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Ender Wiggins
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Introducing Mirror, Mirror



Mirror, Mirror, on the wall, which is the fairest game of all? This game doesn't really have anything to do with a famous line from Snow White, but there is one thing that you will find much of in Mirror, Mirror - the latest title in the Two Player Series from Gryphon Games - and that is mirrors!

How many games can you think of that use mirrors as a game mechanic? Aside from Khet: The Laser Game, there's not too many! While Mirror, Mirror is still an abstract game at heart, unlike Khet it has more of a fun and family-friendly feel. Imagine for a moment, playing Stratego with mirrors! That's kind of what this game is like, but on a smaller playing field, and much quicker game time. Add in a small element of deduction, a dash of tactics with regard to moving and positioning your pieces, a light-hearted and fun theme, and that's Mirror, Mirror!

What started out as a game design challenge with a very odd collection of components, has turned into a very nice two-player game! I was sold on this game as soon as I heard it used real mirrors as a mechanic, and I wasn't disappointed. If anything it turned out to be much better than I even imagined - we've easily played it more than 20 times already in the last week alone! So if any of this sounds like it might interest you - and it should - read on to find out more about this brand new release!



COMPONENTS

Game box

Mirror Mirror is part of Gryphon's "Two Player Games" series, and follows in the footsteps of successful sibling titles like En Garde, 2 de Mayo, and What's My Word?. It also comes in an identical sized box to these other games.


Box cover

The back of the box features the game in play, and introduces what the game is about.


Box back

And here's our first look at what's inside!


Component tray

It's a bit tricky getting everything back into the box, especially the plastic character holders, but it is possible! The designer tells me that his storage solution is to glue the character tiles permanently into the plastic holders, and then put two of the pieces in the section of the component tray that originally held the character tiles. Personally I find it easier to switch out the character tiles rather than the letter tiles, as described here, but that does mean juggling the pieces each time to make them fit in the component tray.

Component list

So what do you get inside?

• 1 game board
• 18 letter tiles (8 yellow, 8 blue, 2 red)
• 18 character tiles (9 yellow, 9 blue)
• 18 plastic holders with mirrors (9 yellow, 9 blue)
• rule-book


Everything inside the box

Game Board

Let's start by showing you the 8x6 game-board, which is slightly smaller in size than a regular 8x8 chess-board. The idea of movement and squares in alternating colours is borrowed from chess and checkers. In this case that's an advantage because it makes the game easy to learn and enhances its accessibility. As far as quality is concerned, the colours are bright, and the board itself is made of sturdy cardboard, and it looks and feels like a quality product all round. Note also how the positions of the starting characters are marked on the board for convenience in setting up the game.


Game board

Letter tiles

In Mirror Mirror, each player has nine characters who are moving around the board, secretly carrying one of nine letters (as in "snail mail", not as in "letter of the alphabet"). The object of this game is to find and capture your opponent's character carrying the red letter. As such, there are eighteen letter tiles, and at the start of the game each player will get one red letter, along with four yellow and four blue letters, which will they will secretly assign to their nine characters. The letters are made of sturdy thick cardboard, and feature a symbol as well as a colour to help distinguish between them.


All the letter tiles

Characters

So if you're not moving around chess pieces or checkers on this board, what are you moving? Well each team gets nine characters in their colour, either yellow or blue. The characters come in three different types: masters, knights, and ladies. These are marked by different edges, and the only difference between them is the type of movement each can make. Each player will get 2 masters, 3 knights, and 4 ladies. Stated briefly: the masters move like kings in chess, the knights like knights in chess, and the ladies like checkers.


All the blue characters


All the yellow characters

But now here's the fun part - the thick cardboard character tiles are placed in a game component that's probably unlike anything you've ever seen before in a game before: character holders that look somewhat like Stratego pieces, and are made of very sturdy and satisfying plastic.


The blue characters in the plastic holders

One side (this is the side that will face your opponent) features the character picture and name. But now here's the best bit: the other side (this is the side that will face yourself) features a mirror, as well a slot for placing the letter that you'll secretly be assigning to that character.


Both sides of the holders, showing the mirror and letter holder on the reverse side

When placed on the board, you can use the mirrors to spy on the letters that nearby characters of your opponents are carrying - and it's this innovative `mirror mechanic' that really makes this rise above the average! Adults and children are like are going to love this concept!


Charles, I spy your red letter!

Rule-book

The rulebook is a glossy tri-fold sheet that is double-sided.


Rule book cover

It includes some helpful diagrams illustrating movement. The rules are very easy to learn and can be taught firsthand in a matter of just a few minutes. You can download them here. There's a great (and funny) video over at Kickstarter (see here) that also explains the game basics nicely.


Sample spread from the rule book

GAME-PLAY

Objective

It's worth saying a few things about how this game came to be. I highly recommend checking out the Designer Diary for the game, where Jacob Davenport tells the story about the rather humorous and creative origin of Mirror Mirror. To read the whole story, head over to this article, which is a wonderfully entertaining read: Designer Diary: Where Ideas Come From – Designing Mirror Mirror

It all began at the "Game of the Afternoon" competition at Alan Moon's Gathering of Friends in 2009. From what I can gather, for this competition various game designers are given are rather odd assortment of articles, and face the challenge of coming up with a plausible game design using them within the next year. As Mr Davenport tells us, "In 2009, I was given a bunch of small round mirrors, a bag of wooden balls, a paint tray, and another year to turn those into a game."

After spending eight months being mocked by the mirrors and balls in the paint-tray, he finally came up with this idea: "Staring back at the paint tray one day, I thought, "I'm going to cut you, sucker." I had already decided to cut the paint tray into lots of pieces, and use the pieces somehow. Then, all at once, in seconds, another game came to me. The pieces would all have a wooden ball stuck to the back, so that the opponent in this two-player game would be unable to see them. Above the ball would be a mirror, so if you got your piece behind the opponent's piece, you could look in the mirror at the hidden ball. I put the pieces on a chess board and made the object to capture the one piece that has the green ball. That would work, right?"


The original form of the game

Well Jacob Davenport's ideas sure did work. With the benefit of further playtesting and shaping ideas, the novel game went on to win the Sixth annual "Game of the Afternoon" in 2010 against three other game designers. Gryphon Games' Rick Soued showed immediate interest in the game at the Gathering, and went on to partner with Davenport as the game's developer. With the benefit of further changes and tweaks, it became the Mirror Mirror that has now been published, with the help of some generous Kickstarter supporters.

The objective of the current form of the game is somewhat similar to Davenport's original idea using the balls and paint-tray standups. As the published game puts it: "Each one of your nine pieces has a “letter to the Princess” tile, as does each of your opponent’s pieces. When you attempt to capture an opponent’s piece, you must correctly identify which of the three color seals is on the letter that piece carries, or you will lose the capturing piece. You will need to jump your pieces behind your opponent’s pieces and use the mirrors on your pieces to see the color of the seal that those pieces are carrying." So let's show you how it works!


Poor Anne has Alexander closely examining her back-side

Set-up

Set-up is a cinch: take your nine pieces, making sure they each have character tiles in the holders, and secretly assign them with your 9 letters (1 red, 4 blue, 4 yellow).


The Blue player's characters secretly assigned with letters

Then set up your pieces on your side of the board on the marked squares, with the side with the mirrors and letters facing yourself, i.e. hidden from your opponent. You can place your characters wherever you wish, as long as you stick to the stipulated squares for the masters, knights and ladies.


A typical starting setup

In this way your opponent will know how your pieces move, but won't know which coloured letter they are carrying - especially the red letter, which is somewhat equivalent to the "flag" in Stratego. So that's all that there is to set-up (which can be completed in a matter of just a minute or two) - now the Yellow player starts the game!


Start of a game

Flow of Play: Moving

Players take turn to move one of their pieces as follows:

Masters move like kings in chess - i.e. one space in any direction, including vertically, diagonally, and horizontally.


Illustrations of how Masters move

Knights move like knights in chess - i.e. in an L shape of two squares in one direction and one square in a perpendicular direction.


Illustrations of how Knights move

Ladies move like checker pieces - i.e. they can hop over pieces and move as far as they wish in this manner. Unlike checkers, they may also jump horizontally and vertically, and not just diagonally.


Illustrations of how Ladies move

Flow of Play: Capturing

Capturing works just like in chess, but there is a catch: you need to be able to correctly identify which letter the captured piece is carrying. So here's the sneaky thing: you'll first have to try to move your pieces behind your opponents, in order to use your mirrors to spy on them and uncover their letters! So to capture your opponent's piece, you need to land on the square occupied by that piece, but first you need to announce what colour letter that piece is carrying! You could guess, I suppose (and with slightly less than 50% odds of being correct) - but in most cases that's not a very bright thing to do, because if you guess wrong, then you lose your attacking piece instead! But if you can correctly state what colour letter your opponent's piece is carrying (red, yellow, or blue), that piece is removed from the board.

So much of the game is about trying to maneuver your pieces in a way so that you can spy on your opponents' pieces to figure out what letters they are carrying, and then trying to capture them, while at the same time trying to protect your own pieces and keep the secret identity of their letters hidden, especially your red-letter piece.


Charity can see that Drake is carrying a yellow letter


Record what you find!
To do this most effectively, it's best to jot down the letters A through I on a scrap piece of paper, and write down whenever you discover the colour of an opponent's letter. Having alphabetically ordered names is a great idea, because it makes the characters easy to keep track of in this manner, and helps keep the deduction process straight forward. By a process of simple elimination, sometimes you can figure out the last couple of letters even before you've spied on those pieces.


Characters are conveniently named with letters A through I

The components and game is designed so that when you have a character behind your enemy's pieces, you can see in the mirror the colour of the letter being carried by a character in the same column and immediately in front of that piece, as well as the colour of the letter being carried by a character in front of and immediately diagonal of that piece. So you can lean left and right to try to peer into the mirror, but usually you won't be able to see more than that. You have to be careful not to cheat by peeking in the mirror when moving your piece - we've found that the fairest way to play is to point out your planned movement with your finger, and then move the character directly to the target square. Once it's placed, you can use that mirror for surveillance purposes as much as you wish.


Poor Grace has nowhere to hide from three mirrors - but she now knows their three letters!

End of Game

You win the game if you successfully capture your opponent's character carrying the red letter! Another way to win (which happens less often) is to reduce your opponent to just one piece.


Charles (blue player) captures red-letter Edna to win

And that's the game! There - told you it was easy!

CONCLUSIONS

What do I think?

The components are terrific with a high novelty value. The blue and gold colours are bright and cheerful without being garish, the plastic holders are sturdy, the cardboard character and letter tiles are durable, and the artwork is charming and appealing. And of course, the novel mechanic of components with mirrors really help sell the game when you see it on the table. Great job all round!

It's abstract without feeling abstract. When I first heard about the game, I thought it might be too chess-like - and I've played enough chess-like games to be rather unexcited at the thought of another. It really is an abstract game at its core, with about as much theme as a game of chess. And the designer himself would probably be the first to agree with this! In his own words: "I believe a great theme will not save a bad game, so I usually focus on mechanisms first and theme later." But while the theme is paper thin, in the case of this game it still needs to be there, and is there sufficiently enough to make the game fun. The game could have been played with cardboard figures marked with letters A through I for each team, but it somehow becomes far more fun when you're moving around Alexander and Basil, and using them to spy on what colour letters are being carried by Grace and Iris. The charming artwork goes a long way to help evoke a light mood, and helps magnifying the impression of moving actual characters around, rather than mere `pieces' like Chess or Stratego. So while the game-play is abstract, it doesn't feel that way, and that really helps move this game onto the family-friendly shelf, rather than limiting it to hardcore fans of abstracts. For a game of this sort, the level of theme fits perfectly, so don't dismiss it too quickly even if you're not normally an enthusiast of abstract games.


Charles is unmasked
Simple deduction is a big part of the game. When I first learned the rules of the game and saw how the pieces moved, I figured that it would feel like another chess clone. I was wrong. Deduction is a big part of this game, and in that respect it feels more like playing Stratego with mirrors than it feels like playing Chess with mirrors. When the game begins, you really don't know what colour letters your opponent's characters are carrying, and over the course of the game you'll have to try to figure this out, by a combination of using your mirrors to peek at characters behind them, but also through simple deduction and elimination, especially since you know that there are only 4 yellow letters and 4 blue letters in each team. The designer and developer have made a very clever move by naming all the characters A through I, so you'll want to have pen and paper handy and keep track of which character's you've discovered as the game progresses. My children just loved using the mirrors and trying to figure out what their opponent's pieces were - and you know what? So did I! This combination of elements makes this game stand out head and shoulders above your average chess-like abstract.

It's more skill than luck. While the movement is somewhat chess-like, the game-play itself feels more like Stratego, as you try to manipulate your pieces into positions behind your opponent's lines, so that you can spy on his pieces. Much of the game is about this process of discovering what your opponent's pieces are along with the above mentioned deduction, and in that sense Mirror Mirror doesn't much resemble the cold calculating tactics of chess. While the movement is somewhat chess-like, it is really impossible to plan multiple moves ahead, and in this game that's a good thing - you really can't get caught up in multiple levels of analysis paralysis that might make the game slow to a crawl. In some cases you are just going to get lucky - not because the game is one of luck, but because there's only so much room to maneuver on the small playing board, and sometimes you're fortunate enough to stumble across your opponent's red-letter piece from the outset - but then still comes the hard part of making the capture! The blend of strategy, tactics, and lucky-guessing is an ideal mix to make this a game that is both satisfying for its skill, and yet casual enough without being too serious for the family gamer.

Red letter Francis

It's really, really fun. I can't stress this enough! I had somewhat low-key expectations of Mirror Mirror, anticipating yet another chess-like abstract. With that in mind this game really blew us out of the water, and we've come to have a lot of fun with it. From the time we first learned this game, it has been played almost constantly by my children, and my family is really enjoying Mirror Mirror in a way that is matched by very few other games. For some reason the kids just love the element of deducing what letters your opponent's pieces are carrying, and the mirror mechanic has a high novelty value that helps make the game a lot of fun. I expected it to have more of an `abstract game' feel, but there's enough about it that makes it quite compelling, even for those who don't care for typical abstract games. Then again, this is no ordinary abstract game, and the mirrors give it a high `coolness' factor! Even the seven year old could manage the gameplay just fine, and could compete quite well against her siblings, and was super-eager to play. So it's been a big hit with everyone across a range of ages.

It only takes 15-20 minutes. A big reason why this game has proved to be such a hit in our home is how quickly it plays. It's an abstract game at its heart, and while there is room for skill in setting up and moving your pieces, it's not the kind of game where you feel like you have to agonize over every move like you do in chess. You move your pieces around, and the game is over and done with quite quickly. Because you only have 9 pieces on the board, games don't last that long - the mechanic of requiring you to move a piece behind your opponent's pieces in order to `spy' on them, also means that your own piece is going to be very vulnerable, and quite quickly captured, so the game forces players to quickly trade pieces. The designer has also wisely implemented a rule that you automatically lose the game if you get down to just a single character - this prevents painful end games like in chess where you need to corner a single piece, because that kind of calculated tactical play is not what Mirror Mirror is primarily about. So it doesn't take long to play, and you'll often find yourself playing more than one game back to back.


Early stages of a game, with yellow having a spy behind blue's lines!

Recommendation



So is Mirror, Mirror a game for you? What makes Mirror Mirror really stand out is the quick play time, the high fun factor, and big-time novelty element. It's the kind of game that's easily pulled out and quickly played, and provides a really fun and yet rewarding experience for two players, offering game-play like no other game. As such it's an off-beat kind of game, yet will have a very broad appeal.

Considering that this game originated with the designer being given a bunch of small round mirrors, a bag of wooden balls, a paint tray, and the challenge of a year to turn those into a game, Jacob Davenport has done an outstanding job of creating an enjoyable two-player game. And Gryphon Games has done a terrific job in partnering with the designer to develop and bring his vision to the table along with wonderful components. All four games released in Gryphon Games' "Two Player Games" series have proven very satisfying, and Mirror Mirror is no exception, making a fine addition to the series. Highly recommended!



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Rob Arcangeli
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Brilliant review as always!
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Sean Tompkins
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A quick note - My "rule of thumb" on deduction games is usually that unless the rulebook says you CAN take notes that you can't take notes. However, we've allowed notes for our younger kids, which ends up being a good handicapping option - the adults have to try to retain information in their head, and the younger kids have the "perfect memory" of notes without having the deeper strategic ability of planning a few moves in advance.
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Giles Pritchard
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Great review.

You've put this firmly on my wish list.

Cheers,

Giles.
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Very well done. I hadn't heard of this game previously, but you've convinced me that I need a copy.
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Ender Wiggins
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seanp wrote:
A quick note - My "rule of thumb" on deduction games is usually that unless the rulebook says you CAN take notes that you can't take notes. However, we've allowed notes for our younger kids, which ends up being a good handicapping option - the adults have to try to retain information in their head, and the younger kids have the "perfect memory" of notes without having the deeper strategic ability of planning a few moves in advance.

That may be a good general rule of thumb, but believe me, in the case of Mirror Mirror it's just not worth being dogmatic about it. This particular game really doesn't benefit from adding any kind of memory element. The deduction is too simple and the game isn't serious enough to insist on having players memorize the very basic information they see (and which they both know that they see, so strictly speaking it's more a record of observation than deduction), at the risk of a fleeting moment of forgetfulness costing the game.

The notes won't be any more extensive than what you see here on the right, and can even be open information for both players - in fact I think both players will mostly prefer it being played this way, because it saves you keeping a separate record of which of your pieces your opponent has seen. I consulted the designer about this, and it turns out that he uses exactly the same system of taking notes when playing. So if you're looking for some kind of legitimacy for doing this, I think you just found it [grin].
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Caleb
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Why are there 2 different colors of letter (besides red) for each person? What's the point of the yellow player having both blue letters, yellow letters, and the red letter? Maybe it was in your review and I just missed it.
 
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Sean Tompkins
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cannoneer wrote:
Why are there 2 different colors of letter (besides red) for each person? What's the point of the yellow player having both blue letters, yellow letters, and the red letter? Maybe it was in your review and I just missed it.


When you attack the other player's token, you have to announce what color letter they have. If you are wrong, your piece is removed instead of theirs.
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Ender Wiggins
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cannoneer wrote:
Why are there 2 different colors of letter (besides red) for each person? What's the point of the yellow player having both blue letters, yellow letters, and the red letter? Maybe it was in your review and I just missed it.

As Sean points out, you need to announce the correct colour before making a capture. If there was just one colour besides a single red letter, you could just guess "blue" and keep capturing until you found the red-letter character. This would defeat the point of first using mirrors to `spy', and would turn the game into tactics much like the Scout in Stratego.

There are times where it can be a good move to take a guess and attempt a risky capture by guessing the colour without being certain in advance. But for the most part the fact that letters are in at least two colours forces players to use mirror surveillance as an essential preliminary before launching attacks.
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Steve Hope
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It seems to me like in positioning myself so that I can see my enemy's letter color I will also allow them to see MY letter color. Is that right, or am I missing something?

EDIT: Grammar, as usual.
 
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Ender Wiggins
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stephenhope wrote:
It seems to me like in positioning myself so that I can see my enemy's letter color I will also allow them to see MY letter color. Is that right, or am I missing something?

That's right. And as I wrote in the review, this prevents the game from developing into a defensive stalemate, since it forces the game towards a conclusion by driving it forward - as you gain information your opponent will too, and often it may come at the cost of needing to sacrifice pieces.

Ideally, you want a scenario like the one pictured at right, where a yellow piece can see three enemy letters, while only giving away one of his own (see a similar example featuring the blue character Grace pictured in the review above). Or trying spying with a piece that has a letter that your opponent has already discovered (which is why it's also worth keeping track of which letters your opponent has seen).

Also bear in mind that the pieces move in different ways, so sometimes it's possible to position your piece where it threatens an opposing piece, but that piece can't attack it back - even if your opponent knows what colour letter it is carrying.
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Steve Hope
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Thanks Ender. I missed that point in the review (not the movement but the 3-for-1 element). Great review as always!
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