How Rummikub House Rules Almost Ended My Marriage

One big adjustment for me when I got married (I’m not kidding, this really might be the biggest thing that surprised me about Ryan.) (Okay, I am kidding that it almost ended my marriage.)—anyway, it was a big shocker to learn that not everyone played some of my favorite games the way my family did. I didn’t grow up playing Phase 10, but I could tell that the game could be somewhat like Monopoly and last forever (hence their adjustment to have everyone changes phases together on each hand, ending the game in 10 hands).

However, I did grow up playing Rummikub. My family quite enjoyed it. Our first set didn’t have directions in it (maybe it came from a thrift store) but we’d played it at my aunt’s house, so we already understood the premise.

Our House Rules for Rummikub

  1. Each player (or team) draws one tile from the pile. (Pile tiles should be well mixed and face down.) On the count of three, players reveal their tiles to everyone. The player holding the tile with the highest number goes first and play proceeds to the left (clockwise).
  2. Each player draws an additional 13 tiles from the pile, setting all 14 tiles in his/her tray.
  3. If the player who drew the highest number is able to play tiles from his/her tray, s/he does so.To play tiles, they must be either:
    • a “run”—three or more sequentially numbered tiles (1-2-3) all the same color.
    • a set of three or four tiles of the same number (10-10-10) of all different colors.
  4. If you cannot play on your turn, draw a tile from the pile. Play continues to the left.
  5. Another way to play tiles, once you have laid down at least one set or run from your tray, is to play tiles “against” runs and sets on the board. For example, if there is a red 5-6-7 on the board and you have a red 8 (and have already played a run or set of tiles from your tray), you can add your red 8 to the red 5-6-7.
  6. You can move tiles on the board around into different groupings, provided you play at least one tile from your tray and all tiles end up in proper groupings of three or more. This can be highly complex, such as rearranging five groupings and adding two of your tiles to create six new groupings, or simple, such as breaking up a run of 7-8-9-10-11 to make a run of 7-8-9 and a second run of 9-10-11. (This is the best part of the game!)If you can’t successfully wrangle the tiles into groupings of at least 3 tiles, you must return all tiles to their previous positions (including any tiles from your tray!).
  7. The jokers: There are two jokers in Rummikub. They are “wild” and can represent any tile and can be used to create runs or sets. If you are able to “free” the joker from a grouping on the table, it is once again “wild” and can be used as any tile on that turn only. You cannot “free” a joker from a grouping on the table and hold on to it for future use.
  8. As in card rummy, the ace is high/low. You may “round the corner” with a single color run of 12-13-1, but you may not proceed to 2 (unless you’re the oldest and can convince your younger siblings that you can) (but never to 3. Come on, there are reasonable limits to everything.).
  9. If ever you cannot play any tiles from your tray, you must draw from the pile. If you run out of tiles, play continues until you’re all stuck. (I don’t remember that ever happening.)
  10. You win by playing all of your tiles from your tray. Dancing and gloating is optional.

How these rules are different from traditional rules
The traditional rules, which I now know because my husband and I got a new Rummikub game, state that you must have a total 30 points to be able to play tiles the first time (points are added from the values on the tiles). This means that you could have four runs of 1-2-3 on your tray, but still not be able to play them. The joker can be included in the 30 points total. Tiles “played off of” someone else cannot count toward the 30 points.

The joker must be replaced by a tile of the same numerical value and color that it represented on the table. The rules state that you cannot replace the joker with another tile already played on the table; only a tile from your tray can replace a joker. If you have a set of 3 with a joker (red 10-blue 10-J), either remaining color (here black or yellow/orange 10) can replace the joker.

The official rules expressly prohibit “rounding the corner” with a 12-13-1. Poo on their shoes. (Games bring out my mature side.) (Which is why Ryan and I actually fought over something as stupid as a board game.) (Okay, it was mostly me doing the fighting!)

Ryan’s family’s house rules include that the joker cannot be played at all on your first turn laying down tiles, even if you have <30 points from the other tiles you’re playing. Also, when you play a joker in a set of 3 (red 10-blue 10-J), you announce the color that it represents. It can only be replaced by the tile designated.

Another house rule that I’ve encountered for Rummikub is that you cannot create a five tile run on the table (3-4-5-6-7), leaving a maximum of four tiles in a grouping. (The official rules expressly contradict this rule in their example plays, but if you like it, then who cares?)

Neither Ryan’s family nor mine kept score, although it is in the official rules.

Our hybrid
Ryan and I have developed a hybrid that allows us to play without fighting. We follow his family’s rules on the initial play (30 points, no jokers), and follow my family’s rules on the joker (if you can “free” it, you can use it how ever you want). This is also known as a compromise.

We plan to teach our children never to play by the real rules (although we probably will want to teach them both sets of grandparents’ rules, just so they’ll know how to play when they visit).

For more fun and games—or at least game rules—see Classic Kid’s Game Group Writing Project.

8 thoughts on “How Rummikub House Rules Almost Ended My Marriage

  1. How about the time that you got so mad that me and Russel cheated at rummikub that you made us leave? 😉

  2. LOL. I didn’t make you leave, I just didn’t want to play with you anymore. Man, all kinds of good memories with that game.

    Why do we even like it anymore?!

  3. Ok, I am right now in that same situation, and I was searching on the net to find someone who could help! Please…here’s the question! You have a set of 3 on the table, let’s say two 8’s and a joker. From my hand I can use the two 8’s to make two other runs…what happens to that joker??? Does it become wild again or does it stay an 8? Or can you just not separate until you can replace it with another 8?

  4. Depends on your rules, of course, but I believe that the real rules say that it’s an 8 (of either color not represented in the set) until replaced by another 8 and must be played as such.

    My family’s rules, on the other hand, say that once you free the joker, it’s anything, but you have to be able to play it right away (even it’s just sticking it on the end of a run so someone else claims it on their next turn).

  5. One house rule we have is that a player MUST meld if they can if they have 30 points. Of course this can’t be verified. One family member without this rule always held back until the board was filled with melds that he could play on and win with 1 or 2 turns.

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