Reviewed by Joe Huber
NMBR9 (Abacusspiele, 1 to 4 players, ages 8 and up, 15-20 minutes; about €20)
A lot of games are called multiplayer solitaire, particularly by those who prefer to see direct interaction, but few games really deserve the label. For example, while Race for the Galaxy is often named as an example, there is a lot of interaction in the game – it’s simply more indirect, through the choices of actions, than direct. However, a few games really do qualify; perhaps the most famous of these is Take It Easy, Peter Burley’s classic game which I’ve seen played by more than 100 players simultaneously. In fact, that’s a good test – if, given enough components, a game _can_ be played by 100 players simultaneously, it’s either multiplayer solitaire or some type of contest (such as a game show or Ricochet Robots) where the goal is to have the most right answers or be fastest with the best solution. One excellent recent example in the genre is Nmr9, a 2017 release designed by Peter Wichmann currently only available in Germany to the best of my knowledge.
The concept of the game is simple – players place each number from zero through nine twice in a randomly determined order. The numbers each take up a portion of a 3 x 4 grid, filling between 5 and 10 of the spaces on the grid. The first piece is placed in front of the player to start their base layer. Later, pieces may be stacked on top of other pieces, provided they both are fully supported – no space on the number being placed may be above an empty space – and cover up portions of at least two different tiles on the previous layer. Each subsequent piece placed on an existing layer must also touch at least one other piece on that layer. Players continue placing pieces until all twenty have been placed. Then scoring occurs.
Pieces on the base layer score nothing. Pieces one layer up from the base layer score their number times one. Pieces two layers up from the base layer score their number times two, and so on.
I’m generally well inclined to multiplayer solitaire games, being a fan of Take It Easy, Neos, and Karuba, among others. And the concept of stacking numbers is a clever one. Also, key to a successful multiplayer solitaire game, Nmbr9 is not often subject to ties, as players naturally diverge in their stacks. In addition, as with Take It Easy, there are easier and harder orderings; what may be a poor score in one game may be sufficient to win the next one. This helps keep players looking for needed scoring chances, while avoiding discouraging new players. Of course, the simplicity of the rules also helps to draw new players in – there’s never a need to say “we’re already partway through the rules” if you have a late arrival. And new players definitely stand a fighting chance – experienced players may have some advantage in having seen more clever possibilities, but I’ve seen players new to the game win a number of times. The advantage of good fortune will outweigh experience frequently enough to make this a better game for those looking for a lighter diversion than for those wanting a deep experience. The game is also quite short, finishing in around 15 minutes, another advantage for drawing in new players.
The production of the game is fair; the tolerance of the pieces isn’t perfect so some pieces fit together easily while others require some force. The insert does a nice job of holding the pieces but the wells are only half as deep as the box; the game could either fit in a thinner box – or include components to allow for up to eight players. At a retail price of 20 Euros, the game is still fairly reasonably priced, enough so that I decided to put together two copies in one box with the components bagged. I do hope someday to try a four player game using each number four times just to see how that works.
Those who want interaction in their games can safely avoid Nmbr9; it doesn’t bring anything to the multiplayer solitaire genre that will convince those who aren’t already fans to convert. For everyone else, it’s different enough to be a fun diversion. I do suspect, though, that only those who really value multiplayer solitaire games will keep coming back to it; it’s not the type of game that seems to keep drawing casual players back.
For me, however, it’s a keeper, not a great game, perhaps, or even the best example of the genre, but a game that I have little doubt I’ll continue to enjoy for years. Somehow, the game has convinced some critics that it was the most likely Spiel des Jahres nominee but even before hearing about the reviews from a couple of jury members, I wasn’t buying it. It’s a passing fancy but one that for most is sufficiently enjoyable as it comes and goes as to provide good value. – – – – – Joe Huber
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