Family Games: Spot It and Love Letter

When we finished our basement last winter, all our games moved downstairs. That’s a good thing, as there’s literally nowhere on the upper floor to keep them, but it’s also a sad thing, because I find we are not playing as much as we used to. It’s just easier after dinner to flop on the couch than to have to go downstairs and root around on some shelves for a game.

As a result I’ve started keeping a few small, quick little games on my office desk for us to grab on a weeknight. We have several of these but today I’ll chat about two of them: Spot It and Love Letter. Both are small in size (perfect for travel), quick to play, and easy to learn. Win-win-win!

About Spot It

Spot It is a great game for younger kids – our seven year old LOVES it, and is quite competitive with us. I see on the box it’s rated for ages 7 and up, but I’d say any child that’s into I Spy books would like it – there’s no reading at all, which makes it a great choice for the younger crowd.

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Spot It is a deck of round cards. Each card has several different symbols on it. Here’s the cool part: every single card in the deck has exactly one, and only one, symbol in common with every other card.

(Aside: this desperately makes me want to get out my calculator and figure out the mathematical relationship here: X many symbols with Y symbols on each card will result in one-and-only-one matches for Z number of cards. Aren’t you tempted? No? Just me?)

(Aside aside: Bet my friend Mark is working that out RIGHT NOW. He gets me.)

Anyway! You can play several different games with the Spot It deck of cards, but they all involve finding the one matching symbol given a pair of cards. The faster you are at finding the one-in-common, the better you’ll do.

We usually play the traditional Tower version. Every person gets a card, with the remaining cards in a central pile, face down. You flip the top card on the deck, and everyone flips their personal card, and starts to look for a match. If you see the one symbol that matches between your personal card and the central card, you call it out (“Lips!”, “Tree!”, “Igloo!”) and whoever shouts first gets to take the central card and put it on top of their personal pile, then flip over a new card. The moment the new central card is flipped, we match again, until the deck is gone; at the end, the person with the most cards wins.

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It's hard to see, but my match here is the daisy.
It’s hard to see, but my match here is the daisy.

It works well because the person who just made a match now has a new card on their deck, while everyone else is working with the same card and its now-familiar symbols, so it helps balance things out. The kids definitely have a fighting chance – in fact, Little Miss Sunshine, who LOVES I Spy/Where’s Waldo type books, is practically a Spot It Savant.

(Also, this is a very friendly and cooperative game for us, so if one of us adults starts getting too far ahead, it’s easy to take your time looking for matches, giving the kids longer to look. But that leads us to a whole “should you throw games to your kids” discussion that we will definitely be having here, but at a later date.)

So to sum up, we love Spot It because:
* it’s great for younger kids, since there’s no reading
* it’s super fast to set up and play
* lots of people can play; I think it’s officially for up to 4 players but we play with five of us all the time with no trouble
* it’s fun for us as well as the kids, and we can be competitive with each other on a fairly even level
* it comes in a handy tin which makes it great for travel

It’s a great early family game and perfect for throwing into your carry on for your next vacation.

About Love Letter

Love Letter is another small card game that travels well, sets up fast in very little room, and is fairly easy to learn – but complex enough to keep the adults interested. It’s actually the fourth in a series of games made by AEG, all set in the same world called Tempest. You definitely do not need to collect all the games, but they do follow a kind of overall storyline, and share the same artwork and characters, while being wildly different in play and strategy, so it’s an interesting concept.

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Love Letter is by far the most popular of the series, and I can see why. It’s just 16 cards and some little red blocks (“love tokens”). The cards all feature a character in the game – some characters, like guards, appear more than once, while bigger characters like the Princess or King appear only once.

The story is that the Princess has locked herself away, and you want to get a love letter to her by getting the card of the person “closest” to her. In practice this means you want to end up with the highest card at the end of the round. You’ll be dealt one card only, and that card has a number on it – the higher the number, the “closest” to the princess. So, the princess herself is marked with an 8; the king is 6, guards are 1, and so on.

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So everyone gets their single card, and the rest go into a pile in the centre, face down. On your turn, you’ll draw one other card, then decide which one to keep, and which one to discard face up in front of you.

Simple, right? Keep the higher card, right?

Not so fast. The card you DISCARD has instructions on it, and you must follow those instructions. Sometimes these work in your favour; sometimes not. You might get to peek at someone else’s card. You might be forced to swap hands with someone. You might have to have an immediate head-to-head showdown with one other player. So, it’s not always an easy decision – what to keep, and what to discard.

Also, your discards sometimes have the power to knock others out of the game. So it’s not just a matter of having the highest card at the end, but of being deceptive enough with your discards to protect yourself until the end.

It’s simple in rules, but there’s actually a lot of strategy here, which keeps it interesting for us.

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The round ends when there’s only one player still in, or when the end of the deck is reached – which happens quickly, since there’s only 16 cards in the deck. Of the players still in, the one with the highest card at the end of the round wins a “love token,” and you re-deal. You can play for up to 7 “love tokens” but you can play for fewer – up to 3 say – if bedtime is looming. If you’re in a rush while waiting for the spaghetti to cook, you can even just have one round, winner take all.

In terms of ages, we can all play this game, but I would recommend it for ages 8 and up, I think – our older two, ages 10 and 11, have no trouble with all aspects of the game but we can usually out-fox our seven year old with our crafty discards, so if she is playing we do a lot of “thinking out loud” to give her clues about the kind of thing she should be noticing or paying attention to.

(She totally loves to get love tokens, though. “Love token” is possibly her most favourite phrase ever.)

So to sum up, we love Love Letter because:
* it’s easy to learn, but involves enough strategy to keep us all intrigued
* it’s small and travels well (and is also inexpensive)
* even though you can personally knock people out of the game, it never has that “ganged up on” feeling of other games (hello, MUNCHKIN)
* it’s very fast to set up and play
* you can play as many rounds as you like, making the whole game as long or as short as you like
* the cards are really, really pretty (enough to make me want to buy more of the games in this series, just to see the artwork)

I got this one in my stocking just this past Christmas but we’ve already played it a ton, and when a game is suggested it’s always the first one I call for, because it’s my current fave. Recommended!

4 thoughts on “Family Games: Spot It and Love Letter

  1. We love Spot-it too, for many of the reasons you cite. Fun for all ages, easy to pull back on on the fly, quick but interesting, etc.

    And re: the mathematics behind the cards each of which has exactly one symbol in common with all the others – I was indeed intrigued by this immediately when we got the game, but I haven’t thought about it a lot. It’s basically a problem in set theory – how to construct a collection of sets such that the intersection of any two distinct sets in the collection has exactly one element.

    I guess I would first try just constructing one directly; start with 1 set with N elements. The second set also has N elements, but only 1 in common with the first, so you need another N-1 elements. Obviously you could just adding more sets with the same single element in common with all the others, and N-1 new elements. But that won’t give you Spot-It, because the element in common between different cards is different.

    So next I’d want to know how many different symbols there are, because that’s another constraint. I know there’s 55 cards (and incidentally, that’s a triangular number, i.e. a number of the form n(n+1)/2, which arises by adding the sum of the first n positive integers, a fact that may well be relevant).

    So, now I have something to chew on, once I know how many symbols per card (8? 10? I don’t have the set with me) and the total number of symbols. Will add a comment if I discover anything else that’s interesting (but there’s a good chance that won’t happen, because set theory, even finite set theory, is not really my area of expertise).

  2. I haven’t played spit it yet, but I realllllly like Love letter. Played it a few times and I like that it’s an easy game, not much to set up, and quick too so you can do numerous rounds. And it’s the perfect game for a family gathering or a few close friends getting together. One of my best friend’s designs board games, so I’m constantly learning and playing games like that one. So much fun…, there are so many great games out there these days. If you haven’t tried it yet, I recommend The Loft board game lounge for a fun outing with the kids. It’s downtown in the market, the old stone Marble Works building on Waller. Lots of fun, they’ve got a gazillion games and you can get drinks (pop, coffee, hot chocolate and a beer for the adults) and light food like pizza, salads etc too. I think there’s a ‘cover’ charge though, $5 per person. But it’s fun for something different, especially if you find yourselves downtown anyway.

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