Thanks to Ryan Opp for providing a review copy of this game.
There aren’t nearly enough Wonderland games out, but here’s one:
Reflections in the Looking Glass is a two-player card game from designer J. Ryan Opp, published by Electric Pepper Games. It’s set in Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland, with a familiar cast of characters that includes Alice, The Mad Hatter, the Jabberwocky, and so on. In the game, you’re trying to collect sets of cards and try to manipulate what your opponent gets.
To start the game, you select one of the five layouts and deal face up cards to match. This will always be 28 cards in size, with overlapping rows on each side. The resulting tableau will be a reflection, with sides mirroring each other (though usually with different cards in corresponding places). Each player is dealt four cards, and the remaining four are set aside, unseen.
On your turn, you will take any card from the layout as long as there are no cards on top of it. In the example above, I could take the White Rabbit, the Mad Hatter, the Tweedles, or the Jabberwocky as they are the only ones exposed. Once you take your card, your opponent then takes the card from the corresponding position on the other side of the layout. So, if I took the Jabberwocky, my opponent would then take the Mad Hatter. On your opponent’s turn, the same thing will happen – they’ll take an uncovered card, and you get the card from the corresponding position on the other side. New cards might now be exposed (the Dodo and a new Mad Hatter in the example), so they are added to that player’s options.
Keep alternating turns like this until all cards have been taken. You then will add the four cards you were dealt at the start to the cards you have collected, and add up the scores. There are four copies of each character, and each character has either a sun or moon symbol. For each character with a sun, you’ll score one point for having collected one, and three points for having collected three. If you have two of a particular sun character, you’ll lose two points, and you’ll lose one point for having all four. For moon cards, you get two points for having two, and one for having four. You’ll lose one for a single moon character, and three for having three.
Once you’ve scored, the player whose score is furthest from zero wins the round. Play best of five to determine the ultimate winner.
I’m a big fan of two-player games. Games for 3 or more always seem to be more difficult to get played, especially in my house where the kids are just a little too young (though the seven-year-old is getting there). I also really like small games, because it’s fun to see how designers can create in a limited space. The Wonderland theme has always seemed very fruitful for games, with its wide array of characters and odd situations, but this is only the second game based on the Carroll classics that I’ve played (the other being Parade). Artistically, the characters included here look quite different than other depictions (Tweedle Dee and Dum, for example, look much more like bouncers at a club than I’ve seen before), but I think that’s a good thing.
Thematically, the game doesn’t really have MUCH to do with Wonderland. You get the ten characters, and you get the whole Looking Glass thing with the reflection mechanism. It’s really more of an abstract game than anything, the whole Wonderland thing is more of a framing device for your collections. I don’t necessarily get the whole sun/moon connection with the characters either. This isn’t really a critique – I don’t mind at all that the game doesn’t really have a strong connection to its theme – but if you’re looking for the real Wonderland experience, this isn’t it. Parade isn’t either, for that matter (and I also really like that game).
The Looking Glass here is represented by the symmetrical setup of the cards at the start of the game, and how the choice of one card influences what your opponent takes. It creates an interesting kind of dynamic, where your choices have ramifications beyond your own score.
There will always be eight cards that could be in your opponent’s hand or out of the game, but you won’t know what they are until the end. You can make a reasonable guess based on what your opponent is collecting, but you’re never going to get any of those cards in your hand, and you can never be completely sure. So, when taking cards, you have to consider the risk vs. the reward.
It’s pretty safe to take a third sun card when the fourth isn’t in your hand or on the board, but if it’s out there, you need to make sure you don’t take it. +3 is far better than -1. Likewise, if you have three moon cards, you’re going to want to make sure you can take the fourth, or you’ll lose three points. Taking two moon cards seems great because that’s two points, but you have to consider that taking only two of a moon card probably means your opponent can also get two (unless one or both of the pairs are out of the game). Getting all four is only one point, but it’s a net gain to your score of one, whereas taking two is likely a net gain of zero.
MAJOR EDIT: I’m leaving my error here for posterity, so future generations know how NOT to play. It has been pointed out to me that I completely missed the scoring rule here. I’ve already fixed it in the game description above, but I would like to take a moment to point out that the player who has the score farthest from zero wins the round. So if you have 5, but your opponent has -6, they win the round because positive and negative don’t matter in the end. This little rule that I missed completely invalidates my strategy points from the last paragraph, and really makes for a different level of tactical play as you go, as you have to try to figure out which direction your opponent is going and how you can thwart them without sacrificing your own goals. Anyway, mea culpa.
There’s a lot to consider with your choices, and that’s the part that makes this game really interesting and fun. There are five layouts included in the game, and while I kind of wish there were more, I also recognize that there are only so many ways you can combine 14 cards so they can be symmetrical with the other 14 and also not take up massive amounts of table space.
In the end, your score only determines whether you win the round or not. Just like baseball, basketball, tennis, etc., it doesn’t matter how much you score, only that you score more than your opponent. I like that you play a best of five to determine the ultimate winner – that type of setup seems to reward skill rather than luck. I guess there’s nothing stopping you from playing a best-of-seven (other than there only being five layouts), or best-of-three, or however many you wish.
IS IT BUZZWORTHY? I think Reflections in the Looking Glass is a very fun game, a nice tactical two-player battle of wits. The rules are simple, the choices are challenging, and the art is whimsical. It’s a good game in a small package, and I recommend it. The game will be going up on Kickstarter on March 7, and while there’s no pre-launch page, Opp has a landing page on BGG that you can subscribe to in order to be notified when the pre-launch page goes up.
That’s all for today. Thanks again to Ryan Opp for providing a review copy of this game, and thanks to you for reading!