At the start of a round, three scoring cards are revealed, such as most aliens on a single road, most dogs visible, or longest road. All player then race to assemble their town in whatever pattern seems best, trying to score points for one, two, or three of the scoring cards as they wish. As soon as the first player decides that they're done, they flip the sand timer and everyone else has 90 seconds to complete their town, then players determine who scores for which cards, with ties being broken in favor of whoever finished first. Players score points based on the number of players in the game, and players track their score on a chart over multiple rounds.
Oink Games have earned themselves a reputation for publishing fun, quality games in small boxes. And deservedly so. Deep Sea Adventure, surely their biggest success, placed them firmly on the map - there is a place in most games collections for this small but fun push your luck game. There are other Oink games which are also fun - Flotsam Fight is a particular favourite of mine.
However, this year Oink Games have really raised the bar. Nine Tiles Panic is based loosely on the previous game, Nine Tiles. Players race to recreate a 3x3 grid of symbols from a set of nine tiles, each with a different symbol on each side. Nine Tiles Panic removes the formal structure of the target design, and replaces it with a number of objectives, which inform the arrangement of tiles.
What's It About?
Nine Tiles Panic is a sort of route building, town planning, tile laying game. Players each have a set of nine tiles (I bet you guessed that already) which have some roads marked on them, as well as some other occupants of the city - those may be aliens, agents (who are trying to capture the aliens), children, dogs, burgers… Each side of the tile is different, giving eight possible orientations for each tile. The tiles must be arranged in a 3x3 grid such that there are no dead ends between the tiles. Sometimes that in itself can be challenging enough. However, it wouldn’t make it enough of a game.
In order to give Nine Tiles Panic some structure, each round there are three objectives, or “Themes”, which players have to try to achieve. These may be fairly straightforward, such as to have the most girls in your town, or have the longest road. However, there are a set of more complicated conditions (you are advised to play without these in your first game) such as the most adjacent tiles with dogs, or the largest amount of (aliens x burgers), not counting aliens that have been caught by an agent.
But Why Panic?
So far so calm… There is nothing here which sounds like it may cause a panic. In order to appreciate this, you have to understand the way each round works. All players are trying to make their town “legal” whilst simultaneously achieving the objectives on the theme cards. As soon as one player feels they have achieved this to the best of their ability, they grab a token which indicates they finished first, and flip a timer. All other players have until the timer runs out to complete their town.
So, the choice is to either complete early, and probably not have the “best” town in relation to the goal cards, or to complete later, run the risk of running out of time, but potentially have a better town.
Why does it matter what order you finish in?
Often, it doesn’t. Simply put, if your town satisfies a goal card better than anyone else, you score points equal to the number of players. The next highest scores one fewer, and so on, with the last player scoring a single point, as long as their town was legal. Yes, even if your town has zero girls, you can still score a point against that card - only illegal towns score nul points
That’s where the panic comes from.
The game ends when one player reaches a set score (which varies according to player count). A game will usually last 10-15 minutes, which is typical of an Oink game. But one game of Nine Tiles Panic is never enough.
Final Thoughts on Nine Tiles Panic
Nine Tiles Panic is produced with Oink Games’ usual attention to detail - the tiles are really solid, artwork is clean, graphicsy, cute, if a little weird. The rules can take a couple of re-reads to get your head around, but as there are so few rules, this isn’t a big problem. The Theme cards are bilingual - Japanese and English, though the English is crammed on the bottom, in smaller text. The box is a little deeper than the majority of Oink Games (1.5x deeper), although this is better than the double width original release - at least it now fits in the Oink Games wash bags.
Nine Tiles Panic has created quite a buzz. It goes down well with everyone I have played it with, and many of them immediately try to get hold of a copy. I think it may actually be my favourite Oink game.