FaceTime Games: Rummikub

This is the first in a series of blog posts about how to play various card and board games on FaceTime.  My neighbors and I, before COVID, met at each other’s houses weekly to play games, but now we’ve had to come up with ways of playing from our own homes, over FaceTime.

In this article, I discuss the tile-swapping game Rummikub, by Pressman.  This article assumes you already know how to play Rummikub.  I’ll show you how we play it over FaceTime. (Yes, I know that there are Rummikub apps. available, but we like to play the ‘old-school’ way).

Rummikub is the least ‘interactive’ of the games that we play, meaning that for much of the game, you are playing by yourself with your own tiles, and are not dependent on what others are playing.

Equipment:

Each player needs a Rummikub game, or else two decks of cards minus two of the Jokers (106 cards total).  The Rummikub set of tiles includes 4 colors (red, black, blue, and either yellow or orange, depending on how old your game is).  If you play with cards, you will need to designate specific suits as specific colors, before the game starts. (e.g., clubs are black, diamonds are red, hearts are blue and spades are yellow/orange).  When playing with cards, Aces stand in for the 1 tiles, and J-Q-K for 11, 12 and 13, respectively.

In these photos, you’ll see that I’m using a rack designed for domino tiles, but using them for Rummikub tiles lets the other players see how many tiles I have in my rack (a nice courtesy in our playing group).

Each player will need 16 card-stock rectangles, cut approximately the size of a Rummikub tile.  8 of them should be red and 8 yellow.  The red ones will be used in place of the Jokers. (The number 8 assumes a 4-player game; to be more precise, you’ll need 2 red and 2 yellow rectangles for each of the number of players in the game.)

You will also need pencil and paper to make notes on regarding the Jokers in play, as described later.

Setup:

If possible, position your FaceTime device on a stand with the camera facing down towards the table in front of you, so that other players can see both you and the tiles you’re playing:

Play:

When it’s your turn, play as normal, only on your own tiles.  (It is impossible, over FaceTime, to play on other players’ tiles, or to simulate that activity).  Describe aloud what manipulations or additions you’re making to your tiles (e.g., “I’m adding a blue 7 to a run,” or “I’m playing two 7’s from my rack and borrowing a Red 7 from a run”).  Be sure to say “Pass” when you’ve finished your turn, so that the next person will know to start their turn.

Jokers:

Jokers are the part of Rummikub that we’ve made interactive for FaceTime.  Rather than having access only to the two Jokers in your own set of tiles, you can have access to the Jokers played by the other players, for a maximum of 8 Jokers that can be in play and accessible to everyone.

When you play a Joker tile, announce what the Joker represents, so that everyone can make note on their paper of the available Joker.  For visual reference to the other players, place a red rectangle atop the Joker tile so that they are reminded that you have an available Joker.

In this example, I’ve just played a Joker as a Yellow 13 (I had to decide whether to declare the Joker to be yellow or red, and tell the other players), and I’ve placed a red rectangle atop the Joker as a visual reminder to the other players.

When it’s your turn, and you have a tile in your rack matching any of the Jokers in play, you can claim that Joker, in the following way:

            1.  If the Joker you’re claiming is your own, swap the matching tile from your rack with the Joker in front of you, and then play the Joker elsewhere, per Rummikub rules.  Lay a red rectangle atop the Joker for visual confirmation.  Announce to everyone the new identity of the Joker, so that they can make note of it on their paper (crossing out the Joker’s previous identity on their paper).

            2.  If the Joker you’re claiming belongs to another player, place the matching tile from your rack aside, in an out-of-play area.  Pick up a red rectangle to use in place of the Joker, and play the Joker per Rummikub rules. Announce to everyone the new identity of the Joker, so that they can make note of it on their paper (crossing out the Joker’s previous identity on their paper).

            3.  If someone else claims your Joker, remove the tile/red rectangle from in front of you and replace it with a yellow rectangle (for visual reference to other players that the Joker is no longer available).  Make note of what the yellow rectangle represents, as you may need that information for moving tiles around on future turns.

In the example below, someone has taken my Joker representing a Yellow 13, and I’ve replaced the red rectangle with a yellow one. Now the other players can see that this Joker is no longer available. I make note on my paper that this is still a Yellow 13, as I’ll need to know that for possible tile manipulations.

In the example below, I have available Jokers of Yellow 3 and Red 4 (denoted by red rectangles).  I no longer have Jokers of Red 3 and Yellow 13 (denoted by yellow rectangles).

Here are my notes on the available Jokers (Yellow 8, Yellow 13, Red 5), with previous Jokers now scribbled out:

Ending the Game:

As a courtesy to the remote players, announce when you have only 1 tile remaining in your rack, since they may not be able to detect that through their FaceTime screen.

Playing Rummikub in this fashion may take 1 ½ to 2 hours per game.  Without sharing the multiple Jokers available, the game will last even longer.

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