I used to love going to my Nanny M’s house when I was a kid. She let me stay up late, we always had fish and chips for tea, and her favourite game was Gin Rummy. Betting pennies at 7 years old and drinking cola straight out of a glass bottle felt like a wild childhood. Fast forward to having my own almost 7-year-old and we are doing things a little differently!
We play Rummikub together and it is excellent! In various guises, Rummikub has actually been around for more than 90 years. It also won the lofty Spiel des Jahres Game of the Year award back in 1980. Yet it is still fairly low-profile. Granted, there are no bells or whistles in the box. But the 2-4 player set collection gameplay is solid, it is surprisingly thinky, and is replayable until the end of time.
Setting Up Sets
In Rummikub, your objective is to make runs/sets of at least three consecutive or identical numbered tiles. Played over a number of rounds (or even a single game if time is tight), the game simply consists of a pile of chunky tiles (numbered #1-13 in 4 different colours plus 2 jokers) and plastic player tile racks.
You each start with 14 randomly selected tiles, and the remainder are off to one side in a pool ready for later picking. You win simply by being the first to get rid of all of your tiles. And your score is the sum total of the tiles left on the other player’s racks.
Tiles can be laid in sets (or “runs”) of at least 3 tiles. These runs can be consecutive numbers of the same colour or sets of the same number using the four different coloured “suits”.
Your first turn must include a permitted run of tiles that totals at least 30, and if you can’t lay anything, then you have to pick up an extra tile. On subsequent turns you can add tiles from your own rack to form new runs or meddle with existing runs on the table – you can rearrange as many or as few runs as you need to in order to insert your tile(s).
But you must not leave any set as a broken run by virtue of your rearranging efforts. If you do, you’ll have to pick up 3 more tiles! Again, on every turn, if you can’t lay a tile at all, you must pick one from the communal pool.
Two smiley face Joker tiles are wild and can represent any number or colour – these can be super helpful to offload some tiles on a given turn. But of course, they can also be re-used by other players. Plus, at the end of the game, if you are still holding it, that is a 30-point penalty at end game scoring! Ooft!
Whilst some rounds are calm, calculated developments of impressive melds, Rummikub quickly turns into a tense, brain burning session in our house. My husband has almost superhero strength foresight powers, and he usually manages to rearrange every single set to lay down half his rack at a time! My efforts are so scattergun that I usually take photos of the table before messing so that we can put it all back when I get stuck!
Strategy ratchets up another gear when we each withhold tiles in order to scupper our opponents’ progress or to achieve longer runs further into the game. I don’t think we have ever played a single game without immediately throwing all the tiles into the bag and drawing 14 more each. Dinners have gone cold, messages left unanswered….and all because we are mid Rummikub!
Although my husband is very good at this game, luck of the draw and some number crunching of my own often works in my favour. As such, no game has ever felt one sided. And Rummikub is one of those special games where, win or lose, we each enjoy it all the same. The only issue I would raise is that there are no patterns or symbols to separate the suits and so differentiating colours could be tricky for players with colour blindness.
Ultimately, I love the dynamic game space. I love the adaptive decision-making process. I love the mix of strategy and flexibility. It is one of our evergreen games and no matter how elaborate my game collection becomes, there will always be a top spot for Rummikub.