I love a quick bluffing game, so when Smoke and Mirrors arrived in the mail, I was pumped to give it a try. And I’m happy to report that I wasn’t let down: Smoke and Mirrors is a cool little game of lies and deception, which only needs eighteen cards and five minutes of your time.
Here’s how it works. There are three small decks of cards. One deck has five cards, each with a single number from 1 to 5, one deck has five cards numbered with a 5, and one deck has five cards with a 1 on them. Each player gets one random card from each deck, and with the cards now in their hand, they must begin to bluff. The first player must take any number of cards from their hand, lay them on the table, face down, and announce that the sum of the numbers on the cards is 1. That’s easy enough. Then the next player must do the same, but now announce that the sum of the numbers on the cards they have played is equal to 2. And then the next player goes for 3. Of course, pretty quickly, you’re going to have to lie. In this game, you must offer convincing lies, whilst calling out other liars – if you get caught lying, or wrongly accuse someone of lying, you’re out. The last player to remain in the game is the winner.
To keep things from being too calculated and predictable, each of the three decks also includes a “Mirror” card. This is a card that reflects the value of another card it is played with. So if you play a 3 with a mirror card, the sum of your cards is 6. Or if you play a 3 with two mirror cards, the sum of your cards is 9.
And then, players also have a once-per-game ability to skip a turn, forcing a difficult number onto their probably unprepared neighbour.
Smoke and Mirrors is quick and brutal. Unlike some similar bluffing games, there really is a strong incentive to call out other lairs. If you don’t, the round will return to you and force you to skip or lay a nearly impossible combination, like a 7 or an 8, which you will surely be called out on. Unless… you can make a 7 or an 8 and want to the round to return to you so you can eliminate other players who accuse you. You see how this gets interesting? But you're unlikely to ever see more than three rounds per game - this is pure filler game territory.
Whilst the publishers say that Smoke and Mirrors is playable for between 2 and 5 players, it really shines as a 3-4 player game. With these numbers, the game is just long enough – a couple of rounds, typically – to give some fun bluffing opportunities. With 5 players, the game is really unfair on players whose turns come later in the round.
Lastly, I really want to draw attention to how Smoke and Mirrors is published. It’s the latest in a series of Button Shy's “Wallet games”. These are games that come in small plastic wallets that you can just throw into your bag. I love this punk-gaming mentality, which harks back to the old Cheapass Games’ philosophy – we need more publishers like this!
But yes, Smoke and Mirrors is a wonderful little bluffing game, with a bit of math and bunch of daring. It’s going cheap on Kickstarter at this very moment, so if it sounds like your kind of game, you should head on over to reserve yourself a copy.