Take a deep dive into the world of NMBR 9, a simple yet challenging puzzle and abstract game from Z-Man Games. All players build up a structure using numbers 0-9 and the one with the best structure wins.
Designer: Peter Wichmann
Artist: Fiore GmbH
Publisher: Z-Man Games
Play Time: 15-20 Minutes
Number of Logged Plays: 7
In NMBR 9 players construct a multi-level structure using number tiles that range from 0-9. Every tile in the structure above the first layer will score players points based on the level it’s at. The twist is that you’ll be building your structure one number tile at a time randomly determined from a deck of cards. Everyone builds up their structure using the same numbers so you’ll have to think about the best way to lay the tiles out to get the most amount of points.
In NMBR 9, players will start by shuffling the 20 card deck that will determine what number tile to place in their structure for the round. When a card is drawn, each player will take the corresponding number tile and add it to their play area. There are only three restrictions on the tile placement:
- The number side of the tile must be face up
- When placing tiles on the same level, the tiles must be adjacent and touching
- When placing a tile on the first level or higher, it must touch at least two tiles below it. There also cannot be any gaps or open spots below it.
Once everyone has chosen a spot for their tile, the round will end. The next round will start with the top card of the number deck being drawn and will repeat until all 20 cards are drawn.
At the end of the game, players will score points for tiles that are above the ground level. Each level will be multiplied by the number tile on that level (i.e., number 9 on level 1 is worth 9 points, number 4 on level 2 is worth 8). The number tiles on the ground level will be multiplied by zero, the first floor will be multiplied by one, the second floor will be multiplied by two, and will continue that way for every level. Basically, it’s number multiplied by the level. The player with the most points at the end of the game is the winner.
We first saw NMBR 9 at Gen Con and bought it on a whim because it looked like a board game version of Tetris. Turns out, it’s pretty different from Tetris aside from the brightly colored grids on the numbers. The game is very easy to teach and plays quickly, which has made it our go to filler game and the starting course for our board game nights.
It’s All in the Numbers
The first thing that surprised me about the game is the wide variety of layouts that people make. I had thought with everyone’s boards in plain sight, there’d be more uniformity in the structures. The first couple moves are usually pretty similar, but at about the fifth title, the designs start to branch off as players take risks building their next levels or continue laying down a solid foundation for the higher numbers to be placed.
The big puzzle in this game is figuring out when to start building up your structure. If you spend too much time on your base waiting for those higher numbers, it can really hurt your score in the end because you won’t get to the upper levels using only high numbers. If you start building vertically too quickly, you could miss out on placing the higher-numbered tiles on levels that score points and be stuck placing them on the base level for no points. It just felt like there were a lot of options and combinations that I wanted to explore that had me coming back for more.
How High Can You Go?
It’s pretty difficult to get a solid foundation to rise up to a higher level in this game because of the way the numbers are shaped and the random draw of the deck. You feel pretty accomplished when you hit a level you’ve never gotten to before and it could largely be because of the order the numbers were drawn. This kind of randomness adds a lot to the replayability to the game, but also prevents any long-term planning.
With only two cards for every number in the deck, you can have a pretty reasonable guess at what number may come up next as it gets later into the game, but by then, the skeleton of your structure will probably be in place. You’ll have to go with the flow and lay things out in a way that allows for any number of pieces to fill in the gaps.
We found out about three games in that the same numbers fit together pretty well especially the 3’s. Before we discovered that, we dreaded getting the same numbers two times in a row. These kind of small patterns and combos are fun to discover and encourage you to try different things every game. It gives an interesting challenge that most of our other games don’t provide.
NMBR 9 is a perfect game for starting out a game night because it’s quick to play, easy to teach, and can be set up in a couple of seconds. One thing we’ve considered doing is buying a second copy of the game to double the number of players the game can play for bigger game nights we host. The fact that everyone is simultaneously placing their tiles at the same time ensures there is very little downtime and keeps everyone engaged.
If you’re looking for player interaction, I would probably look elsewhere because this game has none. Your layout is your own and there’s nothing you can do to affect other players. As long as you don’t mind that there’s no player interaction and you enjoy puzzle games, I would recommend you give NMBR 9 a try.
In the world of puzzle games, it’s tough to find a game that is unique. With NMBR 9, the game manages to be unique, challenging, and easy to learn all in one fell swoop, making this a great pick up game to start off a game night.
Nine is the Most Versatile Number
We’ve played this game many times and taught it to many people. What I like most about NMBR 9 is its versatility. It works great to kick off a night of heavy, intense strategy games or as just a quick game to play before dinner with family. The game is so easy to learn that anyone can really grasp the concept rather quickly. What makes it challenging is the puzzle of putting the numbers together in such a way that you gain the most points.
The only element of the game that sometimes trips people up and can take a bit of a learning curve (although not much) is the scoring method. The first level of your structure does not score any points, which was initially hard for some players to understand. I began to explain it to players by saying it was “Level 0,” so it’s worth 0 points. The next is “Level 1,” and all tiles are multiplied by 1. And so on. That seemed to help people understand it better.
Life’s a Puzzle
Spatial reasoning is not my strength at all. I’m one of those people who when playing Tetris, people watch and tell me what a terrible move I just made. Being bad at spatial reasoning, it’s taken me quite a few plays to actually win at this game. And even then, I’ve only won maybe once or twice. That being said, I keep coming back for more with this game because it’s so easy and fun to play.
What I also like about it is that everyone plays simultaneously so you have no need to wait for other players to take their turns (unless they really struggle with placing a number). There are sometimes where you feel limited by the game because there are only so many ways you can place the number tiles together. But I’ve been surprised at how differently each player thinks about placing the tiles together so it hasn’t been a huge problem for us.
In general, NMBR 9 really delivers on an abstract, puzzle game experience. It provides players at any level of skill a challenging yet fun game to play in a fairly short time span.
While I am typically more drawn to games with a strong theme, this game’s lack of an overall theme doesn’t bother me much. It accomplishes what it wants to, which is to provide a great puzzle experience. I can’t ask for much more than that of such a simple game. Overall, this is a great game to play with families or to kick off a game night.
Pros and Cons
– Plays quick and is easy to learn
– Excellent puzzle game with spatial reasoning challenges
– Box insert makes for easy setup
– High-quality components
– Simple and challenging game
– Great for all types of players
– Scoring can be difficult to grasp initially
– No theme to the game
– No player interaction
– Tiles can shift easily as they’re stacked
He gives this game out of 8 Levels out of 10.
She gives this game 7 Number Tiles out of 10.