Finally, after 200 years, it’s Oink Games Month again. Be merry, friends; we’ve got four (maybe five if I can swing it) games coming down the pipe in December and they’re all Oink Games! What an exciting time to be alive. In the interest of coming out swinging, though, we’re going to start with Nine Tiles Panic, one of the brightest and most colorful ones! As you do.
In Nine Tiles Panic, the normal stuff is happening, of course. Hamburger-loving aliens have invaded your town, and the government has sent their top suits to stop it. You know, a Tuesday. The town’s going to have to organize to get things settled, and you’re in charge and totally ready to take the phrase “organizing the town” a bit more literally than perhaps others anticipated. Either way, let’s get down to business. Will you be able to stop the invasion, or, well, will you at least be able to use it to primarily benefit yourself?
Not that difficult to set up. Give each player a player token in their color:
Also give them a set of matching tiles:
Place the player token on the score board, on the 0:
Set out the place tokens:
Shuffle up the Mission Cards and reveal 3:
Make sure the timer is not running and set it nearby:
You should be all ready to start!
The game’s straightforward enough. Each round, players will work to accomplish missions in order to earn points. Once a player reaches the score threshold, the game ends and the player with the most points wins!
Once every player has their tiles in hand, say “start”. Players then work to build up a city that meets the criteria specified by the missions played earlier. As soon as you believe you’ve built a valid city, you take the lowest-numbered place token and, if the timer has not yet been flipped, flip the timer. Players have until the timer runs out to finish their own cities and take place tokens. But what constitutes a valid city? Well, it has to follow a few rules:
- All roads must touch an external edge of the city. Loops are not allowed, but you can double back through a tile.
- The city must be a 3×3 grid. Non-negotiable.
- Roads must connect to either other roads or the edge of the city. You cannot have a road connect to the edge of a tile without a road.
That’s pretty much all you need for a valid city. Once time runs out or all players have taken a place token, the round ends. For each mission, determine which player has done the most. In the event of a tie, the player with the lower-value place token (1 > 2) wins. Then, score points for the mission. First place scores X points, where X is the number of players, second place scores X – 1 points, and so on. Last place scores 1 point. Then, score the next mission. After scoring all the missions, discard them from the game, draw three more missions and start a new round!
Continue playing missions until at least one player has crossed the scoring threshold:
- 2 players: 10 points
- 3 players: 15 points
- 4 players: 20 points
- 5 players: 25 points
Once that happens, the player with the highest score wins!
Player Count Differences
The nice thing about the game is that it mostly plays asymmetrically. Nothing you do affects me and vice versa. It’s nice! There’s something to the idea that you just kinda do your own thing and then score points for doing better than other people. That said, at higher player counts, there’s a more aggressive penalty for doing poorly; you gain 1 point when you have the opportunity to gain 5. That’s rough, especially three times. It basically makes it completely impossible to keep going if you fail to build a complete city, though, so, be careful. Beyond that, I think the game gets a smidge longer, just, based on law of averages. Personally, beyond that, I don’t really have a strong preference for player count. I enjoy it at two, and I enjoy it at five. Beyond that, yeah, happy to play it with any player count.
- Be careful how you optimize. The major thing here is that you shouldn’t just focus on doing the best on one mission card and the worst on the others; you need to try and perform all tasks equally well if you want to pull the maximum number of points for the round.
- You must complete your city. This is pretty much the only thing that matters as far as scoring points. Even if you do precisely none of the missions, you’ll still get one point since you have a complete city. Why? Don’t know; scoring is weird. But it’s worth getting those points anyways.
- Remember that being the fastest only matters for ties and that one mission card that rewards you for being the fastest. If you speed too quickly, you give your opponents the opportunity to still score points by maximizing in a few categories. It’s good to be the fastest, but not at the expense of actually performing in the categories that are important.
- If you’re not the fastest, take some time to evaluate where your opponents are doing well and see if you can beat them in some of those areas. Like I said, use that opportunity. You can’t tie the person who went before you; they’ll win the tiebreaker. Instead, try to make sure you’re exceeding them in that category so that you can steal the points from them. It’s a bit rude, but it definitely works in a pinch, so, recommended.
- Remember that the tiles without roads often have some of the characters on them. You can often use that to get points for the various missions. Don’t discount something just because it doesn’t have any roads on it! Sometimes it has a lot of citizens or dogs.
- Read the cards carefully. They usually have some extra conditions on them that are relevant (especially the harder missions). You don’t want to miss out on points because you weren’t aware of something.
- Don’t second-guess yourself too much. This is what ends up wasting most of the time for players. They think they’ve got things messed up pretty badly and then they go back to try and fix things and end up making it even worse. You just kinda … have to be confident in the city you’ve built and kinda work off of it from there. Maybe it’ll work!
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Love the theme. How can you not be intrigued by hamburger-loving aliens coming to town to try and, you know, go after those hamburgers? It’s not even clear why the authorities are called! Are the aliens stealing hamburgers? Are they clogging fast food lines? Are they simply demanding weird toppings and making customers uncomfortable? Who knows. It’s the strange little mysteries that make games worth playing, sometimes.
- Actually, love the game’s entire aesthetic. Look, you don’t get into Oink Games without acknowledging that a game is pretty cute, but this is aggressively cute. It feels like it should be illegal. The aliens are goofy, the agents are goofy; the whole game is delightfully goofy. Add in some great color work and some solid art and you’ve got a truly beautiful little game. Plus, it’s a pinker box than A Fake Artist Goes to New York, which is a fun surprise.
- Still a good little puzzle. I really enjoyed the original Nine Tiles, but I think this clearly and obviously surpasses it by focusing on the route-building in addition to the tile-laying. It’s a similar concept, but it’s been elevated by that, the mission cards, and the art into a really delightful thinky title. It’s still frantic, though, which I really appreciate.
- Plays very quickly. As most real-time games tend to do, which is nice. There are some exceptions, but this ain’t one.
- The mission cards make every game feel pretty fresh. I generally like things like that since variable scoring conditions are a cheap and easy way to make a game feel varied without having to force an overhaul of the game’s core mechanic. It still requires balancing, but there are also easier and harder missions, so, I think there’s a lot for players to do in one game.
- It’s a tiny bit annoying to get conflicting goals. It usually just means that points get split a bit, but it’s an ever-so-slightly annoying quirk of the game that since your missions can be pretty varied, it’s also possible for them to be completely mutually exclusive. If they ask for different things, it’s at least an interesting optimization puzzle
- I think it’s eventually possible to learn the tiles? Thankfully, I don’t play it frequently enough that it’s started to stick in my brain, but I could see how that happens. Just be careful playing like, 20 games of this in one night. I think it’s a reasonably problematic temptation, but that’s almost still me praising the game. It seems like players could memorize the tiles since there are only 18 different sides (and they’re all connected to one other). A very cheap fix for that would be to tell players every game that you’re going to pass your tiles to the player on your left and that they’re all subtly different. They’re … not, but your players will probably take several games to notice that. Yeah, Eric, telling your readers to lie to their friends; that’s super good for the brand.
- The conditions for scoring on the cards are a bit small. Specifically the things that would disqualify you for scoring that card is very tiny text; make sure you don’t miss it.
- The scoring is a bit of an issue. There’s a few things at play, here. One is that the penalty for failing to complete a city is that you score zero points. Not zero for one card; zero points for the round. In a game where a player can get 60% of the way to winning in one round, that’s a disaster to score zero points. It’s such a problem that we’ve house-ruled that you only count the number of players who’ve completed a city before assigning points. So if two players get knocked out, you treat it like there are just two fewer players that round. It seems to work okay, relatively speaking, but it’s definitely not legit. I think I have common complaints around the scoring for a lot of Oink games, though, so I think I just generally ignore it since the actual mechanics of the games are often very very fun for me. It would be nice to have an opportunity for players who do poorly to still have a shot at winning, though; not sure how.
Overall: 9 / 10
Overall, yeah, Nine Tiles Panic is one of my favorite Oink games! I’ve gotta ding it a bit because the scoring is a bit wonky at times, but honestly, I just think the game is some good, solid, goofy fun. I think it helps a lot that the art is really upbeat and cute and colorful; it turns it from a path-building city-building game into another Oink classic, in my opinion. And that’s sort of how they do, right? They take a fairly simple concept and elevate it with some great art and simple mechanics, making a solid title out of it. It’s also, as usual, super portable, which I appreciate. It also helps that path-building and city-building are some of my favorite mechanics in games. I already enjoyed the original Nine Tiles; having an upgraded sequel is really great, especially given that it’s going for more modular missions rather than specific configurations of tiles. I think that makes the game a bit easier to process for new players, too. Part of where people struggled with the original Nine Tiles was that I think they didn’t really connect with the abstract nature of the game; bringing it back around by making it more thematic really helps ground it for a lot of players. Now if they could just make it more widely available, then we’d be solid. Either way, though, if you liked Nine Tiles and wished it were a bit … more, or you like the idea of a path-building / city-building game, or you just want to stop some hamburger-loving aliens, Nine Tiles Panic might be worth checking out! I’ve certainly really enjoyed playing it.