I do love puzzle games, though for some reason I’ve developed a soft reputation for not liking puzzles all that much. Not really sure why that is, given that puzzles are pretty great. I even reviewed a surprisingly fun puzzle game a while ago: TETRIS Link. And Bärenpark is pretty TETRIS-y, too. (There’s a whole slew of these games, but I first wrote this a while ago, so I haven’t even talked about Scarabya or a whole host of other worthy contenders.) Anyways, let’s talk about a new (as of December 2017, when I first wrote the review of this) puzzle game, NMBR 9.
There’s no real lore to this game, so I’m just gonna launch into a review. NMBR 9 is a tile-laying puzzle game of foundations and levels. Will you be able to tower above the rest? Or will you only be able to get in on the ground floor?
There’s no setup to this game, essentially. There are cards with numbers on them:
And number tiles:
You can just leave the number tiles in the box, if you want. If you do, shuffle the cards and you’re ready to start!
If it helps, gameplay is super straightforward, too. Each round you’ll flip a card from the top of the deck and all players will add that number in front of them, following these rules:
- All tiles on the same level must be adjacent to each other. The obvious pseudo-exception is that you can place the first tile on a level wherever you want. Any tiles touching the tabletop are considered to be “Level 0”.
- You may (and should) stack tiles on other tiles, but you cannot have any overhanging spots. You might notice that the 0 has a big hole in the middle, for instance; you cannot cover any of those holes up.
- Tiles stacked on other tiles must be on top of more than just one tile. The 8, for instance, will fit perfectly on top of the 9 by itself. That’s not allowed — you can only play tiles on top of other tiles if they’re not completely on one tile.
- Tiles must be aligned on the grid. If you look at the tiles, there are little gridlines on them. You can’t play tiles at weird angles or violate the grid (as with most games like this).
That’s about all the rules. There are 20 cards, and once you’ve played them all you can progress to scoring.
Scoring is pretty straightforward. Your tiles are stacked in levels upwards starting at Level 0. Each tile is worth its value times its level. This means that any tiles touching the table are worth 0 points, and a 0 at any level is worth 0 points. That’s … pretty much the whole game, yeah. The player with the highest score wins!
Player Count Differences
None, frankly. There’s zero player interaction, so you could play this with a room of 1000 people and have the exact same game. It’s similar to Avenue / Welcome To in that regard. The only thing you really need to worry about at higher player counts is players attempting to “copy” another player’s setup, but there’s risk / reward to that. For one thing, it’s kind of a crappy way to play, but also, the best you can do there is tie, basically. There are some fixes for that, though.
- Keep track of the cards. There are only 20 cards in the deck (2 each of 0 – 9), so once you’ve seen some cards you should have a good idea of what your potential options are in the future. If you don’t, then you might spend time preparing for a 7 that is never going to show up.
- Build a strong foundation. You really want to be able to support like, 3 or 5 tiles on Level 1, so you will want to put a bunch on Level 0. Just hope you get low-value tiles!
- Try to leave room for a 9. It’s much better to put a 9 on a higher level than it is on a lower level since it’s worth so many points. Sure, you may have to do some extra work to get the foundation built up around it, but that’s a lot of points to throw away if you do it wrong. That said, if you can fit like, a 5 and a 7 instead of a 9 on the next level, it might be worth doing that instead of the 9.
- Don’t jump to the next level before you’re ready. In the same vein, if you smack a 9 right in the center of your foundation, you’re going to have to build around it to make room for other tiles, which might limit your future options (since all tiles on a given level have to be adjacent to each other). Don’t ruin your future potential for some short-term gains.
- Try to minimize waste. I usually refer to “waste” as tiles that have no tiles on top of them by the end of the game on level 0. Those are tiles that contributed nothing to your score and didn’t help you build any higher. You don’t want those tiles, and you definitely won’t win if you have too many.
- Also try to minimize holes. Holes introduce constraints as now you have to build around those spots (since you can never cover a hole up. Too many and you won’t be able to place anything useful higher-up. As with pretty much anything, having a ton of holes in your foundation is a bad play.
- Don’t ever put a 0 on top of another tile. I mean, naturally, there’s an exception if doing so will allow you to score even more points in the future, but it’s honestly kind of a bad idea for any practical reason since you’re just taking a zero but at a higher level.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Very colorful. I love the whole aesthetic of this game! It’s got cool, sharp angles, it’s bright and looks great on the table, honestly the whole thing really works for me, visually. Even though the numbers are kind of weird, I like those a lot, as well? Can’t really put my finger on why.
- Super simple. The game takes barely any time to set up and the rules are pretty straightforward. As a result, it’s a very popular filler game.
- Plays really fast. I always enjoy short, light, quick games, and NMBR 9 is no exception to that rule. Sure, the short setup is very nice, but being able to quickly bust out a game of it is superb.
- It’s a good amount of thinking, relative to how short it is, which I like. Sure you’re going to agonize over your poor decisions, but that’s true in all kinds of games, like Avenue or Qwinto. This is just another game for you to get angry at the mistakes of your past self.
- The high scalability is nice. I don’t know if I’m going to spend another $30 to get this to work with 8 players, but I could see how that would be a cool thing to do, albeit maybe not a thing I personally strive for.
- Somewhat vulnerable to analysis paralysis. People might spend a while trying to predict where they can place pieces in the future, but it’s a short enough game that that doesn’t become agonizing for most people.
- The numbers aren’t double-sided and you will inevitably find that frustrating. It’s sort of like how I’m convinced Lanterns: The Harvest Festival was engineered to always have the tile you need flipped so that you can’t use it the way you want. It’s going to make you mad, so you might as well come to grips with it now.
- The idea that another player can just copy all your moves is kind of a bummer. It’s not really the game’s fault, and there are ways around it, but it’s just kind of sad that that’s a possibility in the game. Like I said, there are ways around it, though — they sell promo tiles that have “Starting Tiles” for all four players that are variable, meaning that with a variable start nobody can have the same end configuration, which is also nice. There are also “extra tiles” which you can give to every player for their use and those let you change up the game a fair bit, as well.
- The box is huge. It’s not a very big game, but the box is gigantic, relative to the contents (it’s the same size as Isle of Skye). That’s pretty large for a small, light, filler game.
- Definitely not going to make people who don’t like spatial reasoning games happy. It’s all spatial reasoning, but at a more complex level than, say, Carcassonne, in my opinion. The math elements might not be for everyone, as well. Just things to think about.
Overall: 8.25 / 10
Overall, I’m really enjoying NMBR 9! It’s been pretty nice since I’ve been bringing it back around to play it every now and then, and it reminded me both that I really enjoy it and haven’t reviewed it, yet. So fixing that problem now. Sure, the box is too big for the game which makes it hard for me to bring with me places, but that’s okay. I’ve managed to fit it in my Quiver before, but then I lost one of the 6s, so, who can say if that was actually a good decision? It’s a great game to start a game night with, as it’s kinda thinky, very fast, and easy to pick up while you’re waiting for more people to show up. I think the major issue I have with it is that the box makes it seem like a longer or heavier game than it actually is, which is an interesting thought. Either way, if you’re looking for an upbeat, fun, puzzley tile game, NMBR 9 is great!