Rummikub is a tile-based game for 2 to 4 players, combining elements of the card game rummy and mahjong. There are 106 tiles in the game, including 104 numbered tiles (valued 1 to 13 in four different colors, two copies of each) and two jokers. Players have 14 or 16 tiles initially and take turns putting down tiles from their racks into sets (groups or runs) of at least three, drawing a tile if they cannot play. In the Sabra version (the most common and popular), the first player to use all their tiles scores a positive score based on the total of the other players’ hands, while the losers get negative scores. An important feature of the game is that players can work with the tiles that have already been played.
Rummikub was invented by Ephraim Hertzano, a Romanian-born Jew, who immigrated to Palestine in the 1940s. He hand-made the first sets with his family in the backyard of his home. Hertzano sold these sets door-to-door and on a consignment basis at small shops. Over the years, the family licensed it to other countries and it became Israel’s best selling export game. In 1977, it became a bestselling game in the United States. The game was marketed as “Rummikid” during part of the 1970s.
Hertzano’s Official Rummikub Book, published in 1978, describes three different versions of the game: American, Sabra, and International. Modern Rummikub sets include only the Sabra version rules, with no mention of the others, and there are variations in the rules between publishers. The game was first made by Lemada Light Industries Ltd, founded by Hertzano in 1978.
Rummikub is similar to several central European card games which are played with two decks of playing cards, including Machiavelli and Vatikan. Vatikan is played with two decks of cards and one joker per player, thus making 106 tiles.
Rummikub’s main component is a pool of tiles, consisting of 104 number tiles and two joker tiles. The number tiles range in value from one to thirteen in four colors (blue, red, orange, and black). Each combination of color and number is represented twice. Players each have a rack to store tiles without revealing the face of the tiles to the other players.
The following explanation is based on the rules in the 1998 Pressman American edition:
Tiles are shuffled together and either placed into a bag or spread out face down across the table. Each player draws and reveals one tile. The player whose tile has the highest number value win