In with the old and out with the new!? What is happening here?
As a veteran and slightly jaded gamer, it is that much harder to be impressed with a game. I find most newly released games fun but not exactly memorable nor innovative. Most recently, I was impressed with Azul for its simplicity and depth. Going a little further back, I was blown away by Twilight Struggle. Since then, there are few games that reach the upper echelon in my collection. Rummikub was introduced to us recently and it has a chance to reach all the way to the top. Again, for the second time in as many weeks, my significant other eagerly asked for a second play. That is like a blue moon sighting in back to back nights!
I must confess that I have snubbed many older, mass-marketed games. Who could take seriously games that are put alongside Sorry!, Candyland or Monopoly in big-box stores? I had very little desire to try these classics let alone purchasing them. Yes, you can call me a Euro snob. Perhaps it is time to reevaluate? Perhaps they are popular for a reason? Perhaps they are evergreen titles because the game play is good?
Rummikub is just a variant of gin rummy of melding runs and groups. There is nothing particularly unique about it, but it presses many important gaming buttons. First, the rules are simple, and can be absorbed by any newbie in minutes. However, the depth is tremendous and if you enjoy puzzles, pattern recognition games and good at holding multiple spatial and numerical memories simultaneously in your head, then rummikub will tickle every bone in your body. The fun in the game lies in spotting and correctly reorganizing the melded suits from the common pool IN YOUR HEAD while trying to play tiles off your rack. Succeed in doing that releases a certain amount of gaming endorphins that is elusive and hard to define. You get to do this over and over again every round. There is rarely a game where you get this feeling multiple times over. Sure, in other epic games, you might feel exhausted after defeating Sauron after a 5 hour marathon of WOTR. However, you generally just feel anxiety and stress for 5 hours before that epic release. In Rummikub, you just feel clever and satisfied when you get to see a pattern, especially a pattern that is not obvious.
What is preventing me from rating this higher is whether Rummikub plays well with 2 and whether once you achieve mastery of reorganizing the melds, the endorphins won’t come as often. I think you will get better in this game over time and then, it will just be a matter of making the best of your hand in placing down the tiles. Because each hand is static and you are presented with a slightly different common pool every turn, this is essentially a game with several tactical rounds. There is negligible player interaction. You can try to look ahead and plan, but there is a good chance that the common pool will look different by the time it comes back to you. So, each round is almost an independent tactical battle with a shrinking option of tiles on your rack. Presumably, once you achieve some mastery, you will have a very strong advantage over newbies. As compared to a game like WOTR, the variables are such that a skilled player will win more often, but not to the extent of Chess or Go, or maybe even Rummikub. While I think there is nothing wrong with a group of skilled players getting together for the game, I think at some point when you become good at the game, the luck of the draw becomes more and more prominent.
Reservations aside, I will be trying to find a copy of Rummikub and enjoy the game for what it is (for once, I am not worried about the game being OOP!). The game is excellent and deserves the 1980 SDJ. Perhaps it is time to head back to the store and find me a game of backgammon, parcheesi or cribbage.
Part of the frustration in playing Rummikub happens early on when your initial meld must be at least 30 points or higher. In several instances now, one or more players have been unable to meld until late in the game and in one extreme case, a player never had a chance to play a single meld before the game ended. For me, this is a huge drawback of the game not only for the player that was held back, but also for the delay between player turns when you have 20 tiles in your rack and limitless possibilities. I am sure you can optimize and take your time to find the combos, but the analysis paralysis would be a killer. I also dislike using timers. To overcome this…flaw, we now play without a point limit to the initial meld. While this slightly changes the pace of the game, I think it suits us better. I haven’t noticed any particular skew in victory patterns (i.e first player advantage, etc.), apart from sub-optimal play from yours truly.
Initial impression: Good
5 years and 2 months: We introduced Rummikub to my kid before when she was 4+ It was way over her head then. However, now that she is 5+ years old and her math skills have improved during game play, Rummikub is not more accessible. She can instantly spot the easy combos. Those that add on to the end of a sequence or sets. However, arranging tiles and spotting patterns are still beyond her grasp. That will take more time. However, she still shows an interest in the game for now and willing to play. That is a good sign. As games such as Sleeping Queen rapidly becomes to easy for her, games like Rummikub wil slowly take the place. We think that if we persist, she can also quickly get the nuances. As an adult, I do have some difficulties in spotting pattern completion at times. I do wonder if she can quickly surpass my abilities.
6 years and 4 months: After a few more starts and stops, rummikub is now part of the rotation. Her spatial and pattern recognition skills have vastly improved and we are almost on par. Almost. She can spot some sets quicker and faster at times but will miss some too. Well, basically she is now competitive. Looking forward to including this to our expanding repertoire of games.