Love Letter: A perfect honeymoon game

When I think of the game Love Letter, I’ll always remember our honeymoon train trip. The afternoon after our wedding, we set off on a week-long vacation. Walking into the train station downtown felt like stepping back in time. Since we’d booked a roomette (a private compartment with two seats that fold down into beds at night), we were able to wait for the train in the first class lounge. We enjoyed the comfortable couches and complimentary beverages, and then we boarded Amtrak’s Empire Builder. After we’d settled into our compartment and the locomotive carried us out of the city, I brought out the new card game that I’d bought for the trip: Love Letter.

I put a lot of thought into our honeymoon. I picked the historic hotel we stayed at on our wedding night. I bought a new train-friendly travel duffel so I didn’t have to try to maneuver a rolling suitcase through the train cars. And I’d heard about this new little 16-card-game-in-a-bag called Love Letter. It seemed almost too perfect: a game with a romantic name, small enough to take on the train, and inexpensive enough to fit in the budget even after we’d just paid for a wedding. I drove over to the nearest game store and bought a copy.

I’m still not really sure what the storyline of the game is. Nominally, it has something to do with getting a letter to a princess, but it doesn’t really simulate the process of doing that. When you’re playing, you always have one card in your hand. Each turn, you draw a second card and choose one of your two cards to play. There are eight different types of cards in the deck, and each one has a different character with a different ability. So, when you play, what you’re actually doing is using the characters on the cards, trying knock the other players out of the game, or else have the highest-numbered character in your hand at the end of a round.

It turned out to be the perfect game to bring on the train. We must have played dozens of times. At the beginning of each round, you’re mostly just bluffing and trying to guess what card the other player has. However, as each round goes on, more and more cards are revealed, so it gradually turns into a more deductive game where you can narrow down with certainty which card the other person has. I think, in part, Love Letter is so much fun because it takes advantage of our cognitive biases. At a subconscious level, there’s just something exciting about sitting across from another person and declaring, “You have the handmaid.” Logically, you know you’re just making a random guess, but cognitively you feel like you have ESP when you’re correct. There was a lot about our train trip that wasn’t enjoyable—like horrifying delays and a missing rental car—but those games of Love Letter are something that I will always treasure.

These days, there are countless different versions of the game, including the original Japanese version, Archer, Adventure Time, The Hobbit, Munchkin, Santa Claus, and more. Also, there is Love Letter: Batman.

Love Letter: Batman


A few months after our honeymoon, when Love Letter: Batman was first announced, I told my wife that it was what I wanted for my birthday. She probably got sick of me bringing it up all the time, but she did get it for me. Like some of the other versions of Love Letter, it has some minor rules differences from the original, but basically it’s the exact same game. I enjoy it, especially the tiny Bat Symbol tokens that replace the wooden cubes from the original version. However…

Ars Technica recently reviewed a number of the Love Letter versions and described Love Letter: Batman as, “The most kid-friendly version.” Love Letter: Batman is definitely not the most kid-friendly version. The artwork is very similar to the style of the recent Batman comics. And while I do like this style of artwork, the depictions of the female characters made me feel a little bit awkward that I’d asked my wife to buy it for me. It didn’t have to be like this.

Love Letter: Batman (top) compared to Batman Fluxx (bottom).
Love Letter: Batman (top) compared to Batman Fluxx (bottom).

If you want to get your kids a Batman card game, get them Batman Fluxx. If you want to get your kids a Love Letter game, just get them the normal version.

Card quality

Have you ever noticed how traditional decks of playing cards always have a white border around the edge? There’s a reason for this: when you shuffle, deal, or otherwise handle cards, the edges get a lot of nicks and dings. If the cards have a white border, you probably won’t be able to see the marks. However, if the cards are printed edge to edge like in Love Letter, you’ll start to see marks after just a few minutes (also, storing them in a cloth bag doesn’t really do the cards any favors). Since Love Letter has a very small number of cards and involves trying to guess what other people have in their hand, a conspicuous mark on one of the cards can ruin the entire game. I’ve given up worrying about it and now depend on the fact that all of our cards are pretty much equally thrashed. But if you’re just starting out, it’s worth thinking about getting plastic card sleeves.

Love Letter card edge compared to typical playing card edge.
Love Letter card edge compared to typical playing card edge.

Reference cards

Love Letter is played with 16 cards, but it actually comes with 20 cards. The other four cards are reference cards (one for each possible player). I still find it useful to have a reference card even though I’ve played the game more times than I can count, but it’s really annoying that the reference cards have the exact same back as the game cards. I also can’t count how many times I’ve picked up the game and accidentally shuffled the reference cards in. Different types of cards should have different designs on the back.

Final thoughts

Supposedly, the human brain is the most complex object in the known universe. If that’s true, then love is as momentous and powerful as the collision of galaxies. Love is the definitive experience that we can have in this world. Sometimes, it’s very difficult to distill that into words. What do you put in a love letter? What do you say when your whole being is moved and consumed and focused into passion and desire? Love Letter doesn’t really have that much to do with love letters, so it probably isn’t going to help you figure that out. But, as a game to enjoy with someone you love, I highly recommend it.

Bigfoot vs. Avalance at Yeti Mountain: Searching for the best cryptozoology board game

Legends of Sasquatches, Yetis, and other undiscovered creatures have fueled human imaginations for centuries—including my own. When I was young and we would drive through remote parts of Oregon, I would look at the endless stands of evergreens, wondering if Bigfoot was out there somewhere, roaming the forests. I remember being a little boy, sitting on the floor in front of the TV, watching programs on the History Channel debunking videos of Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster. I also remember staying up late one night, watching the movie The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas, captivated by the unexpected elements of cosmic horror and atomic age dread. I still haven’t written the definitive Bigfoot novel, but I did recently purchase two board games involving cryptozoological creatures: Bigfoot and Avalanche at Yeti Mountain. Are these games as majestic as the creatures that inspired them?



Bigfoot is a game for two players, essentially a sophisticated version of the game Mastermind. One player takes on the role of a cryptozoologist attempting to locate Bigfoot’s hidden lair. The other player takes on the role of Bigfoot, trying to evade discovery. In each round of the game, the cryptozoologist player sets out two trails of clue cards. The Bigfoot player chooses which trail to take, and consequently, what types of clues to reveal. Then the cryptozoologist uses those clues to attempt to deduce the location of Bigfoot’s lair.

What does playing Bigfoot feel like? Well, what does “playing a game” feel like in general? You know when you’re halfway through a game of Battleship and you’ve narrowed down where you think the other person’s carrier is and you call out “A7” and you’re waiting for them to tell you if that’s a hit or not? Or when you’re playing Apples to Apples and you’re trying to figure out which card your friend will think is most “scenic” (“Ikea,” “Russia,” or “The Dump”)? Or when you’re playing Settlers of Catan and Sam just picked up five wheat so you declare a monopoly on wheat? Those moments of excitement define what “playing a game” feels like, right? You feel immersed and engaged, but you’re also relaxed because you’re having fun and enjoying yourself.

The point is, when you’re playing a game of Bigfoot, it definitely does not feel like you’re “playing a game.” You feel like you’re trying to solve a logic puzzle about solving a logic puzzle while another person is staring at you, hoping you mess up. It’s not like playing chess where there’s basically an infinite number of possible moves and counter moves. In Bigfoot, you know that there’s a finite number of moves. And you feel like, if you had a computer brain, you could figure everything out for sure. But you don’t have a computer brain. So you either have to pull out a piece of paper and make every turn last 10 minutes while you fully analyze the problem, or just hope you’re not making a dumb mistake because your tiny organic brain cannot fully comprehend all of the information in the game.

Avalanche at Yeti Mountain


Avalanche at Yeti Mountain is essentially SkiFree: The Board Game. If you don’t know what SkiFree is, just don’t tell me or it will make me feel old and outdated. In AAYM, the players take on the role of skiers trying to avoid a Yeti and outrun an avalanche. Each turn, players use cards to advance their skier. Then the player in last place chooses where to move the Yeti. Then the avalanche advances a predetermined amount of spaces, knocking out any skiers in its path. The winner is the first skier to reach the bottom of the mountain, or the last skier who hasn’t been flattened by the avalanche.

SkiFree was a computer game for Windows 3.1 where you get eaten by an Abominable Snowman. I loved setting the trees on fire.
SkiFree was a computer game for Windows 3.1 where you get eaten by an Abominable Snowman. I loved setting the trees on fire.

AAYM faithfully captures the spirit of SkiFree. It can be an extremely fun time. It can also be a frustrating test of your patience where it feels like you are crashing every two seconds. Essentially, AAYM is the polar opposite of Bigfoot. The only random element in Bigfoot is the order that the cards are drawn, and the rest of the game depends entirely on the deductive skill of the players. On the other hand, AAYM is practically a game of chance. You get choose which card to play each turn, but because you can never know for sure what cards other people are going to play, you can never really predict how many spaces you’re going to move. As a result, fully controlling your movement down the mountain is impossible.

AAYM looks like a game where you move your skier from Point A to Point B. However, if you approach it like that, it’s probably not going to be an enjoyable experience. You do have to be aware of your skier’s relative position on the mountain, but the fun of the game comes from trying to bluff the other players into playing a card that will make them crash. It feels a lot more like playing Skip-Bo than a sophisticated modern board game. But sometimes, at the end of the day, when you’re worn out from decision fatigue and you can’t stomach the thought of a demanding game, you just want to play something that’s quick, simple, and entertaining.

Game pieces

Avalanche at Yeti Mountain's wooden Yeti and skier meeples.
Avalanche at Yeti Mountain’s wooden Yeti and skier meeples.

I love the silly, cartoony artwork in both of these games. It’s legitimately difficult to hate either one of them when they look like this much fun. Plus, if there’s anything as fascinating to me as Bigfoot and the Abominable Snowman, it’s a board game with high quality wooden pieces. I love the wooden footprint tokens from Bigfoot and the wooden skier and Yeti pawns from AAYM. Unfortunately, the wooden tokens for Bigfoot were a Kickstarter exclusive item. The cardboard tokens included with the retail version of the game are tiny and sad in comparison.

Bigfoot's wooden (Kickstarter exclusive) and cardboard (retail) foot tokens.
Bigfoot’s wooden (Kickstarter exclusive) and cardboard (retail) foot tokens.

Box size

Bigfoot looks like it is a much larger game than AAYM. Do not be deceived. The actual components of Bigfoot are small enough to fit in the AAYM box. In fact, the actual components of Bigfoot are small enough to fit inside the tuckbox included inside the Bigfoot box. The Bigfoot box is a receptacle for transporting air from a factory in China to your house that incidentally happens to include a board game.

Barriers to entry

In a really bizarre coincidence, Bigfoot and AAYM come in two of the most difficult to open game boxes that I have ever encountered. You know how safes and vaults are rated on the amount of time that it takes a burglar armed with ordinary hand tools to open them? For example, a TL-15 safe can withstand a typical attack for 15 minutes and a TL-30 safe can withstand a typical attack for 30 minutes. The lids on these boxes are so tight, this type of rating system seemed appropriate. For comparison purposes, I scientifically measured how long it takes to open the boxes of several popular board games:

Batman Fluxx: 1 second
King of Tokyo: 1 second
Star Trek Catan: 1 second
Ticket to Ride: 1 second

Then I measured how long it takes to open the boxes of these games:

Avalanche at Yeti Mountain: 12 seconds
Bigfoot: 15 seconds

15 seconds doesn’t sound like a long time, but when a game takes 15 times as long to open as normal, it’s unbelievably frustrating and annoying.

Final thoughts

The legendary Bigfoot-ed Yeti.
The legendary Bigfoot-ed Yeti.

If I was forced to keep one of these games and throw the other one in the garbage, I would keep Avalanche at Yeti Mountain and trash Bigfoot. Bigfoot isn’t terrible. I can actually see myself playing it with my kids someday, with them as the cryptozoologist and me not trying to win, but just engaging in it as a fun way for them to practice logic and deduction. However, as a game to bring out with my wife, family, or friends, I would rather play Avalanche at Yeti Mountain. It doesn’t capture the experience of skiing down a mountain with visceral verisimilitude, but it is a viable value if you’re vying for a game with a vibrant, vivacious vibe.

Lego Storage Bricks: Giant Lego you can depend on

Lego Storage Bricks are storage bins shaped like gigantic Lego bricks. I recently did not receive any of these from Lego for review purposes; however I did find two on clearance for $9.98 each at my local Fred Meyer and was unable to resist buying them because I am constantly growing older and feel an ever-increasing sense of nostalgia for toys from my childhood. In this review, I will cover several key aspects of the Lego Storage Bricks to help you decide if they meet your building-toy-shaped storage bin needs.

Size and construction

Lego Storage Bricks come in a variety of designs corresponding to the shapes and shades of classic Lego bricks. There are one, two, four, and eight knob bricks available in a wide variety of colors. The storage bricks are made of a plastic material that feels and smells very similar to the ordinary sized Lego bricks you may remember playing with or stepping on when you were little.

Available colors include red, yellow, blue, black, pink, dark green, puke green, and purple.
Available colors include red, yellow, blue, black, pink, dark green, puke green, and purple.

The storage bricks stack on top of each other securely; however, unlike actual Lego bricks, Lego Storage Bricks merely stack, they do not lock together. So, for example, if you lift up the top brick of a stack, the bricks below it will not also lift up. The lids of the storage bricks fasten on with just enough friction to keep the lid in place when moving or stacking the brick, but not so much that it is difficult to remove the lid when the time comes to open it.

The four knob brick is 9.75 inches square and 7.25 inches tall, which is approximately 30 times the size of a regular sized Lego brick. The inside cavity of the brick is 9 inches square and 4.25 inches tall. This is enough space to hold over 10 mint-condition, unopened Hot Wheels cars.


Prices range from approximately $20 for a four prong storage brick to $35 for an eight prong brick. For $814, you could build a pretty sweet wall of these big enough to cover up a doorway. For $10,185, you could build a whole room and feel like a life-size Lego person who can take apart and rebuild his house whenever he wants, and never has to eat or change his clothes, and can never have his heart broken again because he’s made of plastic. However, if you are like me, at these prices, you will never own enough of these to truly hide behind.


The nominal purpose of Lego Storage Bricks is to store Lego pieces. However, they can actually be used to store anything. You can tell your wife that you need to buy them because your home office doesn’t have a closest and you really need something to put your extra cords and screwdrivers in.

Also, it looks like it would probably float, so maybe you could use them as a caddy in the bathtub. (Disclaimer: I’m not sure if they actually float.)

Also, if you want to start your kids off with Lego at an early age, you could give one of these to a baby and they could not possibly choke on it because it is literally bigger than a baby’s head.

Size compared to typical Lego and Duplo bricks.
Size compared to typical Lego and Duplo bricks.

User experience

Lego pieces suffer from what economists call “network effects.” For example, if you were the only person in the world with a telephone, it would be totally useless because you wouldn’t have anyone to call. However, for each other person who purchases a telephone, the number of possible calls increases exponentially. (Well, technically not “exponentially,” but I’m not sure if there is a precise mathematical term for this type of growth. “Triangular numerically?”) As a result, the value of a telephone increases proportional to the number of other telephones in the world. Unless you’re an introvert, in which case you probably agree that it sounds like sweet bliss to live in a world where you don’t have to worry about people calling you unexpectedly.

Anyways, the point is, Lego pieces are very similar to telephones in that the value of any one particular Lego piece is dependent on the number of other Lego pieces that you can connect it to. After you’ve purchased one or two Lego Storage Bricks and the initial euphoria of holding giant pieces of Lego and feeling like you’re Ant-Man has worn off, they’re just going to sit there on your shelf and you will look at them and think to yourself, “Before I bought these, I probably should have considered how much fun it would be to play with Lego if I only had two pieces of Lego.”

Final thoughts

Lego Storage Bricks make great bookends for your collection of Star Trek books.
Lego Storage Bricks make great bookends for your collection of Star Trek books.

You can hide your collection of Pez dispensers inside them. Also, they serve as a persistent reminder of the tragic, circular nature of human existence… When you were little, you couldn’t afford the Lego castle that you wanted. Now that you’re an adult, you just need some storage solutions. You discover that they make Lego Storage Bricks. Even though $20 no longer seems like the unobtainable sum of money it did when you were little because now you spend hundreds of dollars on bills every month, $20 a brick is a lot to ask when you could get any size of plastic tub at Big Lots for under $5. Still, if you see one of these, you’ll probably spend the money because there’s just something about Legos. And these aren’t just any old Legos. They are Legos that can hold onto your memories even as your memories are still holding onto Legos. They are Legos that can hold the detritus of your life.