconstitute their hands so frequently that such deduction becomes stale. As a result, the deductions in this game are mostly deductions that are made uniformly of ALL OTHER PLAYERS. This makes for a SUBSTANTIALLY less interesting game than one which allowed for more deductions about individuals in lieu of deductions about the whole group. To clarify what I mean, when a player discards a Countess, I can deduce universally that all of my opponents have a card other than the Countess in their hands. However, if a player plays a guard on opponent A and names "countess" and player A responds in the negative, I deduce ONLY that player A does not have a countess at that point in time. The latter form of deduction would open up so much more decision in the card plays, but it is largely absent in this game due to the rapid and total reconstitution of players' hands that occurs.

thumbsdown This game essentially presents players with two main decisions on each turn: 1) Pick a card to play and 2) Pick a player to play it on. I will come back to my problems with the first decision in the next thumbs down. The decision of which player to play a card on is, upon a cursory inspection of the mechanics of the game, fairly shallow and often comes down to who has more points. Because of the aforementioned problem with not being able to deduce what an individual has, a player will typically find him/herself in a situation in which he/she possesses an attack card, but has a uniform knowledge about what might be in each of the opponent's hands. Such uniform knowledge means that the choice of who to attack is likely to come down to who has more points. That is not interesting to me in the slightest. If the game's mechanics consistently presented players with strategic choices between players to attack based on differing levels of intelligence gathered via deduction, I'd be more interested. Unfortunately, it does not.

thumbsdown Of the two decisions on a player's turn, the decision of who to play a card on discussed above is - believe it or not- usually the more interesting of the two decisions. The first decision- which card to play- is, upon a cursory inspection, often times completely meaningless and frequently borderline meaningless. I know that this is a very popular game and this review is therefore likely to attract some naysayers. To preempt the usual criticisms I see in a review of this sort, I will present some information- most of which is objective. Consider the following chart, which depicts all of the possible pairs of cards a player could find him/herself holding at the point in their turn in which he/she is forced to pick a card to play.



(Click to enlarge- I can't seem to figure out how to make the image larger within this thread)

You will see that there are 120 total possible pairs of cards a player could be holding at that point in his or her turn. I have shaded red and inserted the letters "ND" into every pair of cards in which there is objectively NO DECISION to be made because the game mechanics force the decision onto the player. This includes the instances of force discard due to the countess, duplicate cards rendering any choice moot, as well as any hand which includes the princess as you must always discard the non-princess card in such a hand. There are 32 such possible pairs in the game. That means, objectively speaking, 27 PERCENT of the time in this game, you will have no choice about which card you will play..

I went on to label some pairs of cards as "LITTLE DECISION" and shaded such pairs yellow. Now, unlike the above "NO DECISION" pairs, these pairs are subjective. However, I think most reasonable minds would agree with me that I was conservative with my application of the "LITTLE DECISION" label for the possible pairs of cards. The pairs I have labeled "LITTLE DECISION" are pairs in which there technically IS a decision to be made, but it is a decision that in the overwhelming majority of scenarios will be made a particular way without needing much thought to arrive at that choice. There are 20 such spaces that I have labeled, representing roughly 17% of the possible pairs of cards.

So, adding it all up, on any given turn of this game, a player will have a pair of cards that presents little or no choice 44% of the time.

The times when does find him/herself with an actual choice to be made, those choices are infrequently difficult or interesting.

Final Conclusion:
Love Letter is a game that I was an open book with coming into my first play. I had literally zero expectations for it and bought it only because of A) how cheap it was and B) it got me over the $100 hump on coolstuff . It did not take long into my first play to have some concerns, but I also had some fun during it as well. So I played a few more times. Every time I played the game, I became more acutely aware of just how meaningless an exercise the game was. I started to notice the incredibly high frequency of turns in which I felt I had absolutely little to no choice to make. I noticed how often I had a turn in which the card I needed to play was obvious and the player I needed to play it on was obvious. I noticed how often I won a round by doing absolutely nothing strategic or tactical at all. I noticed how often I lost a round through no clever or ingenious plays by my opponents. And so, I did the above analysis which confirmed all of my anecdotal evidence.

This game is clearly enjoyed by a whole lot of people- the rating and buzz at cons is evidence of that. I can see that this game would have some appeal to a specific category of gamers who mostly use games a medium for socialization and place the emphasis of their gaming time on the socialization NOT the gaming. I respect those people and have no problem vouching for this game's usefulness with that crowd. But for gamers who game because they love to game first and enjoy the socialization second, this game is not likely to work. The lack of choices presented is a hard obstacle to hurdle. If the game truly were consistently around the 20 minute mark, I would be willing to overlook that massive flaw from time to time - not very frequently though. I am simply not willing to play a game with such little choice. I would prefer to sit around and just talk politics or sports or anything with my gamer friends than play this game- or end the night early.


My Rating:

BGG Rating: 3/10 (it is saved from '2' status ONLY because of the potential scenario of playing this with non gamers to try and wet the beak)

EDIT: I have since played three games ignoring the first to four wins in favor of first to two. If played with this variant a few things change. 1) play time decreases exponentially. The max number rounds is five instead of 13 and the likelihood of the game going the full number of rounds seems lower as players aren't as likely to focus on "attack the leader". Reported game times are: 8 minutes, 21 minutes, and 14 minutes. 2) the game seems much less about winning and losing.

The "first to two" drastically reduced play time, but I am still unsure if the game should be played at all. Every play seems more robotic than the first and the narrow range of "satisfying" moments offered is still crippling. I will not raise my own personal rating of 0/5 stars. However, with the drastically shorter play time I cant honestly say "likely would never play this again." playing first to four, I would sit out instead of play this game if that's what the group was playing. Playing first to two, I can see myself joining in if that was the only choice, which necessitates a change to my BGG rating from '3' to '4'- "could be talked into it on occasion"
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Emma
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I didn't check your math, but for a game with only 16 cards, being forced to make a decision on a turn only 27% of the time seems damn good to me. I don't say this often, but I really think you're over-thinking it. It's a filler game: an icebreaker game. A game between games with coffee or beer.

One thing I will say is I liked the original Japon Brand rulings much better: the difference I think might apply here, in those rules, there is no insistance on the amount of games you play. One hand is one game; that's it. The AEG scoring, and the little wooden cubes, were nothing more than a variant in the original. Certainly the game does not "last too long" if played like this.
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dond80 wrote:
It is entirely too long for what it is. The promised play length on the Geek is 20 minutes. In no world that I can imagine does this game play that fast if players are actually thinking in the times that the game allows you to think.

A single playtime is hard for this one. In the Japon Brand edition, it game plays for one round. You'd be lucky to get it to last five minutes. As a variant, it is suggested that you can play first to two points. We usually play at least a few hands, but we never bother keeping count.

Every single one of AEG's changes to the rules is a change for the worse, but dragging out the game to unreasonable length does take the cake.

I like it as a very short filler (when you're expecting a fourth player who is running late to arrive any minute now, say). Any longer, hell no.
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Your math seems flawed. There seem to be a lot fewer then 120 combinations. Also, did you remember for your % calculations that cards are not evenly distibuted?

I recommend Coup which has just 15 cards but perhaps more choices.
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Don D.
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Muemmelmann wrote:
Your math seems flawed. There seem to be a lot fewer then 120 combinations. Also, did you remember for your % calculations that cards are not evenly distibuted?

I recommend Coup which has just 15 cards but perhaps more choices.


I would certainly look at other math if someone presents it as math is not my area of expertise. I do not, however, believe there to be any major error in my math.
 
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Okay lets count.

Unique combintions:

Guard + everything = 8 combinations (guard included)
Priest + everythng (exept guard, we alreay counted that) = 7 (priest included)
Baron -> 6 (not guard and priest)
Maiden -> 5
prince -> 3 (only counting king, countess and princess. No double prince since there is only one.)
king -> 2
countess ->1
princess we already counted all

total 8+7+6+5+3+2+1=32

seems quite far from 120. Am I missing something?

By the way, the fact that there are less combos only strengthens your position that there is not much choice.
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Don D.
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Muemmelmann wrote:
Okay lets count.

Unique combintions:

Guard + everything = 8 combinations (guard included)
Priest + everythng (exept guard, we alreay counted that) = 7 (priest included)
Baron -> 6 (not guard and priest)
Maiden -> 5
prince -> 3 (only counting king, countess and princess. No double prince since there is only one.)
king -> 2
countess ->1
princess we already counted all

total 8+7+6+5+3+2+1=32

seems quite far from 120. Am I missing something?

By the way, the fact that there are less combos only strengthens your position that there is not much choice.


Yes, you are missing that there are five guards, therefore affecting the frequency of a pair involving a guard. The math here is on possible pairs of cards someone can be holding - therefore making a distinction between guard A and guard B a relevant one. Your math is on unique pairs with no distinctions between the duplicates- that's not as useful as it skews the chances of pairings.
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dond80 wrote:
thumbsdown The "deduction" about individual players in this game is borderline useless as players reconstitute their hands so rapidly. While playing this game, I kept wanting to make deductions based on card play, NOT just based on cards discarded. This proved to be mostly fruitless, though, once you realize that players reconstitute their hands so frequently that such deduction becomes stale. As a result, the deductions in this game are mostly deductions that are made uniformly of ALL OTHER PLAYERS. This makes for a SUBSTANTIALLY less interesting game than one which allowed for more deductions about individuals in lieu of deductions about the whole group. To clarify what I mean, when a player discards a Countess, I can deduce universally that all of my opponents have a card other than the Countess in their hands. However, if a player plays a guard on opponent A and names "countess" and player A responds in the negative, I deduce ONLY that player A does not have a countess at that point in time. The latter form of deduction would open up so much more decision in the card plays, but it is largely absent in this game due to the rapid and total reconstitution of players' hands that occurs.

I think you haven't spent enough time with it, and I highly recommend going with the original Countess/Minister insta-death of the Japon Brand version.

For instance if a player plays:

- A Soldier/Guard: if unsuccessful, I can narrow down the cards that the player they target might have. As you say, this is shared information, although I can always narrow that down by what I'm holding. Also, the player accusing is unlikely to name a card they hold as the odds of their victim holding it are reduced - unless they name the Princess, which is often a decent bluff

- A Knight/Baron: from the card that's discarded I can very definitely narrow down what the remaining player has. If it's the player who played the card who wins, then they'll likely have something from at least a 5. In many cases I'll be able to narrow down the winning player's card to one of only 2 or 3 possibilities.

- A Wizard/Prince: they certainly don't have a a Minister.

- A King/General: the player who played it almost certainly doesn't have a Soldier to give away, and probably not a Wizard either (in case they're given the Princess). A Knight is also quite risky, unless they're sure of what they're going to be given. You can also learn from how the player they swapped with subsequently plays e.g. if they play a Wizard on someone other than their attacker, then they didn't give the Princess away

- A Minister: they don't have the Princess, General or Wizard. They'll probably only play this early in the game anyway.

And that's just a few patterns that come out as the game progresses. They key point is you start to deduce what a player has by what they choose to play, when, and who they play it on, and the decision on who to play your cards on is also not as simple as bash the leader.

In fact, the game is more about what other people play than your own card(s). By the time 3 people have, by your chart played their 73% free-choice plays, I can add the information about the 2 cards I have and often deduce an awful lot. Or sometimes I can't and hope to get lucky, and that's why the game's fun: I can deduce, I can guess, I can pull a perfect combo or I can bluff, and I can do all of that many times in under 10 minutes.

Love Letter has a large element of luck and it's certainly light, and you may not enjoy it, but saying it's lacking in decisions or the ability to deduce is to misunderstand the game.
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Don D.
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It only took six posts this time before the 'you must not understand this game' post came. Well-done, sir!

Why should it be that I write positive reviews and never get accused of not understanding the game, but virtually every negative review is followed by some very close variation of the above post. It vexes me. It's also mildly offensive, but not as much so now that I fully expect it to come (and even predicted it in the original post )

dond80 wrote:
...I know that this is a very popular game and therefore this review is likely to attract some naysayers. To preempt the usual criticisms...


Preemption: FAILED soblue
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dond80 wrote:
It only took six posts this time before the 'you must not understand this game' post came. Well-done, sir!

Why should it be that I write positive reviews and never get accused of not understanding the game, but virtually every negative review is followed by some very close variation of the above post. It vexes me. It's also mildly offensive, but not as much so now that I fully expect it to come (and even predicted it in the original post )

You claimed the deduction is borderline useless; I'm arguing that it isn't useless. For people reading a review and deciding whether a game is for them or not it's a big difference and as valuable to discuss as it is to have a negative viewpoint on the game (for which I greatly appreciate the time, effort and thought you've put into the review).
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Othila wrote:
One thing I will say is I liked the original Japon Brand rulings much better: the difference I think might apply here, in those rules, there is no insistance on the amount of games you play. One hand is one game; that's it. The AEG scoring, and the little wooden cubes, were nothing more than a variant in the original. Certainly the game does not "last too long" if played like this.

I agree with that. We play the "first to two" variant, so it's five hands maximum and usually over in 5-10 minutes.
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pilgrim152 wrote:
dond80 wrote:
It only took six posts this time before the 'you must not understand this game' post came. Well-done, sir!

Why should it be that I write positive reviews and never get accused of not understanding the game, but virtually every negative review is followed by some very close variation of the above post. It vexes me. It's also mildly offensive, but not as much so now that I fully expect it to come (and even predicted it in the original post )

You claimed the deduction is borderline useless; I'm arguing that it isn't useless. For people reading a review and deciding whether a game is for them or not it's a big difference and as valuable to discuss as it is to have a negative viewpoint on the game (for which I greatly appreciate the time, effort and thought you've put into the review).


Your point of contention that the deduction isn't borderline useless is perfectly fine and I encourage such discourse- I just don't get where the "you misunderstand the game and need to play it more" bears any relevance to that discourse.
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dond80 wrote:
(I can't seem to figure out how to make the image larger within this thread)

See the BGG wiki page Forum Formatting. In particular, you can add a keyword like "medium" inside an image element. (Quote this comment to see what I mean.)

FWIW I agree with your math: to estimate the amount of time your card play is forced, considering each instance of a card type is of course necessary, and it's not sufficient to simply consider each card type.

If anyone doesn't grok that, consider a more extreme card distribution which has 100 cards, 1 of type A and 99 of type B. If you only consider "There are 2 types A & B: AA is not possible, with AB you have a choice, and with BB you don't have a choice, so 50% of the time (AB vs BB) you have a choice!", your analysis is going to be rather flawed, as you'll have a choice far less than 50% of the time in reality...

---

That said, I do think the game is simply a quick fun filler, and as such is quite fun. Even with playing multiple rounds as in the US version's rules, I don't recall it ever taking as long as you report your games taking.
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pilgrim152 wrote:
dond80 wrote:
It only took six posts this time before the 'you must not understand this game' post came. Well-done, sir!

Why should it be that I write positive reviews and never get accused of not understanding the game, but virtually every negative review is followed by some very close variation of the above post. It vexes me. It's also mildly offensive, but not as much so now that I fully expect it to come (and even predicted it in the original post )

You claimed the deduction is borderline useless; I'm arguing that it isn't useless. For people reading a review and deciding whether a game is for them or not it's a big difference and as valuable to discuss as it is to have a negative viewpoint on the game (for which I greatly appreciate the time, effort and thought you've put into the review).


Btw, it's an important distinction- I claimed the INDIVIDUAL deduction is borderline useless. Because it becomes stale so quickly you rarely have a chance to benefit from it. Most of the examples of deduction you cited in your post are examples of universal deduction as I'm calling it, or deductions made evenly about all other opponents. (which fwiw, my group was making all the deductions you mentioned by halfway through our first round).

My contention is that the universal deductions don't help to create interesting strategic space since they're so obvious and force players to make decisions arbitrarily or based on factors like who is winning.
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I'm not sure why you expected an "interesting strategic space" from a 16-card filler.

B>
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russ wrote:

dond80 wrote:
(I can't seem to figure out how to make the image larger within this thread)

See the BGG wiki page Forum Formatting. In particular, you can add a keyword like "medium" inside an image element. (Quote this comment to see what I mean.)

FWIW I agree with your math: to estimate the amount of time your card play is forced, considering each instance of a card type is of course necessary, and it's not sufficient to simply consider each card type.

If anyone doesn't grok that, consider a more extreme card distribution which has 100 cards, 1 of type A and 99 of type B. If you only consider "There are 2 types A & B: AA is not possible, with AB you have a choice, and with BB you don't have a choice, so 50% of the time (AB vs BB) you have a choice!", your analysis is going to be rather flawed, as you'll have a choice far less than 50% of the time in reality...

---

That said, I do think the game is simply a quick fun filler, and as such is quite fun. Even with playing multiple rounds as in the US version's rules, I don't recall it ever taking as long as you report your games taking.


Thanks a million for the formatting tip!

And, yes, your extreme example is precisely why the math must account for each instance of a particular card not just the unique pairs.

I'm open minded enough about the possibility of playing only a round or two as was apparently the original design that I'll give it a shot. As a five-ten minute filler I'd be willing to overlook some flaws I would not be willing to overlook at 30+ minutes. Though, I'd have to see if playing it as a single round opened up new criticisms for the game such as too much luck. It's worth five minutes to try though.
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thepackrat wrote:
I'm not sure why you expected an "interesting strategic space" from a 16-card filler.

B>


Will you marry me, Brucey?
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thepackrat wrote:
I'm not sure why you expected an "interesting strategic space" from a 16-card filler.

There is certainly more of one in, say, BraveRats or Elements (also 16 cards each).
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dond80 wrote:
pilgrim152 wrote:
dond80 wrote:
It only took six posts this time before the 'you must not understand this game' post came. Well-done, sir!

Why should it be that I write positive reviews and never get accused of not understanding the game, but virtually every negative review is followed by some very close variation of the above post. It vexes me. It's also mildly offensive, but not as much so now that I fully expect it to come (and even predicted it in the original post )

You claimed the deduction is borderline useless; I'm arguing that it isn't useless. For people reading a review and deciding whether a game is for them or not it's a big difference and as valuable to discuss as it is to have a negative viewpoint on the game (for which I greatly appreciate the time, effort and thought you've put into the review).


Your point of contention that the deduction isn't borderline useless is perfectly fine and I encourage such discourse- I just don't get where the "you misunderstand the game and need to play it more" bears any relevance to that discourse.

Actually I don't think you need to play it more - I didn't say that part. I know that's often the insta-response that comes with a negative review and it is maddening. Sometimes games don't hit the spot for whatever reason and there's rarely sense in persisting.

Okay, so now I wish I hadn't written the misunderstanding bit, and apologise if it came across as more personal than intended - it certainly added nothing to my post.

I still contend that there's more deduction and decision-making than you've given it credit for. It sounds like it's just not rich or deep enough for you, and I'm not claiming any great depth either. I think your experience was possibly substantially worsened by playing a very long version, but there are bound to be plenty of others who'll not find enough game for them there either.
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dond80 wrote:
The shortest game I clocked came in at 50 minutes.


wowsurprise

Assuming ten total points scored for a shorter game, that five minutes a round? Holy cats!
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edbolme wrote:
dond80 wrote:
The shortest game I clocked came in at 50 minutes.


wowsurprise

Assuming ten total points scored for a shorter game, that five minutes a round? Holy cats!


Our shortest one was 12 rounds. Our rounds- including shuffling and dealing- take about 3-6 minutes per, yes.
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srand wrote:
thepackrat wrote:
I'm not sure why you expected an "interesting strategic space" from a 16-card filler.

There is certainly more of one in, say, BraveRats or Elements (also 16 cards each).


I'd buy tactical, yes, and I'm sure both games are more interesting. I question where the expectation of strategy came from for this game.

B>
 
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thepackrat wrote:
srand wrote:
thepackrat wrote:
I'm not sure why you expected an "interesting strategic space" from a 16-card filler.

There is certainly more of one in, say, BraveRats or Elements (also 16 cards each).


I'd buy tactical, yes, and I'm sure both games are more interesting. I question where the expectation of strategy came from for this game.

B>


You question everything! But what about MY question! Will you marry me or not Brucey?!!
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Soren Vejrum
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thepackrat wrote:
I'm not sure why you expected an "interesting strategic space" from a 16-card filler.

B>


Coup manages it with 15 cards (and a few coins).
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Bruce Murphy
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vejrum wrote:
thepackrat wrote:
I'm not sure why you expected an "interesting strategic space" from a 16-card filler.


Coup manages it with 15 cards (and a few coins).


This, I'm not so sure about.

B>
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