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Dusty Dragon #9: 6 Nimmt! (review)

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6 Nimmt box

In modern board gaming, we tend to have a short memory and a long wishlist. Six of the top ten games on Board Game Geek were published after 2010. Kickstarter has us shelling out funds many months (sometimes years) before games are released, and by the time they land on our doorstep, we’ve already moved on to the next thing.

In The Dusty Dragon–a monthly column on iSlaytheDragon–my goal is to reintroduce games from the past. Games that are at least five years old and are not in the Board Game Geek top 150. The goal of the column is to balance out the more immediate board game coverage on iSlaytheDragon by reminding us of some games that might have slipped through the cracks. (To see all posts in this series, click here.)

After I wrote my original top 10 filler games list, I received many suggestions that 6 Nimmt! should be on it. It was embarrassing that I hadn’t tried it yet, so I tracked down a German copy and added it to an order. The result? It’s in my updated top 10 filler games list. If you want to know why, read on!

How It Works

6 Nimmt! is a simultaneous selection twist on a trick-taking game for two to ten players. Players choose number cards simultaneously, then play them in order and try to collect the fewest points. The player with the fewest points when one player reaches 75 is the winner.

To begin, shuffle the 104-card deck and deal ten cards to each player, then place four cards face-up in the center of the table as starting row cards.

Each hand consists of ten rounds. In a round, each player secretly and simultaneously chooses a number card from their hand. Once all players have chosen, players turn their chosen cards face up and play the cards in numerical order from lowest to highest. Players place their card on the closest row that their chosen card is higher than. If their chosen card isn’t higher than any row, they place their card as the first card in a new row and take all the cards of an existing row as points. If a player places the sixth card on a row, that player claims the other five cards in the row as points, and the sixth card becomes the new first card for the row.

6 Nimmt! set up. Simple, simple, simple.
6 Nimmt! set up. Simple, simple, simple.

Each card in the game has a number of cattle heads on the card, with the most heads appearing on multiples of 5s, 10s, and 11s.  At the end of the round, each player counts the cattle heads on the cards they’ve claimed for points, their score is recorded, and a new round begins.

The game ends once at least one player has 75 or more points. The player with the fewest points wins.

Take the Cake, or Hot Take?

6 Nimmt! doesn’t seem like much, and it isn’t. This is clearly a filler game, and player control is sacrificed somewhat in the interest of creating outrageous situations. But as far as filler games go, there’s a reason 6 Nimmt! is such a classic.

One of the reasons 6 Nimmt! works so well is its simultaneous play. Simultaneous action selection is one of the best ways to eliminate downtime, and this keeps the game moving and interesting, even for players who don’t typically like playing games. Players all choose their cards at the same time, and then the round plays out quickly. Each hand, even with a full complement of players, takes between five and ten minutes from start to finish.

The higher point cards in 6 Nimmt! All cards are worth at least 1 point. But beware the 55!
The higher point cards in 6 Nimmt! All cards are worth at least 1 point. But beware the 55!

Players choosing their cards is another thing that makes 6 Nimmt! work well in the filler space. While player choice is important in the game, and you want to try to outguess the other players to make the best move, there is enough luck–or perhaps a better word is uncertainty–in the game that you can rarely be sure that the card you’re playing is the unassailable Right Move. While some players don’t like this lack of control, in filler games, this is a boon. Since intense calculation isn’t likely to save you from making a bad play, it doesn’t make sense to get bogged down in consideration. As such, analysis paralysis doesn’t happen much, and the game has a satisfying flow. Players wind up their automaton and then let go, their path predestined, which allows the conversation and banter around the game to take center stage here.

Further, some casual players who in a more strategic game might feel guilty for choosing cards blindly are relieved of the balance-breaking burden in 6 Nimmt!: regardless of whether they choose the “right” card, the game still functions. I have a friend who plays Cash ‘n’ Guns roulette style, randomly drawing bang/click cards each round. While his injection of additional chaos into that game is frustrating, if someone were to adopt a similar “strategy” in 6 Nimmt!, it wouldn’t frustrate me nearly as much.

Someone is taking points this time...and hopefully it isn't me.
Someone is taking points this time…and hopefully it isn’t me.

The reason I feel this way about 6 Nimmt! is that even with experience, it is a “play a card, then see what happens” kind of game. Normally that’s not my bag, but what drives the excitement in 6 Nimmt! is the feeling of risk and gambling. There is one simple goal in 6 Nimmt!: avoid taking points. This seems simple enough, as any number of cards are safe to play–only the sixth card in a row earns a player any points. But as rows fill up, and as players try to hew as close to the row cards as possible, and as the players who played before you will inevitably monkey with the rows as you see them when you make your decision, each player will eventually reach an epiphany: there is no safe card to play. It is in these moments that players throw down a card and hope, pray, or just think positively for the best.

And this is exciting. Really, 6 Nimmt! feels most like a press-your-luck game. It doesn’t have dice, but it produces the same kinds of emotions that a game like Can’t Stop does: you are trying desperately to achieve a goal that you cannot achieve on your wits alone.  There is the relief of playing the fifth card on a row, sneaking in before another player delivers the final blow. There is the dread of being that other player and the ensuing imprecations and promises of vengeance. While players are in many ways watching what is happening, they are participating more than just deciding which card to play: for some reason, taking negative points rather than earning positive points invests players more in the outcome, so that each play of a card–each pull of the slot machine handle–pays out big in raw emotion.

A sample hand in 6 Nimmt! Now what to play?
A sample hand in 6 Nimmt! Now what to play?

What I’ve said about 6 Nimmt! so far you will have to take with a grain of salt. For starters, I’m terrible at the game. My feeling that the game has a lot of uncertainty might be attributed to a faulty thinking apparatus rather than the winds of fate not blowing my way. Also, the game is more strategic or more chaotic depending on the number of players. One of the huge boons of 6 Nimmt! is that as few as two and as many as ten can play at a time. The larger games are by nature more raucous and rowdy affairs; the smaller games are more strategic than their larger cousins. But while the game can be played with three or even two, I much prefer the game with a group, which perhaps explains my comments about uncertainty.

There is one way to give players more decision space in the game, and it is the way I usually play. I limit the pool of cards to a known set rather than distributing cards randomly from among the 104 cards provided (for example, with seven players, we play with cards 1-74). I find that this keeps the game a little more manageable in determining which cards are a safer bet than others to play, and it still maintains the uncertainty that makes the game exciting. Of course, randomly dealing from the entire deck is also fun in this game.

The rules are short and sweet. I imported my copy from Germany, but don't worry! There's a new English edition out now.
The rules are short and sweet. I imported my copy from Germany, but don’t worry! There’s a new English edition out now.

The rules of 6 Nimmt! are simple, yet I find that new players need to see a few examples of play before they really grasp what’s going on. The game as described in the rules (play until one player has 75 points) takes 45 minutes to an hour with a full table of players, which seems outside filler territory, but 6 Nimmt! is fun to play in isolated hands if you don’t have the time or inclination for the whole game.

6 Nimmt! isn’t for everyone, or for every gaming situation. It’s heavily reliant on uncertainty, making player choices, while not exactly unimportant, at least limited. Yet despite its uncertain and seeming chaotic core concept, the game does offer interesting decisions. They’re just the kind of decisions that, when they go awry, everyone at the table can laugh at together. Not every game needs to be a brain burner, and 6 Nimmt! fills a niche in my colllection: a game that is incredibly portable, that accommodates small as well as large groups, and that always produces a good time. 6 Nimmt! is a game I can count on, and that’s enough.

  • Rating 8
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Summary

Pros:

  • Excellent filler game with tense press-your-luck moments
  • Simple decisions make this a low-barrier game to get people to play
  • High element of uncertainty keeps new and old players on similar footing, although decisions still matter
  • Simultaneous play keeps the game moving along at a good pace.
  • Supports a large range of players, and plays well at most counts.

Cons:

  • Some players may find the uncertainty in the game too chaotic
  • Can become tedious if the game lasts too long
  • The rules are opaque at first, although they clear up after a round or two
  • Crowding hampers territory delineation
8.0 Very Good

I’ll try anything once, but my favorite games are generally middleweight Euros.

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