Animal Board Games Card Games

9 Lives Game Review

6 Out of 9

9 Lives is about as bare-bones as trick-taking gets, Andrew finds in his review.

Disclosure: Meeple Mountain received a free copy of this product in exchange for an honest, unbiased review. This review is not intended to be an endorsement.

There’s a moment in teaching 9 Lives that I’ve come to savor. Across four teaches now, I’ve workshopped it, honing the delivery, the timing, the gestures. It has become something of a magic trick, eliciting surprise and delight from people learning the game.

A hand of cards, in bold yellow, red, purple, and blue.Like any moment worth savoring, it has to be earned.

First, you make sure everyone at the table is familiar with the basics of trick-taking. At this point, I’ve taught so many trick taking games that I have a demo ready.

Then you establish that purple is always the trump suit. So far, so straight-forward.

The next step is to show everyone how bidding works. 9 Lives includes a small board designed to look like a rug, and four cat tokens. In turn order, each player places their cat adjacent to either a single number, indicating they plan to win exactly that many tricks, or a pair of numbers, which means you’re not as confident about threading the needle. If you pick one spot and you’re right, you’ll score four points. If you pick two and you’re right, you’ll score two.

Four cat tokens laying on the bidding rug.

In any event, choose carefully. If you’re wrong, you’re going to lose points.

“There are no other points in this game,” I tell the assembled as I start to shuffle. “It’s all about the bid. You do not gain any points for winning tricks in and of themselves.” This is worth clarifying, since most trick-taking games with bidding also award points for individual tricks.

“Another thing. The winner of the trick takes one of the cards they didn’t play into their hand.”

I run my finger across the corner of the deck. At last, it’s time. “Oh,” I say, as though I’ve forgotten. I hold up the deck with its back to the audience, only the top card visible. I fan out the deck, revealing the backs of the cards, which correspond to their individual suits. “You know how much of each suit everyone else has.”

The same hadn of cards as before, but turned to show the backs of the cards.

It has yet to fail to get a response.

I played my first several games of 9 Lives without the rule about picking up a card when you win a trick. I completely missed it. An embarrassment. A pox upon my house. Etc. The problem with writing about it now is that my thoughts exist in concert with this other version of the game, a version that doesn’t exist.

Without picking up the tricks, bidding exists on a knife’s edge. Experienced trick-takers find themselves making clinical bids, but those clinical bids are also more precarious. Because you can see everyone else’s suits, you can make informed decisions, but that also means your opponents can deduce your plans and ruin them. Many rounds in 9 Lives have followed a similar arc, where I feel confident about my bid until about the halfway point, when I realize that another player could choose to short-suit themselves and ruin both my hopes and my dreams.

With all the rules in place, 9 Lives becomes more slippery, a game about wiggling through tight crevices. It becomes muddier, too, but in a way that I really enjoyed. did a characteristically superb job with the production, though a few of the numbers on the cards can be hard to read when you’re getting started. The cat tokens are charming, especially if you get the oversized wooden ones, and the colors on the cards are bold. They include different stencil designs on the backs, to facilitate play for those who have difficulty with seeing color.

9 Lives is a light and tense card game that is welcome at my table any time. It is not a genre-defining masterpiece like The Crew or Cat in the Box, the latter also designed by Shinzawa, but it is a terrific illustration of the big differences little changes can make.


[After publication of this review, it was brought to my attention that I had missed a rule. The review has been updated. My apologies for missing it in the first place!]

  • Good - Enjoy playing.

9 Lives details

About the author

Andrew Lynch

Andrew Lynch was a very poor loser as a child. He’s working on it.


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  • One part of 9 Lives is critical and not mentioned – the winner of the trick gets to take one of the other cards played to the trick and put it in their hand! How many games are there where you can be void and then not be void?

    • Jonathan, I somehow managed to miss this rule! This is terribly embarrassing, but I suppose it was bound to happen eventually. I will play 9 Lives again soon and adjust the review once I get a chance to do so.

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