Code of Nine
- Designer: BakaFire
- Publisher: Z-Man Games
- Players: 3-4
- Ages: 13+
- Time: ~45 minutes
- Times played: 2, with review copy provided by Z-Man Games
Code of Nine is yet another game from Japan that has been cleaned up and reprinted by Z-Man Games. For years now, Zev (and now Sophie) have been targeting some of the best games from Japan and getting them to the English-speaking market. I’ll admit that not every one has been a hit, but most of them have been, and going to these reprints is a pretty good way to get a feel for the Japanese market. Last year, Z-Man printed Tragedy Looper, another design by BakaFire which was a fairly polarizing game. Most of the gamers that I’ve talked to either seem to love it or not care for it – but almost all of them have said that Tragedy Looper is unique in its mechanic and style.
Code of Nine is another game from the same designer –previously released as OWACON (at Spiel 2014) – but I did not get a chance to try it then. Between a small supply from Japon Brand as well as some delay on my part (as I was not sure about the game from trying to read thru the original rules translation), I did not get a copy of the game. Now it’s time to see what I missed!
The story is a bit cryptic – even in Japanglish: “You are one of 4 automatons that have woken after a hundred years of slumber. What you see is a world in ruin, with no human left alive. However, in your hearts, you still have the wish and will of mankind, a hundred years past. But time has taken its toll, and in each of you only fragments of that will are left – you find yourself with no choice but to follow the shadows that linger inside of you, and to fulfill this will before any of the other automatons.”
Translated into Pragmatic Gamer English – “Players are each dealt 2 memory cards, each with a scoring criteria on it. Over the course of 5 rounds, they do stuff, possibly collecting things or possibly looking at some of these facedown cards. At the end of the game, all 8 memory cards are active, and players score for each of them. Whomever has the most points wins.”
In slightly more detail… to set up the game, you choose the side of the board matching the game you are playing (Normal or Expert) and then place all the pieces on it. Statues, Coins and Books go in the middle. Special pieces called the Legacies are placed on the outside of the Round 2 area on the board. The deck of Memory cards is shuffled (only cards 1-17 for the Normal game, all 28 for the Expert game), and 2 are dealt to each player.
Players also receive a board which they mark their Will (the currency in the game). After examining their two cards, they choose which one to place on their Shoal area (easier to see) and which to place on their Abyss area (harder to see). Players can always look at their own cards, but they may never swap their positions. Other players will have to use actions to look at the hidden cards of their opponents. Players also are given a cheat sheet with the names/actions of all the cards so that they can try to deduce what cards may be in play.
Each player also gets the three pawns in their color. During this setup round, if players wish to discard one or both of their Memory cards, they may do so at the cost of one of their pawns. They are then dealt new cards from the deck, and they must accept them. They will then only have 2 pawns to use in the first round.
The game is played over 5 rounds, and in each round, players will use each of their pawns once. Thus, in only 15 actions, they must not only figure out what the winning requirements are but also achieve those requirements. The board is kind of a fractured circle. Each segment of the circle is designated for a particular round in the game. On a player’s turn, the player may place his pawn on any available action space – that is a space designated for the current round OR any earlier round. Only one pawn can occupy most actions. Additionally, some actions can only be performed if you expend some of your Will. If you do not have enough Will, you may not take that action.
Though there are many possible different actions, let me briefly summarize the possibilities:
- Collect stuff (books, coins, statues, Will)
- Look at a players Shoal Card or Abyss card
- Gain one of the Legacies
- Take a thing from another player
- There are also a few attacking actions and some that protect you from attacks
The game continues through 5 rounds – unless the special condition is met – there is a location which has 2 spaces on it; if at the end of a round, both spaces are occupied by the two players who each hold a Legacy token, then the Legacy tokens are released and the game ends at that point. (Note that this could still happen at the end of the 5th round).
Once the game ends, then all 8 cards are revealed and everyone scores. Many of the objects in the game have a base VP value (i.e. coins are worth 0 VP, Books and Statues are worth 1VP, and each of the Legacies is worth 3VP). However, these values could be modified by the scoring cards in play. Examples of the scoring cards are:
- All coins are worth 1VP
- All coins are worth NEGATIVE 1VP
- All books gain 2 VP
- All players with exactly 2 books lose 10VP
- Both players who released the Legacies gain 10VP.
- All players who have at least 6 more things than the players with the least cannot win the game.
- If there is one player with the least coins, he cannot win the game.
Each of the memory cards has a different rule on it. Some may conflict with others. Some of them (mostly in the Expert set) can even be invalidated if a different rule card is in play. Luckily, the game comes with a scoring sheet that helps you with the order in which to apply the cards as well as a grid to tabulate points. At the end of the game, the player with the highest VP total that is not prevented from winning is the winner!
My thoughts on the game
Wow – there is a lot going on in this quick game. I should start by saying that I have always been attracted to games that present you with a fixed but small number of actions. The first one that I can remember like this is Princes of Florence. I really like knowing how many actions I’ll get and that I need to maximize each one. Code of Nine places a pretty high premium on getting things done each turn as you only have 15 actions to figure stuff out.
There really aren’t that many locations to do things in. In fact, in the 4 player game, you’ll use up all the spots in each of the first two rounds. This was perhaps one of the things I wasn’t thrilled about – I didn’t like the fact that the last person in turn order was left without any choice in his/her action. In our first game, this actually happened to the same player twice. From Round 3 and onward though, there are enough spaces on the board to pick all the way through. (That being said, the guy who had no choice at the ends of rounds 1+2 ended up winning – so I am a bit afraid to know how bad he would have beaten us with 15 choices instead of only 13….)
As I stated above, the big challenge is trying to both figure out what you need to score points while best collecting those things… With the somewhat limited number of spaces to do anything – you will never get to do all the things that you want. You’ll have to make some tough choices about trying to look at other people’s cards or just hoping to get lucky with them and collect all the things that you can.
In each round, there are at most 3 ways to look at someone’s Shoal card, and there is only one location to look at an Abyss card, and this is not available until Round 3 – so it will only be chosen at most 3 times in the game. This shortage of investigation spots forces players to make some decisions based on their observational skills. As there are neither many spaces on the board to collect things nor many actions in a game to do things, your opponents are not really going to be able to disguise their intentions. Thus, if you see someone collecting a lot of coins, you might be able to surmise that they know that either coins will be worth a lot or there is a bonus for the player with the most coins. Likewise, if you see an opponent put one of the rare books back (so that they no longer have two) – you might infer that the card which gives you negative 10 VP for having exactly 2 books might be in play.
If you trust your observation and intuition, you might be able to save a couple of actions and not look at other player’s cards – though you will not know for sure until the cards are flipped up. I like the way that most of the scoring items have both positive and negative cards for them – thus, unless you’ve seen all the cards, you’ll never be 100% sure that your strategy is sound. Further, the possibility of cards that prevent you from winning if you have the most stuff or if you set the Legacies free also prevents you from ever feeling absolutely certain of your fate.
The game moves really fast. Many of the actions in our game were quickly made as we each already had our strategies in mind – on many turns, as long as no one had taken our chosen action, we already knew what we were doing as soon as it was time to decide. Now admittedly, we’re only playing the Basic game at this point. The Expert side of the board as a few more complicated locations – it also uses the Expert cards which are also a bit more convoluted. Some of the Expert cards even have complicated rules on them but can be completely invalidated if another different card is also in play. I can guess that it would take a bit longer to figure out what exactly I wanted to do with these cards.
The components are well done. The cardboard chits are nice and thick – though I do wish that the three main items (books, coins and statues) had a uniform shape, perhaps all circular. This is because there is an icon which refers to these three things collectively – it is a grey circle with a black X in the middle. However, it does not refer to the other cardboard chits in the game (the Legacies and the Medal). It would have been less confusing to have all the things considered together to either share a background color or share a shape so that the icon would be more intuitive. This is honestly a minor quibble, but one that bothered me throughout my first two games as I had to constantly remind people of the distinction in meaning of the icon.
Scoring seemed like it would be confusing – but if you follow the rubric on the included scoring sheet, it’s actually quite easy. There are 8 different categories of scoring cards, and you simply go down the list of them to figure out what the scores are. I think it’s hard to know what a good score will really be because you don’t even know the full scoring potential until you see all the cards. This makes it all the more difficult to know if you are doing well in the course of the game. In some games, 20 points might be enough to win. Heck, with many of the negative scoring cards in play, a winning score might even be 10! That being said, some of the expert cards give you as much as 50VP for a single card!
This is turning out to be my favorite BakaFire game, and that is saying a lot because I was fairly enamored with Tragedy Looper. The combination of meaty game with a short to medium playing time really suits me. I still have much to explore in the game, and I will probably revisit the review once I have a few games of the Expert board and cards in play.
Thoughts from the Other Opinionated Gamers
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
I love it!
I like it. Dale Y (only played Basic so far), Eric M, Craig V
Neutral. Karen M.
Not for me…