Rummikub Review

Rummikub conjures up memories of Saturday afternoons as a child spent with my grandmother. It’s one of those simple family games that you can play for hours without getting bored, as each session plays a little bit differently.

Combining elements of rummy, dominoes, and other similar number or tile-based games, your goal is to rid yourself of all tiles before your opponent. You do so by combining sets of at least three tiles that create either runs of the same color (a red 1, 2, 3, and so on) or sets of up to four of the same number in different colors. With numbers spanning from 1 to 13, runs can become quite long. If you can’t place a tile during your turn, you’re forced to draw an additional one.

What makes the game interesting is the ability to shuffle the played tiles in any configuration you see fit, so long as the rules are adhered to. For instance, a set of four sevens (each of a different color) may be broken up, with each seven placed into an existing like-colored run.

Got any twos? Go fish.

Even if this sounds confusing, you’ll be quick to pick up on the rules. The iPhone version does an excellent and entertaining job of doing this by allowing you to watch your AI opponent shuffle the board, an event that happens frequently and which is visible to you in real-time.

You can play matches with up to three other computer-controlled characters with such snazzy names as Mark, Jason, and Steven. These opponents make for some pretty intense (or frustrating, if you keep drawing useless tiles) games, but the notable lack of online play is disappointing. This is a highly social game, and it’s even more fun when you play in pairs, which is simply not possible in the current version of the game.

With three levels of difficulty and some smart AI, though, you’ll have plenty of lively matches, even if you’re playing against software. For beginners, there is also the ability to automatically sort your tiles for you (by color, number, or sets), making it easier to spot matching tiles. For the colorblind like myself, spotting the different colors isn’t terribly easy given the small size of the tiles, but that’s just the nature of the game.

For those seeking additional challenges, you can set a timer (1, 2, or 5 minutes) to give the game a speed chess-like feel. One minute may sound like a lot of time, but when you need to rearrange tiles on the board, you really begin to the feel the pressure of the ticking timer.

A game for those who never tire of tiles.

The game’s presentation doesn’t have much to offer, although this isn’t surprising. All you get is a single blue backdrop, no music, and minimal sound effects. Don’t expect this to be like some of EA’s dazzling board game remakes. This is Rummikub, pure and simple.

At $4.99, Games Factory Online might be asking a lot of those who aren’t familiar with the game, especially considering we’ve come to expect a lot more for a lot less on the iPhone. For those of us that will relive the good old days with Grandma, though, the price of entry is probably well worth it. Now, if only the two of us could spend a Saturday afternoon playing over 3G, this might be a real winner.

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