Rummikub (1998 Pressman Edition) – Tile Based Game Review

Rummikub Game Box
Rummikub Game Box

When I was a little kid, around four to six years old, my grandparents would take me with their friends on big vacations to other states. One time we went to Pennsylvania, another time it was Vermont. We would tour the Liberty Bell or Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream factory during the day and then at night they would try to put my sisters and I to bed and then break out their Rummikub set.

If I were quiet enough, they would let me sneak in and watch the game. One time I asked what a smiley-faced tile was (it was a joker) which got me instantly marched back to bed. I learned quickly to keep my mouth shut about what was in my grandpa’s hand.

My grandparents had a Rummikub set that looked like a padded briefcase. On the side of it was a fancy label that said Tournament Rummikub. The tiles felt fine and exotic though the boards to hold the tiles felt a little flimsy.

My grandpa is now deceased and my grandmother has dementia. The last game she remembers how to play is Rummikub, so we play it with her every chance we get. Years later, we still play with their old Tournament Rummikub set.

Several years ago I acquired a Rummikub set of my own. My son is around the same age I was when I learned how to play while watching my grandpa. My wife and I decided we would teach him how to play during our weekly family game night.

Rummikub is a tile-based game designed by Ephraim Hertzano. The set I currently have was published by Pressman in 1998. Rummikub may be played by two to four players.

My hand at the beginning of the game.
My hand at the beginning of the game.

One thing I discovered rather quickly is that the rules provided with my Pressman set are in many ways different from those from my grandparent’s set. I looked up Rummikub on Wikipedia and found that Hertzano authored a book entitled The Official Rummikub Book in which he provides three versions of the game: American, Sabra, and International. According to the article, the 1998 Pressman edition is the Sabra version.

To set up the game players dump all of the tiles face down in the center of the table and mix them all up. Then each player draws 14 tiles to make up their hand. The objective is to create sets of three or more tiles. A set should contain all of the same number with different colors, or be a run of numbers in sequence with the same color.

There are 106 tiles total. This includes tiles 1-13 of each color blue, black, red, and orange twice, along with two jokers. The same game can also be played with two decks of standard playing cards where two jokers are thrown out.

In order for a player to make their first play into the center of the table, they must be able to play a number of tiles that equals 30 or more points all at once. Jokers are wild tiles that may represent any other tile in the game. When played in the initial play their point value is the same as the point value of whatever tile they are replacing.

I'm out of tiles. I win!
I’m out of tiles. I win!

The first initial play may only consist of tiles from the players hand and may not be played on any other player’s tiles. Each turn after the initial play, a player may play on any set in the center of the table. Tile sets may be added to, split, substituted, and combined in interesting ways to eliminate tiles from the player’s hand.

Most everything is fair game, though players will want to brush up on the rules to make sure a move they are making is legal. Also if you’re making a complicated move, make sure you know how to back out of it if you get stuck and it doesn’t work. Otherwise the other players will hate you. The 1998 Pressman rules have a good template that may be used to determine a move’s legality.

The most crucial rule to remember when playing on the center tiles is that to substitute and reuse a joker, the tile it is being substituted must come from the player’s own hand and not from somewhere else on the board. All tiles that have been played to the center must stay in the center. A player can’t substitute for a joker and then keep that joker in their hand for a later turn.

The first player to successfully play all of their tiles into the center wins the round. In the event where no player is able to play all of their tiles, the player with the fewest and lowest scoring tiles is declared the winner of the round. Jokers remaining in a player’s hand are scored as 30 points. All other tiles are scored at face value.

The final state of the game.
The final state of the game.

The winner receives a positive score for the round that is the sum total of all the points left in each other player’s hand. The non-winning players must then receive a negative score equal to the number of points remaining in their hand. According to the 1998 Pressman rules, the players must agree on the number of rounds or the total number of points to play to in order to determine when the game ends. Whomever has the highest number of points at that agreed upon milestone wins the game.

The Rummikub family rules I played with growing up required 50 points for the initial play and had some heavier restrictions regarding under what conditions a set with a joker could be altered. This 1998 Pressman Sabra version feels really easy by comparison. The next time I visit my grandmother I will look at the rules they had and see if I can compare the two.

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