Review – The Number
|Publisher||Repos Production (Asmodee North America)|
|Release Date||Summer 2023|
It’s been a long time since I’ve been this confused about a board game. Is it even a board game? Kind of; but you could just play with paper and pencil. Is it a bluffing game? Kind of! Is it math homework? Kind of! Is there a theme? Kind of! Just kidding; there’s no theme. Let’s take a closer look…
There will be a variety of complaints leveraged against The Number. Some of them I agree with, some I don’t, and some I’m just not sure about. But let’s start with the things I can refute. Yes, you could just play this game with paper and pencil. Here are some other award-winning games you could play with junk laying around your house: Just One, Skull, Next Station: London, Can’t Stop, Qwixx. This isn’t really a good argument, and the production here is fabulous. For a little over ten bucks, you get some very nice components with recessed player boards and clear iconography. The other complaint I’ll refute is the lack of theme. Four of the five games I just mentioned are also themeless, as are many great games played with just a deck of cards. Perhaps I am biased as a mathematics professor, but playing around with numbers can be plenty of fun on its own if done right. Was it done right here, though? Hmmmm…
The truth is, I have a hard time telling. There is definitely some immediate deduction that happens the first round of your first game; you realize some moves are “obviously bad” or “obviously good”. This is actually a good thing; if all 1000 possible numbers were equally viable options throughout the game, anyone with analysis paralysis would tank this 15-minute game. As time goes on, I have to assume that optimal play would reveal itself, though. This game should be “solvable” – probabilistically. If a bunch of superintelligent AIs had all calculated the optimal move percentage-wise and worked backwards from there, the exact same numbers will be played every single round and the game probably ends in a draw. But I didn’t play this game with AIs; I played it with my wife and our 9-year-old daughter. And if anytime you think that the optimal moves in a bluffing game or limited information game are “solved” or “obvious,” go play the game with a 9-year-old.
So, does the game have “legs?” To be honest, I reject this question. So many people want to know if a game can be played a hundred times when they know it they’ll play it twice and move on. This is a great game to play as an opener or closer for game night, and to bring out with different groups who will view the puzzle it presents differently. Even if you eventually think you’ve “solved it” and it’s no longer interesting, that will change when you play it with a different group. It’s so cheap and in such a small box, that it’s worth it to have around even if you play once a year with different relatives at Christmas.
That said, I do think two complaints are valid. It really is only for 3-4 players; 5 players is too chaotic, giving it an extremely narrow window of opportunity to get played. I also think the game needs just a bit “more”, but I don’t mean it needs to be part of some bigger game or have a theme. I would just like something small to differentiate players, like every player starts with a different number crossed off, or really small player powers that are unique to each player. As it stands, since everyone begins in essentially the same game state, it can get a little samey if you play it back-to-back. Even with those caveats, it is a solid game and I enjoyed playing it. My kiddo loves it, and it’s something I would be willing to take to game night as a novelty if nothing else.
The Bottom Line
The Number is a very strange game that feels like it shouldn't work, but the time spent figuring that out is part of the fun.