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Writer, EFL teacher, web developer, amateur chef, and gamer. When out of the classroom and offline, Jay is eating homemade tacos on his balcony while reading a rulebook. He enjoys his expat life in Taipei. 

#31 Nine Tiles Panic (2019)

#31 Nine Tiles Panic (2019)

Designers: Jean-Claude Pellin, Jens Merkl
Publisher: Oink Games
Published: 2019
Player Count: 2-5
Time: 20 minutes

Woah! Woah! Woah! Why did nobody tell me Nine Tiles Panic was Men in Black the board game! Aliens. Hamburgers. Hamburger-loving aliens. Agents in black suits running around with sci-fi ray guns. UFOs invading a small town. Random children aimlessly wandering a town currently being invaded by hamburger-loving aliens. Pugs. These are a few of my favorite things!

Nine Tiles Panic is a real-time tile placement game from Japanese publisher, Oink Games. Players do their best to as quickly as possible construct their 3x3 tiled cities in order to maximize their points according to the three objectives randomly drawn at the beginning of each round. Charming chaos in a tiny box? Or an tiny expensive box of cardboard you paid to be shipped across an ocean?


Components

If you're unfamiliar with Oink Games, the art direction for their games for the last few years has been stellar. Their bright, simplistic, evocative art designs perfectly mirror their gameplay: simple, fast, and fun. Nine Tiles Panic continues to uphold those high standards of excellence.

01 in the box.jpeg
02 the nine.jpeg
03 five towns.jpeg
04 score board.jpeg
05 sand timer.jpeg
06 order tokens.jpeg
07 26 objective cards.jpeg

The scoreboards were a bit too thin for my taste, but they're more than serviceable. I found the rulebook to be clear and concise. The alien player pieces (score counters) were bright and thick. The tiles were the right level of thickness. Not too thin. Not too thick. The art design of the 26 objective cards was a bit weird as they all look like business cards from the 90s. One side of my sand timer was 8 seconds faster than the other side; however, that really shouldn't affect gameplay.


10 setup center.jpeg

HOW TO PLAY

The teach of this game can take longer than a round of actual gameplay, so I'll do my best to teach you this game as efficiently as possible.

12 setup tile stack.jpeg

1. Players place their UFOs on the score track.

2. Draw three random objective cards and place them in the center of the table. Everyone goes over them together.

3. Each player stacks the nine tiles. (Cardboard East variant)

3, 2, 1... The aliens invade!

4. Players quickly arrange their nine tiles in a 3x3 square.

5. The first to finish takes the 1st order marker (labeled "1") and starts the sand timer.

6. After completing their city, each player takes the next lowest order marker.

13 build town.jpeg

7. If a player is unable to finish their city before the timer runs out or builds a city that doesn't make sense, they do not score any points this round.

8. Go over the three objectives, one at a time.

9. The player who scores the highest on an objective receives points equal to the number of players. Second place scores points equal to the number of players minus one. Each place receives one fewer point than the predecessor.

In a 4-player game, 1st place scores 4 points, 2nd place scores 3 points, 3rd place scores 2 points, and 4th place scores 1 point.

11 setup timer.jpeg

10. The player with the lower order marker wins ties.

11. In a 2/3/4/5/ player game, the end game is triggered when one player reaches or passes 10/15/20/25 points.

12. Calculate each player's points from the last round. The player with the highest score wins.

13. Wind down with a burger while watching Men in Black. Mmmmmmm… burgers…


30 closer.jpeg

FINAL THOUGHTS

Nine Tiles Panic is a re-release of the original 2015 Oink Games release, Nine Tiles. The original played somewhat similarly; however, it was more of a themeless abstract without a narrative to hold the mechanics together. This new release blows the original right out of the water. I would recommend selling your first edition and replacing it entirely with Nine Tiles Panic; I did.

21 score.jpeg

It's funny how much a theme can elevate a game. The "Men in Black" retheme of NTP adds a lot of charm to the gaming experience. While the original was more colorful in presentation, NTP's theme and its adorable art direction bring more variety to the objective cards, which adds more replayability to the game. Instead of having random tiles in a random order, you have narrative driven objectives, such as most roads, most aliens on one road, most agents capturing aliens, most roads with curves, etc. These simple and straightforward narratives help gamers remember the three objectives while they're building their cities. It's not something you might notice right away, but you begin to appreciate it through repeated plays. NTP also pushes the player count up to five.

There aren't enough exciting decisions during gameplay to make NTP the main event of game night, but its fast, kinetic nature allows it to fit snuggly between two heavier games, played during lunchtime, experienced at the end of the game night, or right before class. I've played this with my students (3rd to 6th grade), and they've all had a blast. Who doesn't love men in black chasing aliens chasing hamburgers?

28 tile city.jpeg

There are some concerns you may want to think about before purchasing NTP. In every playgroup, there's that one gamer who gets games. While it may not be possible to memorize all 15,600 optimal city layouts for all possible objective combinations, it is possible to memorize all 26 objectives-the vast majority of which require "the most" of a particular icon. Even during my playthroughs of the game, I have already begun to memorize specific patterns. For example, there are only four aliens on the road. (There are others, but I don't want to spoil it for you.) This alone gives me a slight advantage as I know how many and which tiles to build. "How big is slight, Jay?" I'm glad you asked. In a real-time game, where every second counts and speed determines tie-breakers, "slight" might as well be the Grand Canyon. It's a big enough difference to guarantee I never lose to my students. I'm petty enough to rub my victory in their faces, but deep down inside, I want to see their triumphant faces when they experience the confidence we all need to succeed.

27 advanced orders.jpeg

The chief complaint I have is the lack of variety in the objectives. There are 26 objectives; however, they're all "most" or "largest amount". Thankfully the ten starred objective cards do a lot to help alleviate this dilemma as they focus more on strategic placement of adjacent tiles, but I would have appreciated more variety. These advanced objective cards not only open up the game space and keep the game challenging for more experienced gamers but once again, increases the replay value of Nine Tiles Panic. Perhaps after 30 plays, you might find the challenge has begun to wane, but by then you've certainly gotten your money's worth.

I'm usually not the biggest fan of real-time games. Sand timers are notoriously inaccurate, and each half of the same sand timer could be off by as much as 30 seconds. It has happened. Surprisingly, Nine Tiles Panic bulldozed through all of my dislikes, charmed my pants off, and left a smile on my face. (That was an odd chain of metaphors there.) The new art direction and theme of the second edition successfully weave a straightforward narrative around the fast, frantic, and kinetic gameplay and keeps it all snuggled close together in one tight package. It's easy enough for kids to enjoy, but challenging enough for everybody to play.

I encourage all new game designers to play their way through the Oink Games line because they consistently demonstrate how a few carefully constructed game mechanisms can generate a ton of fun, which is why we all game in the first place.


20 final thoughts.jpeg

TL;DR

EXCELLENT! BGG rank 9.0

Men in Black the board game--complete with pug! Nine Tiles Panic is a frantic and fast real-time game that can be enjoyed by the whole family in 15 minutes. While it doesn't give players enough interesting decisions to make it the main course of game night, it's perfect as an appetizer or dessert. The 26 objective cards add more than enough replay value, and the theme keeps the charm in full gear. Heavy gamers might enjoy the micro-Galaxy Trucker feel to this game. One of the best Oink games and vastly superior to the original design.

#30 Psychic Pizza Deliverers go to the Ghost Town (2018)

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