Game Makeover: Nines – Thinking Outside the Box

Design Workbench

Design Objective

It has been a while since I first did the makeover of Nines to form Picky Packrats and I have played hundreds of rounds of the game as-is. So, why would I change anything? Well, to see if I can make it better. In this design round, we break the game layout out of the box and into a circle. A circle is more reminiscent of the rat midden that our theme is suggesting and it opens the game up to more scoring possibilities.


I have played a few full games of 4 rounds each with my fellow expert player to test out the new layout and accompanying rules changes.


The prototype hasn’t changed from the last round, but ultimately the game would layout better with symmetrical circular or, better yet, octagonal cards. Circular are easily doable thanks to the ubiquitous Spot It and circular cards are available on Game Crafter. Unfortunately, octagonal cards or tiles just aren’t a thing. Hexagons, of course are everywhere in gaming, but they just won’t do.

Playing and New Rules

The rules are essentially the same with a minor change that has a measurable impact on play and scoring. Instead of arranging the cards into a 3x3 square (really a rectangle with standard cards), the tableau is arranged into a circle of 8 cards around 1 in the center.


Scoring changes as follows:

  • Any 3 numerically matching cards across the center or around an arc cancel out.
  • Any color matched cards of 3 or more across the center or around an arc score -1 for each card in the match. So, -3 for any match across the center and potentially, with at least 2 wildcards, -3 to -8 around an arc.

Simpler Yet Harder

Although the change provides more options and flexibility to overcome a bad deal, it also seemed to make the decisions harder; trying to get more out of the color-matching.

Wilds in the Center

When playing the original game, the first discovered Wild card seems to find its way to the center position. This is even more apparent in the circular layout since the game is basically opened up to what would have been diagonal scoring in the 3x3 grid. However, additional Wilds have more scoring opportunities in the arc.

What’s in a Circle

If I had simply described the change as allowing diagonal scoring, it might seem that would be the same as a circular layout. However, conceptually it is very different. Particularly with the addition of scoring arcs for numbers and colors. Although it is essentially the same thing with a grid, the scoring arc is much more readily understood when it is an actual arc. When we laid out the cards, we placed the cards longways away from the center, but the obvious choice would be to use cards that naturally layout either omnidirectionally (circles) or that fit like a quilt (octagons).

Working It Out

These last changes move the game in the right direction in a couple aspects:

  • Few Decisions
    • This change seems to make decisions simpler, but the tendency to maximize the scoring opportunities (which actually minimizes the score), made the game brainier.
  • Game Length
    • The games did not seem to last measurably shorter or longer once we played a few rounds and were accustomed to the change. After many plays, I suspect that the average number of rounds will be very slightly fewer and the time per decision will be very slightly longer.
  • Frustration
    • The change seems to decrease frustration since there are more choices for matching (3 instead of 2) and color plays a greater role.
  • Marketing
    • Octagonal cards or tiles will raise the production cost of the game. Since the cost is going up, though, maybe tiles will feel more substantial and add a tactile value to playing.