|Take 5 (1994)
|Meeple Like Us
|Player Count (recommended)
If you’re a regular reader of this site you may remember that we had a somewhat contrarian view on The Mind. It’s a game that I still think of as mostly recruitment material for a weird and esoteric cult that will surely rise up and kill us all before too much more time has passed. The Mind is a game all about trying to intuit intention and play cards in order without being able to release any information about your hand. Plenty of people liked it. We didn’t. It turns out though a game with the same flavour was already sitting on our shelves and just hadn’t made it to the table. So let’s talk about 6 Nimmt, or as I think of it – ‘The Mind for people that didn’t at all like The Mind’. Or perhaps, given the relative age of the games, we should say ‘The Mind is 6 Nimmt for people that don’t like fun’.
6 Nimmt, or ‘Take 6’ is a fast-playing game of trying to avoid being the person to collect cards from a growing tableau of horrible risks. Every player gets dealt out a meaty handful of ten cards, each with a number and a set penalty of bullheads that are associated with their collection. A column of four random cards is dealt out on to the table, each one representing the starting point of a future row.
In each round, players will secretly select a card from their hand and place it facedown in front of them. These will all be turned over at once, and then they’ll be dealt out in numerical order to the tableau. The only rules are these:
- If you card is higher than the last card on a row, it is played there. Cards are always played to the row where the difference between the current card and the end card is smallest.
- If your card is of a lower number that can be played, you choose a row to pick up and your card becomes the new start point of a row.
- If you card is the sixth card in a row, you collect them all up. The sum of the bullheads on each of them is what makes up your penalty points.
You keep on this way until all your cards are gone from your hand. Everyone counts up the bull-heads they collected and then the player with the lowest number wins.
It’s a doddle to play, and a doddle to teach.
And here’s the thing – it’s also good and in a way that surprised me. Generally I don’t get on especially well with these kind of ‘play cards in a sequence’ style mechanics. I have on occasion described the atrociously branded The Game as ‘The worst thing that I somehow can’t stop playing’. For me these kind of things satisfy a certain compulsive need to put things in order but in a manner that feels more like house-keeping than it does game-playing. It feels like tidying up a deck of cards – not an unpleasant task but one of questionable merit when weighed up against all the alternative calls you have on your time.
6 Nimmt does it the best of all the games I have played thus far.
There’s a trope in fiction about how the accomplishments of antiquity are inevitably frittered away by those that have benefited most intensely from their existence. It centres around the aged patriarch (almost always) of a fine old family, surrounded by feckless and incompetent descendants. These grand or great grandchildren are so hell-bent on familial intrigue that they let the source of their advantage dwindle away to a shadow of its former self. As they are impoverished by their own indifference, they focus their attention on triviality rather than the graft that generated their wealth in the first place.
And that frame of reference feels somewhat relevant here, at least if you look at a game’s lineage as being linked to design as opposed to anything as concrete as shared designer credits. 6 Nimmt feels like the ancient template
from which both The Game and The Mind were descended, but both took only a portion of a greater inheritance and failed to parlay it into anything particularly impressive in its own right. In 1994, it seems like 6 Nimmt had pretty much perfected the core loop of collaboratively putting cards in a sequence when you are unable or disinclined to help anyone else to limit the gap between numbers. 6 Nimmt even manages to include the best elements of poker in that design – it gives abundant opportunities for bluffing, raising the stakes, and cashing out when things get too rough.
Imagine the image above shows the row of cards that’s out there after a few turns. The 23 is a dangerous row – two more cards in there and you’ll end up collecting all those penalty points. If you’re sitting with a 24 in hand though… well, there’s a lot of comfort that comes from knowing that nobody can possibly get their card on that line before you. Cards get played in order. Anyone with a card that ends up going in that row after you play will collect up the whole lot of them. It’s a nice position to be in.
What if you have the 25, though? Or the 26? It’s probably still fine, right? Odds are, nobody has that card, right?
Well… that depends on the number of players. Ten cards are always dealt to each player, so in a two-player game you’re certainly safe. Probably. In a ten-player game though? Yep, somebody absolutely has that card unless it’s been spent earlier in the game. Your only question is whether they’re going to play it.
Here’s where the Poker part comes in. Each card you’re laying down is trying to accomplish two things. The first is to get it out of your hand safely, without it leading to you picking up penalty points. The second is to try and lure your opponents into a position where they have to take penalty points. Here it’s all about card probability, reading your opponents, and trying to force them into making a mistake through your sheer force of nerve.
So, if you have the 24, do you want to play it?
If you play it and nobody plays down another card to that row, you made a safe play but didn’t lure anyone in to committing to a course of action that caused them a problem. If you don’t play it and someone else plays to that row, then your 24 just became a random low card with no real importance. It’s the combination of a 23 in the tableau and a 24 in your hand that’s magical. If you don’t play it and nobody else plays to that row… well, maybe next round people will be a little more cocky than they should, because they’re all assuming there is no 24 in the game. Which path you take depends on what you think everyone else wants to do. The wisdom of playing a card can only really be ascertained in hindsight.
There’s an interesting statistical question that sometimes pops up on social media. Like many supposed paradoxes its intractable answer is mostly down to poor phrasing rather than anything inherently insolvable. It’s relevant here though.
If you were to answer this question at random, what are the chances you’d be correct?
It’s something designed to flummox the reader with its non-standard format and options. For those wondering, basically the answer is ‘None of the above’ because the self-referential element of the answer results in an actual uncertainty state that doesn’t lock in at any of these levels of granularity. It’s the mathematical equivalent of asking ‘What’s the Capital of Sweden’ and omitting Stockholm from the set of possible answers.
I bring this up though because it’s how 6 Nimmt feels to play. There’s a nub in here that gives players a chance to make interesting decisions about their card play, but the self-referential nature of the emergent tableau results in all kinds of unsettling effects. What happens, for example, if someone plays a 22? Well, that’s smaller than any valid placement would allow so they can choose a row to start anew. What does that mean for the placement of every card that follows? Let’s say they decided to wipe out the 26, 32, and 52 row for mysterious reasons (perhaps related to their own hand of cards). Suddenly every card is going somewhere unexpected and even the wisest calculation of the wisest player seems like it was impossible to validate. There’s a logic that comes with card placement and it pairs to a statistical blender that absolutely shreds the thinking behind every single decision. A round of 6 Nimmt is often accompanied by an acapella soundtrack made up entirely of people sucking horrified air through their teeth.
On one hand, this is a problem – for decisions to be interesting they must also lead coherently towards comprehensible outcomes that feel meaningful. If you play a standard Telltale style adventure (please play Life is Strange) the first playthrough will feel portentous and full of difficult compromises. The second playthrough will reveal how little your decisions actually matter and the magic trick is ruined. Nowhere are you really allowed to change the rails upon which the rollercoaster is running, but you do get to choose where and when to scream. 6 Nimmt suffers somewhat from the outcome of decisions being essentially utterly unpredictable. If people were playing cards down in turn order there would be a perfectly deducible game. The fact everyone chooses and reveals simultaneously creates such an opaque window of uncertainty that it may as well be painted over and bedecked in blackout curtains. Decisions go in. Chaos comes out.
But on the other hand… that’s not how it feels. It feels like you can unlock the puzzle if you just line up all the evidence in the right way. And sometimes that’s even true. There are intensely validating moments in 6 Nimmt where you predict the way the future will go and it does. There are times when sitting down with 6 Nimmt that I’ve felt more like a fortune-teller than a player in a game. Times when I’ve just wanted to screech out a terrifying prophecy and then demonstrate the validity of my prognostication through the revealing of a predicted set of cards. Ending 6 Nimnt with zero penalty points is an act of sorcery that should result in players being burnt at the stake. It does happen though and sometimes with a deep, abiding sense that it was all a consequence of actual applied cleverness.
Unfortunately, as is always the case in games of this kidney, there’s an abiding sense of unfairness in the cards you get dealt. A good hand in 6 Nimmt is agile. It’s adaptable. It has highs and lows and middle cards and it gets applied to a tableau with a decent spread of options. Sometimes though your cards cluster. I played a game once where I didn’t have a card higher than 70 and there was nothing lower than 80 on the board. That’s the gaming version of being left in a room with a loaded pistol and a stiff shot of whisky, and it wasn’t because of anything I did.
It’s also a game that really needs higher player counts to enrich the experience, and not just in terms of ‘it gets linearly better the more people playing’. Here I think the curve is exponential. The more players you have the more solveable the puzzle seems and that’s important to cut away at the sense of futility that may occasionally accompany your plays at lower counts. The consequence of that though is that more solveable the puzzle seems the more the self-referential uncertainty starts to kick in. It’s a weird, and delightful, quirk of its design – the more it looks like you can puzzle it out the more you’ll be surprised at what happens. For some people that will make it all the better. For others, it will infuriate the living hell out of them.
I’m not going to make the claim this is the best or smartest game out there – just that it’s a lot more fun than I expected. I’d certainly recommend that you give it a go.