Having played a lot of different board games, I generally have a pretty good idea before I play a game whether I will enjoy it or not. I have to admit that one game that genuinely surprised me was Rummikub. The game was first released back in 1977 and most games from that era don’t hold up particularly well. There is also the fact that you find the game regularly at rummage sales and thrift stores. After playing Rummikub though I was genuinely surprised that I enjoyed it more than I could have expected. The game has been quite successful which has lead to quite a few spinoffs. As I enjoyed the original game I am always willing to check out one of the spinoffs. In the past we looked at UNO Rummy-Up which we enjoyed basically as much as the original game. Today I am looking at Rummikub 500 which basically combines the traditional Rummikub gameplay with a deck of cards. Rummikub 500 has some interesting ideas, but it fails to live up to the original game.
How to Play Rummikub 500
- Place the gameboard in the middle of the table.
- Depending on the number of players, players will take control of different sections of the board.
- 2 players: One player will control the purple territory while the other player takes the green territory. The other territories are considered neutral.
- 3 players: One player will take the purple territory, one will take the green territory, and one will take the yellow territory. The orange and middle territories are considered neutral.
- 4 players: Each player will take one of the colored territories. The middle territory will be considered neutral.
- Discard the two joker cards. Shuffle the rest of the cards. Each player will randomly draw a card. The player that draws the highest number will start the game as the dealer. The role of dealer will move clockwise each round.
- The dealer will shuffle the cards and deal seven to each player. Place one card on each of the four spaces on the board that feature the Rummikub joker symbol. The rest of the cards form the draw pile. The top card from the draw pile is turned face up to form the discard pile.
Playing the Game
The dealer will start the round by drawing a card. They can either take the top card from the draw pile or a card from the discard pile. If the player chooses to take a card from the discard pile they can choose any of the cards as long as they can use that card in order to create a “lay” on the gameboard. The cards in the discard pile are fanned out so the players can see all of the cards in it. When a player chooses a card from the discard pile which wasn’t the last placed in the pile, they will have to also take all of the cards placed in the pile after their chosen card.
Depending on where the player drew a card from they either have the choice to lay down cards or they will have to make a lay somewhere on the board. If a player took the top card from the draw pile they have the option of laying down cards. If the player took a card from the discard pile they must lay down at least the card they took from the discard pile. In either case players can choose to make multiple lays on the gameboard.
To create a lay in the game three or more cards must be connected on the board horizontally, vertically, or diagonally. There are two different types of lays in the game.
A Run Lay consists of three or more cards placed next to one another where all of the cards are the same suit and are in numerical order. Aces can be placed above a king or below a two.
A Match Lay consists of three or more cards placed next to one another of the same number/value.
In addition to adding new lays to the board, you can play cards to the gameboard which either extend, combine, or intersect cards already on the table. When adding cards to the gameboard they must follow the same rules as if you were playing a new lay.
End of Turn
At the end of a player’s turn they will discard one of the cards from their hand.
Play will then pass to the next player to the left.
End of Round and Scoring
The round ends when one player discards the last card from their hand. Because of this rule you cannot play the last card from your hand to the gameboard.
Players will then conduct scoring. Scoring will begin with the player that went out.
Each of the cards have a different point value for scoring.
- Aces (used after a king in a Run Lay or in a player’s hand): 15 points
- Ace (used as a one in a Run Lay): 5 points
- 10-king: 10 points
- 2-9: 5 points.
The player that went out will score points from two different sources. First they will score points for each card left in the other players’ hands.
They will also score points for lays in their territory. For all lays that are only in their territory they will score the corresponding points. If a card is used by two lays, they will score the value of that card for both lays. All of the cards that are scored will be removed from the gameboard.
For any lays that are in their territory as well as another players’ territory, the player that went out will also score points for them. If a lay is not in their territory at all but is connected to a lay in their territory, they will also score points for those lays. After the player scores those cards they will also be removed from the gameboard.
The remaining players will then score points for the lays in their own territory and lays that are shared with another player. When a lay is in two players’ territories, both players will score the points for all interconnected lays.
If there are only two players the scoring is conducted in the same way with one tweak. If the player that went out ends up scoring less points than the other player in the round, the player that went out scores zero points.
If none of the players have scored 500 or more points another round is played. The next player clockwise becomes the dealer.
The first player to score 500 points wins the game. If two or more players have scored over 500 points after the same round, the player who has scored more points wins.
My Thoughts on Rummikub 500
In a lot of ways Rummikub 500 shares a lot in common with the original game. The main concept is the same. Players are trying to play sets of cards that are either the same number or are the same suit in numerical order. The objective of the game is to play all of the cards from your hand before the other players can in order to score points. In addition to playing sets from your hand, you can also utilize the cards that have already been played. Anyone familiar with the original Rummikub should already have a pretty good idea of how to play the game as most of the basics are the same.
Most of the differences come from the use of cards and the gameboard. In the original game players play tiles to the table. Once a tile is played to the table anyone can use it along with their own tiles in order to create new sets or extend sets already played to the table. The only requirement is that all sets that are created have to have at least three tiles in them. This is arguably the element of Rummikub that I enjoyed the most. I thought it was so satisfying being able to take tiles from previously played sets to expand or create new sets in order to get rid of more of the tiles from my hand. The game requires real skill in figuring out how to manipulate all of the tiles available to you.
In a way a lot of this mixing and matching is not present in Rummikub 500. Some of this has to deal with the game using cards. Using cards instead of tiles does seem to limit your options some. As Rummikub 500 uses a standard deck of playing cards, it has half as many cards as the original game. This makes it much harder to create specific sets. If a card from a set has already been played, you will have to play the other cards for that set in the same area of the gameboard or you will have to find another use for them.
Probably the biggest difference between Rummikub 500 and the original game is the inclusion of the gameboard. Instead of just being able to form as many sets as possible on the table, the game forces you to play cards to spaces on the gameboard. Once a card has been played it can’t be moved. Therefore your options for using that card are limited. Unlike the original game you can’t just pick it up and add it to another set. Your only options with cards that have been played is to extend the set that it is already part of, combine it with another set, or create a set with it that extends in another direction. The game still has quite a few options to create new sets, but it pales in comparison to the original game.
In addition to limiting players’ flexibility, the gameboard also makes the game more complicated than it needed to be. A lot of this is due to the rules being written pretty poorly. It takes some time to get used to where you can and can’t play cards. Based on my interpretation of the rules you could have two cards next to one another that aren’t part of the same set. This sometimes makes it hard to figure out where a set starts and ends. The scoring is kind of confusing as well. Figuring out all of the sets that are interconnected and will score points for a player takes some time. Once you get used to the game it isn’t all that difficult. The game makes itself harder than it needed to be though.
While there are some issues with the gameboard, there are also some positives as well. Basically the gameboard is divided up into four territories. Each player controls one territory with one or more territories (depending on the number of players) being neutral. Players can play cards on any territory. The different territories are only used for scoring. Basically at the end of the round each player will score points for the cards that were played to their territory or are connected to cards from their territory.
This creates an interesting risk/reward mechanic. At first you will only want to play cards to your own territory as you don’t want to give points to the other players. This is usually not an option though as you don’t have enough spaces in your territory. Even if you end up giving points to one of the other players, it is key to be the player that gets rid of all of their cards. The player that goes out will usually score considerably more points than the other players. It might be worth it to give points to some of the other players if it allows you to get rid of all of your cards quicker.
This combines with another mechanic that I haven’t discussed yet. When a set is located only in your own territory and is not connected to any other sets, you will be the only player to score points for it. This is rarely the case though as sets will regularly become intertwined. When scoring a player will score points for the sets in their own territory as well as sets that extend into other players’ territories. This even includes sets that are only connected to a set in a player’s territory. This creates a really interesting cutthroat mechanic to the game. You could have some valuable sets in your territory, but if another player connects a set from their territory to yours they will be able to score the points from your sets as well. If this happens you won’t be able to distance yourself from the other player. With this mechanic you need to be really careful where you play cards as other players can take some of your points for themselves as well.
The risk/reward really ramps up due to the winner scoring first before the rest of the players. At first glance it might seem like a good idea to try and mooch some points from a neighbor’s territory. They will take the points from your territory as well, but if they have more points in their sets than you do you will come out ahead. The one reason you might consider not doing this though is you don’t want this other player to end up winning the round. Basically whoever goes out first scores any sets in their territory or connected to their territory. Once they score all of those cards, they are removed from the board. Thus they will steal the points from the other players. Because of this the player that goes out likely will score considerably more points than the other players. This can be quite harsh as players could easily score no points in a round.
One potentially unintended consequence of the gameboard and cards is that rounds of Rummikub 500 are quite short. I am not entirely sure why, but in most rounds the players will only get a couple turns. Maybe we just got lucky with card draws, but it was a lot easier to play all of our cards than I initially expected. On one hand this could be seen as a good thing as you don’t have to worry about rounds that drag on for far too long. The problem is that the rounds seem too short in my opinion. You don’t really have many opportunities to implement much of a strategy as the game will likely end before you can finish it. Thus the game relies on quite a bit of card draw luck. Unless you miss a potential play, the player that draws the right cards will likely win each round.
As for the components I thought they were basically what you would expect. The game mostly just comes with the gameboard and cards. The gameboard is your typical thickness, but the artwork is kind of bland. The cards are about half the size of a standard deck of playing cards. It seems like the only reason for the smaller cards was that they could then make the gameboard smaller. Other than their size the cards are no different than your typical deck of playing cards. In a lot of ways Rummikub 500 is the type of game that would be pretty easy to make your own copy of. All you would have to do is make a larger version of the gameboard and you could then use a standard deck of cards. As the game is not particularly expensive online though you should be able to pick up a copy cheap enough if it intrigues you.
Should You Buy Rummikub 500?
I honestly had some mixed feelings about Rummikub 500. I enjoyed playing the game. It does a good job implementing many of the set mechanics that I enjoyed about the original game. It is fun figuring out ways to manipulate the cards that have already been played to the gameboard. The game can also be quite cutthroat as there is a lot of risk/reward to each card you play to the gameboard. I would say card draw luck is the driving force behind who wins, but there is some strategy as well. The main problem that I had with the game is simply the fact that I don’t know why I would play it over the original game. I had fun playing the game, but the game doesn’t really offer anything that I don’t think is done better in Rummikub.
My recommendation for Rummikub 500 is kind of complicated. If you have never really cared for the set mechanics from Rummikub, I see no reason why you would enjoy Rummikub 500. Fans of the original game should enjoy the game. Whether you should just stick with the original game or try out the spinoff basically depends on whether you think the additions sound interesting. If you are intrigued by the game and can get a good deal on it, I think it might be worth picking up Rummikub 500.