Love Letter is one of the staple games of lightweight, on the go gaming. It's quick, has a low footprint, and fits in your pocket. There's not much else to comment on as it's one of those games that sits highly in people's opinions generally. So let's do what I feel most uncomfortable doing, looking at the issues! And, for Love Letter, these are few and far between. The game's solid! However! Player Elimination does put some people off. Even for a quick game, some gamers find this concept alien and taboo. Marvel Infinity Gauntlet is a Love Letter game with a different feel. There's no player elimination, and it's a one vs many game. Thanos against the heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe! It's for 2-6 players and takes around 20 minutes to play.
Marvel Infinity Gauntlet plays similarly to Love Letter in some respects, however I'll go through it all for clarity. To start off, players need to decide who will play as Thanos and separate the cards from his deck from the main deck. Place the hero deck within reach of the hero players, and the power tokens within everyone's reach. Now, set Thanos's health respective of the number of players and the heroes' collective health to maximum. Finally, the heroes take one card each and Thanos takes two. You are now ready to play!
Playing the Game
Heroes need to work together to reduce Thanos' health to zero. This is done by "defeating" cards in Thanos' hand. Thanos either needs to have all six Infinity Stones (played or in hand), or reduce the Heroes' health to zero. The game starts with Thanos taking a turn, followed by all heroes. In the instance where there is only one hero, they will take two turns every time. Players can also gain Power Tokens which boost card values in battles by two. These must be played when possible.
On a turn, a player draws a card and plays a card. Cards have a variety of effects, with the hero cards having more focus on team work and Thanos' cards more centred on affecting the majority of players. Each card does something unique and goes from 1-7 in power value, however only Thanos has the 7 card. Both sides' cards have similar abilities, varying in function across the card themselves. For example, playing a one allows you to guess a card and then defeat it should you get it right. Where this differs for Thanos is that one of his one cards is an Infinity Stone!
Like in the comics, these are a tremendous amount more powerful and do similar, but more damaging, effects. If you play the Mind Stone (the Infinity variant of a one), you guess a card from all opponents' hands! Each Infinity variant card follows a similar suit, and playing all six causes a Thanos win. However, with these six (and Thanos making seven) cards being key to a Thanos win, they are never discarded. When played, they stay in sight for everyone to see permanently. Their effects are done with, but they stay visible to track progress. What's more is that, if defeated, they are shuffled into the deck. Once either side is defeated or Thanos claims an Infinity Stone win, the game ends.
How It Handles
Now remember, we haven't played a Love Letter game in a long while. We know most of the ins and outs of the classic, but don't have solid memory of the gameplay. So, Marvel Infinity Gauntlet sat as something quite alien to us. We got Marvel, we knew the lore and appeal the Infinity Stone vibe had, but didn't know what to expect from the Love Letter element! When we cracked it open, learned and played it, we got a really lovely experience that we found we could take literally anywhere. It all fits in a little cloth bag and could just as easily fit in a pocket. The perfect pub game.
What's more is that it's actually a really enjoyable experience! By removing the player elimination element, you end up with a game requiring wholehearted cooperation that's punchy and doesn't mess about with time waste. It's excellent!
Stop Picking On Me!
The one vs many mechanic is a tricky one to execute under any context. It's often a situation where someone has an über powerful ability and can wreck a player at a time, removing them one by one. In example of Jaws or Betrayal at House on the Hill. However, in these examples, the "villain" player starts powerful. From the off they're a force to be reckoned with! In Infinity Gauntlet, Thanos starts with an extra card. That's it. It gives him an extra option on his turn and that's all. It's the Infinity Stone cards that make him extra buff and overpowered, which is a thematically superb choice. There's a feel of real balance here, and if the heroes can organise themselves accordingly (without giving too much away) they can dominate the mad Titan quickly!
Thanos does have the Thanos card. A powerful, unplayable card that has the highest value in the game. Remembering that Power Tokens must be played if they can be, you're going win any and all fights you get in to. But there's a catch to that. Players aren't likely to stay quiet when the big purple pulveriser rocks up, and a well timed hero card can result in a defeated Thanos card. It's not the end of the world, as it means you've got the chance for an Infinity Stone, but it is still a knock to the health points you have.
We've had mixed luck with playing Thanos. A lot of it comes down to how you take on the heroes and how the heroes organise themselves. When we found ourselves bickering over Power Tokens and who'd do battle, Thanos dominated the game. When we organised, focussed and conversed, it was fairly even. Thanos undeniably has the advantage in terms of teamwork in Infinity Gauntlet, but it depends on whether your five heads can outthink his one!
Going Full Rain Man
Infinity Gauntlet comes with a list of the cards, and numbers of each, as little player references. They're double sided for both Thanos and hero variants. It's a minor detail, but an impactful one as it enables some clever plays. If you can see (or guess in my case) how many of each card has been played, you can wipe the floor with the opposition. The discard for players is in front of them, so it's fair knowledge to all players. This means you've got to be both clever and discreet about what's in hand. Hero cards are reshuffled into the deck once the deck runs out, but Thanos' almost works like a timer. All defeated Infinity Stones go back into the main deck, meaning that, sooner or later, they'll be in hand and played again.
Being aware of what's likely to come up and what's not is essential for hero players. They can see the deck counting down like a time-bomb, but zero isn't necessarily the final card. By using their card effectively, they can extend their time slightly. Only through the use of teamwork and communication can they dominate and control the number of Stones available. But like we said earlier, if your combined minds can't break the Titan's big purple noggin, you've got no chance!
Pretty In Purple?
Love Letter has a truly middle ages characteristic to it. Not the disease ridden, plague festival of reality, but the fantastic and regal feel. Princes and princesses. Knights and scholars and whatnot. It's a tried and tested feel and an aesthetic that hasn't stopped people getting the game out down the local pub. It's pretty, and sits within its own aesthetic well. But does Infinity Gauntlet? Yes. Does it do it well? Sort of...
I've got to be honest with this, and it's something that frustrates me. The Marvel theme is something people are getting tired of. There are only so many superhero thematic games some people can take. I really enjoy the MCU and the games themed on it as a franchise. But I don't feel Infinity Gauntlet would work without this theme. It couldn't! The game is centred around the whole premise of the Infinity Stones story. In some ways, I love that. It's Love Letter redone, but not with a new lick of paint. It's wholly redone to fit the theme and it works exceptionally well within that. Outside of the Marvel theme it can be enjoyed and appreciated, but if you don't have love for Thanos and co., it might be a bit much for you!
Visually, the game's aesthetics are superb. The art is wonderful, the cards are easy to understand, and the bag is of excellent quality. The art isn't quite what you'd get in a comic, but more a cartoon depiction. Still, it holds its own and is very pretty! Thanos' cards have different backs and are themed accordingly, and make it easy to set up and play. Everything visually is set up for player ease!
We found Infinity Gauntlet to be a superb game for on the go and to throw into a bag. Travelling, visiting, leaving for any period of time, all occasions in which Infinity Gauntlet could be played. It takes no space and has that lovely safety net of being cooperative for hero players. You're never lost and the game's cards do what they say on the tin. It felt like a wonderful experience and set itself aside from Love Letter by removing player elimination. We'd highly recommend this one for casual players, those who travel frequently, or as a filler game!
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