PLAYlist 16: NMBR 9

Nov 06, 2017 By Austin Trunick Bookmark and Share


Over the past few months we’ve spent a lot of time talking about games of many different styles and complexities, from small card games to long strategy games with hundreds of pieces. We’re aware that not every game will appeal to every gamer, which is why we try to keep our range of coverage as broad as possible. We’re also aware that one of the top factors that will put off a propspective player is when a game looks like it will take too long to learn. These are the type who look at anything with a thick rule book or bags after bags of components and immediately feel anxious. (I can think of several occasions where I’ve begun to set up a game, pulled my phone from my pocket and passed it across the table to say, “Don’t worry, it’s not that complicated. Just watch this 20-minute How To Play video,” and saw my newest opponent’s face drain of all its color.) While there’s a type of gamer who gravitates toward titles with high levels of complexity and lots of moving parts, there are others who don’t want to feel like they're studing for an exam just to learn how to play a game. That’s why we’re happy to feature a title in this week’s column that anyone should be able to jump into within minutes.

Newly released from Z-Man Games, Peter Wichmann’s NMBR 9 is the sort of game that even the most complexity-averse players can get behind. The rules are one sheet of paper. The pieces are thick, colorful, cardboard numbers – this isn't a knock on the art, but they look like something a first grader might use to learn math. NMBR 9's box even comes with a plastic organizer, so that all you need to do to set it up is remove the lid. (It practically puts itself away, too.) With gameplay that can be explained in just minutes, NMBR 9 is a design so brilliantly simple that it’s amazing it hasn’t already been around for decades.

As simply as it can be put, NMBR 9 is a number-stacking game. On each turn, a card depicting a number, zero through nine, will be flipped from the top of a deck. Players then take a matching number tile from the box and place it somewhere on the table right in front of them. Each numbered tile has its a unique shape with straight edges and squared-off corners; think: Tetris tiles, but more ornate.

A few simple rules govern where you can place a tile in your tableau. For one, a tile must connect with at least one other tile, with the sides meeting flat and evenly. And two, you can place a number tile on top of another one, so long as theren are no open gaps under the tile you’re placing. (i.e., a tile can only be placed if the layer underneath it is totally made up of other tiles.) With the wide variety of wonky shapes you’re working with, they won’t all connect in a tidy manner. Once everyone’s found a legal placement for their tile, the next card on the deck is flipped and the process begins anew.  

Sound simple? It is, actually. What I’ve described above is the entirety of what you’ll need to do through a session of NMBR 9. It really becomes a game once you factor in the scoring. Then, it goes from simply piling numbers on top of one another, to a clever little brain burner that rewards keen, tactical thinking.

Numbers in your first layer – i.e., flat on the table – aren’t worth any points at the end of the game. However, numbers in your second layer are worth their face value times two, third layer are worth value times three, and so forth. And so, the taller your stack, the better your scoring opportunity.

And with that, you’re not only thinking about where each tile will best fit in the physical sense, but where it will score the most points, or open up higher scoring opportunities down the road. That, folks, is where NMBR 9 becomes such an exciting little puzzle. Let’s say you draw an “eight” tile. It’s a nice, big, flat piece. Do you install it on your ground floor, giving you plenty of space to build on top of it later? Or do you squeeze it onto your second level, scoring you double its face value, but leaving your future building plans to the fate of the draw? Furthermore, players who keep in mind that there are only two copies of each number card in the deck can plan ahead and possibly predict which shapes are coming next. Decisions like this are what make NMBR 9 such a fun mental exercise.

And there’s our review of NMBR 9. It’s the shortest PLAYlist column we’ve posted yet, but that seems appropriate for the most straight-forward and elegant game design we’ve reviewed. NMBR 9 is the rare title you can set up, teach, and play an entire game in around 20 minutes. That’s incredible. Given how easy the puzzle is to grasp, and how colorful it looks on the table, it’s a game you might find yourself teaching to people who don’t normally care to be involved in board games.  

NMBR 9 retails for $29.99. The box recommends it for ages eight and up, but it’s one even younger players could get into if they have a grasp on multiplying single digits by two or three, or an adult to help them with that math during scoring. (Heck, my two-year-old has a great time just putting the tiles back into their appropriately-shaped spaces in the game box.)

For this week’s playlist, we’re going to keep the number theme rolling. So count with me, kids, as we listen to tracks with the numbers 1 – 25 prominently in their titles. Theses 90 minutes should last you through three or four games of NMBR 9 and give you enough time to take a sandwich break with your guests somewhere in the middle. Enjoy!

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Previous PLAYlist columns: UnearthEscape from 100 Million B.C., Orleans (plus Trade & Intrigue)Whistle StopCaverna: Cave vs CaveTwilight StruggleHonshuBärenpark, Notre Dame & In the Year of the DragonYokohamaClank! A Deck-Building AdventureVillages of ValeriaNew York SliceWatson & HolmesHanamikoji.



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