The product development of Reverso (for SmartGames)

Raf Peeters, January 2024

Reverso is a very small brainteaser I designed for SmartGames in 2023, together with my colleague Leighton (as usual). It initially started as a smaller, simpler version of Back2Back but evolved significantly: the final version doesn’t include a challenge booklet anymore, although there is an app available for those interested. The result is more a brainteaser and a fidget toy and less a typical SmartGame with challenges from easy to hard. It has that in common with Plug & Play Ball from last year. The setup is also very similar. Just place the smallest puzzle piece anywhere on the game board and start puzzling. When you first place that little green piece on the game board, there is always a solution (sometimes only one, often multiple). However, be aware that starting with any other puzzle piece may lead to a situation without a solution. If you want to try that, it's safer to use the free app.


The original Back2Back game is no longer available in the market. It was a challenging puzzle, possibly too difficult for many. What also didn’t help was that it looked a bit like a “4 in a row” game, although it was a single-player puzzle rather than a two-player strategic game.  However, no idea is entirely lost and can always be reused. Especially when it was my own idea, I see no reason not to do it. In Reverso I tried to improve whatever there was to improve. It's now simpler, featuring a 4x4 grid instead of a 5x6 grid, reducing the number of puzzle pieces in the process. The TPR game board and ABS pieces are replaced by silicone puzzle pieces as we originally planned for Back2Back, but couldn’t figure out at that time.  And instead of having a bottom tray/base and a vertical grid, you now get a handy transparent little game board (only 7 cm x 7 cm). This was  now possible, because I didn’t need to find a way to store a challenge booklet.

My colleague Alain programmed several versions before we settled on this one. We aimed for a set of pieces that offered at least one solution for each placement of the green starting piece and provided enough variation between solutions. Due to the small game board and only six puzzle pieces, finding such a set was challenging. To introduce more variation in this 4x4 version, we added a fixed pin on one side, eliminating challenges and solutions that were only rotations of others. An important design problem to solve was how firmly the puzzle pieces should fit inside the grid. We didn’t want it to be too loose, because this little game doesn’t have a storage or lid to keep everything together. A player should be comfortable with putting it in his bag, without the fear of losing pieces. But of course the pieces couldn’t be too tight either, which would make the game very hard to manipulate. In the final version the pieces are quite firmly secured, although a lot depends on the room temperature and how long you are handling it. When it’s warmer or when you are playing with the pieces, they become increasingly more flexible. An important hint to easily remove pieces is the following: don’t try to poke out the puzzle pieces from the frontside. You won’t break anything, but it simply doesn’t work very well. Just push on the 2 protruding parts from the backside. Fixation and manipulation are also the reasons each puzzle piece has exactly 2 pins to fix it in the game board. Only 1 pin would not hold a piece in place (as the piece would rotate around this pin). But 3 or 4 pins would make removing a puzzle piece almost impossible. The square game board features curved edges, giving it a less serious and more distinguished look. Visually, it's related to Plug & Play Puzzler, which also has curved edges for a similar reason. Reverso can be seen as the little 2D sibling of that 3D puzzle game.

There are 40 ways to place the green piece on the game board. In reality there are only 20, because the challenge doesn’t really change if you place the green piece on the front or back. There are 150 ways to fill the grid completely on both sides (again only 75 in reality because of the green piece). So, that should give you plenty of options. For those who wish to figure this game out independently, skip the next part of the text as it contains some spoilers.

The trick to easily solve a challenge is as follows:

- Place the green piece anywhere you want (as stated in the game rules).

- Place the most difficult pieces first (for this game these are the pink and the dark blue pieces) and avoid creating closed areas that can’t be filled by the other pieces

- Fill up the remaining space by combining the easy, small pieces (yellow, red and light blue). 

- It's best to start this in the area of the game board with the fewest options, usually in the corner around the fixed pin, though it also depends on the position of the green piece.

One of the reasons people often have trouble to find any solution, is because they start with the easiest pieces in an area that has many options. This way they are left with big pieces in the end that seldom can fill up the remaining space. Another reason why some people struggle with  this particular brainteaser, is because they want to place the dark blue L-piece with both legs in one of the corners of the game board to “get it out of the way”, because it’s such a big piece. The funny thing is that none of the 150 solutions have this dark blue piece in a corner like that. So everybody who tries that will be out of luck. For those people who still find the challenges too hard with these hints or that want to play different challenges,  they can download the free app that my colleagues from IT were so kind to make. In this app you can choose your level of difficulty.

The game comes in a very nice, minimalistic cardboard packaging, designed by my colleagues from design and graphics. Less is more. Or in this case, less packaging is better. Reverso will be available in Summer 2024. The app is already available on the official website of SmartGames. A QR-code inside the packaging and on the leaflet with game rules, will also bring you there.

Example of a setup of REVERSO (left) and 3 possible solutions (right)


Before you start: Remove all puzzle pieces from the game board by pushing out the 2 pins from the backside of each piece. 

1) Place the green small puzzle piece anywhere on the game board it will fit. The only positions where it won’t fit are the ones blocked by the fixed pin on the game board.

2) Place all other pieces on the game board by pushing the 2 pins of each puzzle piece inside the holes of the game board. Pieces can be placed on either the front or the backside.

3) You have solved the challenge when all pieces are placed inside the game board. There is always at least 1 solution, sometimes there are more. When solved both sides of the game board will either be filled by pins or covered by puzzle pieces.

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