If 1 is the loneliest number, what does that make number 9? Nine times lonelier? I’ll leave the answer to that question to people much wiser than me. It’s only relevant (not really) because today we are reviewing the abstract strategy game NMBR 9 from Z-Man Games.
NMBR 9 is a Tile Laying game for 1-4 players that takes about 20 minutes to play. NMBR 9 plays well at any player count.
In NMBR 9, players are trying to earn the most points by stacking different numbers. The game comes with twenty cards numbered 0-9 (twice) and enough tiles for 4 players.
Each round, the top number card is drawn and each player collects the matching number from the tray, placing it on the table. After the first round, each newly placed number must touch a previously played number. Players can also build up to higher levels, as long as it is fully supported by at least two numbers below it.
Once all the cards have been drawn, scores are calculated. Tiles on the table level are worth zero. Each number above the first level scores its value multiplied by the level it’s on (with level 0 being the numbers on the table). Most points wins.
As you can see, learning to play NMBR 9 is incredibly easy. This game is very accessible and takes almost no time at all to teach. In fact, there is no setup either, other than shuffling the deck. The game also comes with a fantastic insert that houses each number in sets, so players can just grab the number out of the tray when the matching card comes up.
NMBR 9 almost feels like a puzzle that needs to be solved. You know all the numbers that will be appearing in the game, and their odd shapes, you just don’t know the order they will arrive. What’s really interesting about the game is how differently each player makes their stack. The first few numbers will probably be in similar placement, but once the game gets going, all bets are off. I’ve seen some players try to get numbers up into the scoring levels right away, while others are content to build a large base on level zero first.
To go with its puzzly nature, I’ve found that in NMBR 9 there is absolutely zero player interaction. One player can be happily building their own stack and the rest of the players could literally be in another city and it wouldn’t matter. Is that a problem? It wasn’t for me, but it also means that NMBR 9 isn’t a very exciting game. Players will quietly figure out their stacks by themselves, only to group back up during scoring.
On the plus side, there is literally no cap to the player count if you buy enough copies of the game. You could get 10 copies of NMBR 9 and play with 40 people and the game would take just as long (assuming no AP issues). I could see this being a great game for schools or other large groups.
Finally, one area where I think NMBR 9 could be improved would be the early game. It is theoretically possible to just copy another player’s tile placement, essentially forcing a tile. Of course, while the optimal solution is just to not play with those types of people, some variable starting tiles would have been nice. Apparently I’m not the only one to think that, as there is a promo expansion that does just that. I just wish that would have been made part of the base game to help add to the variety between players early on.
While NMBR 9 isn’t going to be bringing down the house with excitement, it is a great little puzzle game that works well as a filler game. Despite the minimal rules and components, I had a great time trying to best figure out how to fit these odd shapes. The order the numbers comes up definitely matters and will alter your strategy slightly. I do think that the game could use a bit more variety, so perhaps we will see that in a future expansion.
While there isn’t any player interaction, NMBR 9 is tailor made for those who want to sit down, focus on a problem, and come up with as solution. There are many ways to approach NMBR 9 and it can be quite enjoyably to those who like thinky games.
Final Score: 3.5 Stars – A solid filler game that’s easy to teach and almost feels like a puzzle at times.
• Highly accessible
• Can be scaled up indefinitely with enough copies
• Zero setup time
• Zero player interaction
• Variable setups would be much appreciated