I can’t say the name of this board game without thinking about Fatman Scoop, drop the plant, Fatman Scoop, drop the plant, Fatman Scoop, drop the plant, give it up give it up give it up. Always a laugh whenever radio stations go overboard cleaning up profane songs. Anyway, engine, engine NMBR 9 is a 1-4 player spatial puzzle game designed by Peter Wichmann and published by Z-man Games.
How to Play
This board game contains a deck of 18 cards, numbered 0-9 and repeated twice. For each card, there is a corresponding cardboard tetromino that matches both number and colour.
To play NMBR 9, first shuffle the deck of cards, and then draw a card from the top. Give every player the cardboard version of what’s shown on the card. Players take these cut-outs and create a numerical Mr Potatohead, by placing them together in anyway they’ll fit. After every player is ready, the next card is drawn, and the previous piece can no longer be touched – even if it sends you a message at 11pm saying that its parents are out of town.
Turns continue like this until the deck runs out and the game ends. When this happens, the player with the most points is the winner.
But wait, how do you get points?
Therein lies the rub. Once you’ve placed enough of these Tetris blocks together, you’ll be able to put other numbers on top of them as long as they follow these two simple yet very annoying rules: a piece must not be overhanging other pieces, and a piece must be on overlap two or more pieces on the level below.
At the end of the game, these raised pieces are the only ones worth a damn. As points are scored by multiplying the level which the number is on, by the number itself. With the bottom layer of your patchwork puzzle having a multiplier of zero. Therefore, a nine on the second layer is worth nine points, however, if it’s on the third layer that’s 18 points, then if it’s on the fourth layer, you do the maths. Literally.
NMBR 9 is a very interesting puzzle, where the ground beneath your feet constantly shifts with each card drawn. On top of the obvious spatial awareness aspect, you also need to consider the cards being drawn, and then deduce which cards are going to be next – with the aim of getting your higher scoring tetrominos on the highest level possible. For instance, if the two nines are drawn early, it means that you’ll be wanting to get your eights to the top row. However, if it’s mid-way through the game, and a nine hasn’t shown its pretty little face yet, well you better start making space on that top row because it’s about to start raining points.
This puzzling is great because it subtly streamlines the mechanics of push your luck, and deduction, allowing you to fall into a sea of calculations and probability while doing your best to make a pretty picture. It bends your mind like the buildings in Inception, and by the end of the game you’ll be mentally exhausted. At least I was. For me, this is one of the most exciting experiences within board gaming – new mechanics forcing you to think in fresh and interesting ways.
The lack of player interaction – which we’ll talk about later – is made up for by the fact that this board game has a strong single player experience. So much so, that it is my preferred way to play. However, when forced to interact with other humans on this mortal plane, NMBR 9 is dead easy to introduce and teach. Its novel gameplay makes a strong selling point when buying the game, but also for getting the kids off the couch.
If that wasn’t enough, NMBR 9 looks fantastic. Who knew emulating the same graphic design as the best-selling video game of all time would be so well received? Sarcasm aside, the look translated incredibly well to the table, and created a lot of nostalgia for myself and other players.
Where NMBR 9 falls flat is that the game doesn’t evolve throughout its duration. I often talk about short, medium, and long-term objectives, and how compelling and emergent gameplay occurs when these objectives change throughout the game. In NMBR 9, the objectives are to build a base, and then build on top of this base to score points. This doesn’t change. Making the game strategically uninteresting to think about when not playing. Why does that matter? Because when it comes to a collection of board games it’s the ones that make you think about them, that you’ll play. If you don’t think about them, or they are uninteresting to think about, the likelihood of you taking it down for game night are slim to none.
Usually, board games are called out for having zero interaction, even though the interaction is abstracted through worker placement mechanics or card drafting. A moment of silence for those poor Eurogames. In the case of NMBR 9, there is no hyperbole, this game has zero player interaction. This game is a puzzle, and whether you play it by yourself, or a room full of people, how the game plays out, and how you interact with the game doesn’t change. The only difference is when playing with others, you compare points at the end. There’s no added stress, there’s no meanness, nothing; it’s the perfect game to play in Neutropolis.
Because of the decoupled nature of the game, playing with others makes the game less fun. This is due to the pace of the game being dictated by the slowest member of the table, with you either wanting them to speed up so that you can work on the next piece, or if it’s you, you want others to slow down and let you think.
Another issue is that there is nothing in the rules stopping you from looking at another player’s creation – and then follow it exactly. The only thing stopping you from doing this is a code of ethics and the belief you’ll be put on Santa’s naughty list. It’s kind of crazy this design flaw was overlooked, and kind of funny they released a small expansion, which I’ve lovingly named the We Messed Up expansion, to fix the issue – at the consumers cost of course.
Speaking of cost, while it’s something I don’t really talk about in my reviews, the component value of NMBR 9 seems off. In Australia at least. It’s a forty-five dollar game but has the same amount and quality of components of a game half that price. Whether the rarity of the game, or there is some other factor driving up that price I’m not sure, but looking at the components I can’t help but feel I’ve been little hard done by.
Scrolling through this review you might look at the different sections and think The Bad section is so large that this must be a bad board game. This isn’t true, this is a good game, with an awesome mechanic and gorgeous graphic design. However, like a lot of games that introduce new mechanics NMBR 9 feels as though it was underdeveloped but full of potential to grow. I look forward to whenever they decide to release the next iteration of this game – NMBR 10. Until then though, I’ve enjoyed my plays of NMBR 9, and think that there will be a lot of people who will enjoy it more than myself. It is a solid board game and for that, gets my recommendation.
Between this and Barenpark I’m still on the hunt for a spatial awareness game to kick me in the nads and say ‘I’m a Critical Hit!’ Or maybe I’m forever doomed to longing for that game. What do you think?