Bid for adventure a billion years in the future
The (ninth) world of Numenera is fascinatingly bonkers. If you don’t already know it from the RPG or its excellent video-game iteration Torment: Tides of Numenera, Monte Cook’s vibrant, psychedelic sci-fantasy universe is set a billion years in our future, in a distant civilisation built on the super-high-tech bones of the eight that preceded it, where adventurers scour the wilderness for powerful ancient tech (or ‘cyphers’) and battle freaky beasties. Rather appropriately, its first original tabletop spin-off (following 2013’s Numenera-themed Thunderstone reimplementation), is itself a rather strange affair, albeit in an ultimately appealing way.
While it bills itself as “A Skillbuilding Game”, at its heart The Ninth World is an adventure card game with a similarly explorative, questing thrust to the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, which shares two of this title’s designers: Mike Selinker and Paul Peterson. Each player chooses a character from a motley set of 12, be they glaive (warrior), jack (rogue) or nano (mage). Then, over nine rounds, each round comprising five phases, they can choose to either help out around the town (a spread of five face-up cards drawn from a deck of low-risk, low-reward monsters, quests and cyphers) or venture out into the wilderness (drawing blind from a deck of tougher challenges). You can either play competitively, each hero vying for the most valor (tracked on a board which neatly unfurls from the box itself), or co-operatively or solo, meaning you each need to pass valor point thresholds at the end of every third round to succeed, while the wilderness stacks up threats as you play.
What marks The Ninth World out, though, is its interesting usage of an old favourite Euro mechanism: bidding. Each player has a set of five skill cards, reflecting their character’s strengths, and during each phase must bid (blindly in the competitive version, openly in the co-op) to seize the initiative, determine the turn order and create a limited pool of action points. In the scout phase, you spend your points to draw wilderness cards and mark them with your token (the only way to later claim these high-value offerings); in the tinker phase, you can discover/purchase handy-gadgety cyphers; in the charm phase you grab quest cards, which can synergise nicely and stack up the valor rewards; and in the combat phase you can claim monsters – although this comes with a dice-rolling risk of gaining a wound, which will block your character’s special ability and cost you five valor if you don’t heal it. Finally, there is the focus phase, where you effectively level-up, spending points to increase the rank of your skill cards and give you the edge in future bids, especially when played in a particular skill card’s own phase. For example, a rank-four tinker card will be worth four points during the tinker phase, but only worth a single point if played in any other phase.
Aside from the fact that the provided bid shields are flimsy and useless (just choose your cards under the table, then slam them down on a count of three), it makes for a fun, brisk twist to the adventure card-game format – whether you’re playing against others or alongside them. Each round has to be very carefully thought-out, in terms of deciding how to bid, when to pass, and managing your slowly growing pool of points. And it’s neatly true to the Numenera RPG’s own core mechanism, too: if you really want to achieve something, you can go all out and burn your points, but it’ll leave you vulnerable (or sitting things out) until the next round.
Complemented by vivid art that atmospherically captures Cook’s crazy far-future, it proves a compellingly replayable experience, one that – of course – comes ready-built for some welcome deck-expansion.
An engaging Euro-twist on the adventure card game, with an effective bidding mechanic that chimes well with the original Numenera RPG.
Designer: Paul Peterson, Boyan Radakovich, Mike Selinker
Time: 30 minutes
This review originally appeared in the September 2018 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here – or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.