Reflex card games are typically about matching symbols or numbers, but Last Letter from ThinkFun Games takes it to a whole new level of imagination. Created by Joe and Dave Herbert, who busted America’s collective gut in 2009 with their contest-winning Doritos Super Bowl Commercial, Last Letter follows the genre of reflex-matching nicely but mixes in creativity, a sharp eye, and a little strategy.
In Last Letter, each player gets five cards filled with a colorful scene. The dealer lays a card face-up in the center of the table and says a word describing something within its scene. Players then race to lay down one of their cards and find words of their own to match the last letter of the word said for the previous card.
For a card showing the literal flea circus, for example, the dealer might say, “flea.” The players must find something in their own cards beginning with “a,” such as “advertisement” for a sign bearing an ice cream cone in the pool block-party card. The unique game mechanics prompt people to use their best Where’s Waldo skills combined with plenty of vocabulary to identify winning words that begin with particular letters.
The rules for usable words in Last Letter are very generous, allowing actions, nouns, collective nouns, or even concepts. Players always have the option of challenging a word, and the potentially-offending player’s judgment on how far a concept may be stretched, which is settled by a vote of everyone. The one rule that stands is that the same word can only be used once per game, requiring a very flexible mind. Sticklers might want to keep a list.
In addition to its gameplay, Last Letter is set above the rest by its impressive art. Several artistic styles are used in the deck of sixty-one cards: the haunting magical realism of oil painting, fun cartoons with broad lines, and whimsical images, all loaded with rich color. Despite having a lot going on in each scene, the images rarely seem crowded. A card might show a scene of a castaway on a tiny desert island that is really the dome atop a sunken mer-city, or a man hilariously attempting to change a lightbulb by piling all of his furniture on top of one another, or a locomotive whose track is actually a zipper pulling together a vibrant land over a decrepit waste. Simply looking through the cards fills the viewer’s mind with a sense of wonder.
Last Letter is a game for two or more players aged eight and up. Younger kids might be in on the fun as well with edited rules, such as everyone sharing a card, to give them more of a chance at spotting words. For older players, the rules are simple and straightforward, yet there is enough possibility in each card to create home-brewed rules. The exceptional art may also be useful as motivation for one’s own art or story-crafting, prompting blocked writers to compose a short story to show a witch’s refrigerator or a fountain of youth where octogenarians line up to go play as children in the nearby park. With imagination, anything, or any word, is possible.
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