Nine Tiles Panic (Game Review by Brandon Kempf)

  • Designers: Jens Merkl & Jean-Claude Pellin
  • Artists: N/A
  • Publisher: Oink Games
  • Players: 2-5
  • Time: 20 Minutes
  • Times Played: 3 

“Those are just aliens wearing an Edgar suit” 

Oink Games has been rather hit and miss with me. I’ve loved my handful of plays of Deep Sea Adventure and the super fun version of Modern Art, but not really all that excited by anything else that I have played. With our recent love of the game Mesozooic I jumped when I saw Nine Tiles Panic, which is another real time puzzle game, albeit a bit different.

In Nine Tiles Panic, players are racing to put together nine tiles in ways that will best score the most points based on that round’s revealed theme cards. These double-sided tiles have various roads on them, some agents, some citizens, a house, a UFO, dogs, hamburgers, or maybe even an alien. How you situate these things on the tiles and how they interact with each other in comparison to those theme cards is how you are going to score points. A game of Nine Tiles Panic ends when someone reaches the point threshold dictated by the number of people playing the game. 

Each player has nine tiles, and each set of nine is identical with the exception of the color of the roads on them. Place the well-shuffled deck of theme cards off to the side and place out order markers equal to the number of players, starting with the one. Each player will place their player piece of their color onto the score track at zero points. Don’t forget the hourglass timer, this is a real-time game, after all. 

Before starting the first round, reveal three of the theme cards. These are the ways that players will score points this round. There are twenty-six of them in the box, so the variability is here — you won’t be building the same puzzle each and every round. Theme cards will have goals on them, like having the most adjacent tiles without aliens, or having the city with the most houses. After everyone has had a chance to look at, and understand, the theme cards, players start building their towns with their tiles, trying  to best match those themes. 

Tile placement rules are pretty basic. You can move, flip and arrange tiles and face them however you need to, but in order to build a complete town, there are three conditions to be met. Your town must be a three-by-three map, the roads must be connected with adjacent tiles (no dead ends here) and those roads must lead out of town.

When someone completes their town, they will take the first available order marker, i.e. the lowest numbered one available. If they are the first to complete, they also will turn over the hourglass — now everyone else is on the clock. The hourglass is approximately ninety-seven seconds, at least mine is. As other players complete their towns, they will take the lowest order marker available. If they take a marker and they haven’t completed their town, their town will not be able to score points for them this round. If the first player takes that marker and theirs is not complete, they will not score points, but everyone else is still on the clock to finish. After everyone finishes completing their town, or the hourglass runs out, it’s time to see just how well the everyone did. 

For each theme card, compare how well, or poorly, the players did. Once again, if your town did not follow the three rules of a complete city, you do not score any points for that town. The person who did the best for each card will score as many points as there are players in the game, from second place down they will score one less point. So in a four player game, the player who did the best on the card would score four points, and the player who did next best would score three points. Tie breakers are the order markers, whomever has the lower order marker breaks the tie. If no one has passed the point threshold to win the game, discard the three theme cards, place back the order tokens in the middle of the table, and do it again with three new theme cards until someone passes that threshold and the player with the most points after that round, wins Nine Tiles Panic.

First thing, if you aren’t singing the Men in Black theme, at least in your head, while playing it, you may be missing some of the humor here. Nine Tiles Panic is clearly a riff on the alien movies of our childhood. I mean come on, burger eating aliens trying to steal all our good burgers? It’s lighthearted and it never feels too serious, and that’s a good thing for this style of game. It’s a puzzle, and at times a fairly “thinky” puzzle, but it never feels overbearing. 

Everyone holding the same tiles, and those tiles being the same from game to game, can lead to players knowing what to play and where a lot more than new players to the game. While the theme cards will change the scoring, played enough you could in theory know exactly how to place your tiles even before you start. I doubt I’ll ever get to that point, but it is a distinct possibility that someone could. For this reason, I prefer the less static Mesozooic to Nine Tiles Panic. They aren’t the same games, but being puzzle games where you are moving tiles — or cards — around to best score points is a main mechanism they share. 

Nine Tiles Panic is a re-design of an older Oink title, Nine Tiles. I did not have the pleasure of playing the original,. Maybe one of the other OG’ers can chime in with more personal experience, but the main difference here seems to be theme and fewer goals to achieve per round. Plus, it seems that you are supposed to place tiles out one at a time, meaning less flexibility. Nine Tiles Panic is a definite improvement on that system. 

Components wise, Oink Games always produces quality games in a smaller, more compact box. Nine Tiles Panic is no different. Although I did see a different, larger box floating around in Gen Con photos, my Japanese version is in the smaller box normally associated with Oink Games. The tiles are a great size and don’t take up too much space on the table, which makes Nine Tiles Panic a good game to take with you to play out and about. Some of the theme cards are a bit difficult to read due to the amount of small text on them explaining them, but if you pass them around for everyone to read, there shouldn’t be an issue. 

All in all, Nine Tiles Panic is a fun puzzle game that plays in a short amount of time and fills that time with thoughtful play, and a lighthearted theme. Do I prefer other games in this genre? Yes, I do, but not everyone will be a fan of the sliding puzzle, drafting style of Mesozooic. Those that prefer more control in a game, they will get that with Nine Tiles Panic. This seems to be a more expensive game in the Oink Games line. It’s more in line price wise to what you would pay for Oink Games’ Modern Art, than with other Oink titles like Startups, or Deep Sea Adventure. Because of that, I think the only reason that it will stay in our collection is because we are fans of these style of games. We love good puzzles, and we enjoy playing them in a short amount of time while still feeling like we are making important decisions and engaging with the game in meaningful ways. It’s well worth searching out, and giving a try if you value the same in your gaming. 

Thoughts from the Opinionated Gamers

Lorna: Fun real time puzzle race, an improvement over the previous Nine Tiles.

James Nathan: I had a chance to play this twice at Gen Con this year with 2 groups, and quite enjoyed it.  Going in, my stance was that after more than 70 games of Escape: The Curse of the Temple, more than 50 each of Scrabble Slam! and Magic Maze, and 30 games of Tokyo Train, I was over real-time games. I’ve loved them so, but that was then. The genre currently sits with me as something that I will try if I hear enough good things about it, or someone else wants to try, but I’m currently past suggesting one or marking any interest in one on a BGG Preview.

The game that Nine Tiles Panic most reminded me of was Sprawlopolis, with the different end game scoring cards, the tile/card placement, and road considerations. There I feel a certain time pressure as I cause the other players to wait for their turn.  Here, it’s the panic –though I’ve been pleased with how generous the timer seems.

It’s a fun, quirky puzzle. (Though I wish it used different color palettes for the finishing tiles and the player colors.  As the usual defacto bookkeeper in games, it was hard to score the right person as when I glanced in their area, the finishing tile was a more striking visual clue than the road color, and it often matched a player color on the scoreboard.)

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

I love it. 

I like it. Brandon Kempf, Lorna, James Nathan


Not for me… 

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