Teaching Time: 10 mins
Playing Time: 15-20 mins
Setup Time: 2 mins
Value For Money: Mid
There are a few ways of looking at the early history of the Spiel Des Jahres. At least one is as a largely chaotic series of choices prior to either A) the SDJ finding its way and shaping boardgames to the glorious golden age we now live in or B) certain big names arriving on the scene and leading the rest of us onto the glorious golden age we now live in, depending on your general view of history. An alternative view is of an understandable series of evolutionary steps towards what we now see as a fairly reliable industry leading award. Which of the two you sign up to probably colours your view of Rummikub.
Game play wise Rummikub is pretty close to traditional Rummy, you pull tiles with a range of numbers in 4 colours and attempt to lay them face up on the table in sets of matching numbers or suited runs. You're limited to making your first lay based on the face value of the tiles that you use. Tactical range is provided by allowing you to swap tiles and re-arrange those of already laid sets and runs.
As a game its easy to grasp and ultimately very satisfying. If released today it would probably be marketed as a light time filler, with most likely some sort of theme stuck on top, and would do very nicely. It can be picked up second hand for a tiny price and there's really no reason not to pick up a copy. It can be played with Grans and children or surprisingly competitively.
Back to it being an SDJ. Some people consider it a very left field choice and evidence of the early awards woolyheadedness. Its fairly abstract which puts it into a group of SDJ winners you can count on one hand with fingers left over, its based on a card game as old as the hills and was launched by one of the most mainstream publishers you could think of. However, personally, I would argue that Rummikub makes total sense in the history of the SDJ. Firstly, a great deal of its appeal comes from the tactile nature of the elements, it has no traditional cards, dice or board. Those chunky plastic tiles are in the same line as Camel Cups pyramid or Colt Express' train. Secondly, compare Rummikub directly to the 2018 winner. If Rummikub's tiles were drafted face up rather than randomly dealt or picked (and in the later game they largely are) and the tile sequences more closely defined, Rummikub could almost be Azul. With little better pacing in the early game, a slicker story and prettier presentation, Rummikub would be far less an SDJ anomaly and more like next year's potential winner.