NMBR 9 is a game all about those, what do you call ’em, Polyominoes, made to look vaguely like the numbers they represent. While the goal is to stack your tiles high to maximize your points, is this a game about architecture? Or is it math? Is this a Tetris adaptation? Or is it, in some way, about that legendary love potion? (There is, after all, a heart shape on the cover…)
And perhaps, most importantly, where did all the vowels go?
Read on to find out. (Except for the vowel thing. I got nothing for you there.)
How It Plays
NMBR 9 is all about stacking tiles as high as possible to maximize your points, and it’s not as easy as you might think. Here’s how it works.
From a single deck of cards holding 2 copies of each of the numbers 0 – 9, a card is flipped over. Everyone takes the tile represented on the card and adds it to their own personal stack of tiles, with just a few restrictions.
First, tiles must align with each other based on the square grid printed on every tile. You can rotate your tiles, but you can’t flip them over.
Second, except for the first tile on each level, any tile you place must touch at least one other tile on the same level. Corner-to-corner doesn’t count as touching – at least one square of the grid on each tile must share a side.
Third, in order to place a tile on a higher level, there can be no overhangs (or even fully-contained gaps beneath the tile), and the tile must overlap at least two below it.
You can place anywhere you like – it doesn’t have to touch the last tile placed, for example, and you can always go back down to a lower level even after you’ve started something higher.
Each tile represents a number, between 0 and 9, and this is the point value of the tile. To calculate your total score, you multiply the tile’s point value by the level it’s on. So a 9 on level 2 is worth 18 points, but an 8 on level 3 is worth 24 points. Also, there’s a pretty big catch: the levels start at 0, not 1. That means every tile on the first level is worth 0 points, the second level is level 1, and so forth.
As a group you go through all 20 cards, and then calculate your points. Whoever has the most, wins!
Take It To the Next Level
The thing that really makes NMBR 9 so entertaining isn’t really captured in the rules, but in the shape of the pieces, which you can hopefully get a sense of with the photos in this review.
See, nothing is shaped nicely, nothing quite fits where you want to fit, and you can never rely on any particular piece coming up when you need it to fill a gap in the ideal way.
The tagline of the game is “Take it to the Next Level” but I often joke that what it should be is something like All My Plans Have Gone Awry or Gosh I Wish I Could Flip This Piece Upside Down or I though I could fit this piece here but I can’t.
It’s an exercise in beautiful frustration. I often compare the game to Tetris when describing the game to interested peers, because you have the familiarity of stacking pieces built out of squares into rectangular shapes, but I also have to clarify that this is nothing like Tetris. You can’t build these beautiful gaps where a certain piece will just fit, or at least you can’t rely on that because getting that piece at the end of the game is just not as helpful as getting it right away. I once lost a game masterfully by deciding to risk everything on the 1 coming out soon, or at least before the 9. Alas, in the last 3 cards the 9 game, the 2 came, and the 1 came last and I couldn’t stack anything on the massive platform I just created.
This game actually works well for people who are good at visual/spatial puzzles and those who are not, because nothing is predictable. I watch people play, and the people who are good at this sort of thing try to plan ahead and look what might come and build accordingly, only to realize three or four cards down that nothing goes according to plan and you can only play the piece you have now, not the piece you hope for.
People less good at this sort of puzzle tend to just throw pieces in where it seems like they fit okay, and as it turns out that’s a pretty good way to play the game. You may feel like you’re doing just horrible, especially the first time you play, but then the scores come out and you’re not as far behind as you thought – sometimes you’re even winning. I consider myself very good at this type of puzzle, and I’ve scored 90+ points and 42 points in two games played in a row. At the same time, it’s not a completely random outcome. Everyone has the same tiles to work with in the same order, and while you’re guessing, to a degree, what might come out in the near future, it’s still completely under your control how you put the pieces together.
It helps a lot that this is a colorful, visually interesting game to look at. Even if you’re doing poorly, it’s still pretty fun to try and put these pieces together and see what you end up with. Everyone has their own unique mountain of color.
The game only lasts about 20 minutes. (It can take longer if someone is working too hard on that planning thing but usually people grow out of that quickly). I’m not sure I’ve pulled the game out a single time and not have the entire group asking to try it again. It’s so simple and quick, and you feel like you’ve learned something about how to play every time you play.
If I had one complaint about the game, it’s that it is entirely possible to watch what another player is doing and copy them exactly. Most people don’t try to do this, and it’s not a particularly engaging way to play if you’re the copycat, but I could see someone less enthusiastic about playing games just deciding to copy the person they think will do the best rather than get into the game themselves. Anyway, that’s a player problem, not really a game problem.
An interesting feature of this game is that, technically, an infinite number of players can play together in the same game – as long as you have the pieces. A box supports up to 4 players, but if you buy a second box you can fit up to 8 without adding time to the game. I imagine that at a certain point it would be a little ridiculous to try and include, say, 15+ people, but this is fairly fun to play with a lot of people and see what people manage to do with their numbers.
I can pretty much recommend this game to anyone. It’s great for families with a wide range of skills and ages – the rules are simple enough even for younger kids to try and compete. It’s a good closer for a game night with your hobbyist friends – and in fact, this game has ended almost every single one of my game nights since I started playing it. It’s not the greatest game in the universe, it doesn’t have the deepest strategy, but it is just plain and simple, enjoyable to play.
And no, I don’t know where all the vowels went.
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Asmodee North America for providing a review copy of NMBR9.