Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Should It Stay or Should It Go - Mystery Rummy

Game Thoughts

Like Deep Thoughts by Jack Handy, but not. Yeah, it has been a while since I last used this blog. I tend to go for a bit and then don't feel like I need to say anything (or I'm just lazy). At any rate, a buddy mentioned that maybe I should start this up again, so here we are again...

For a variety of reasons, I've been re-examining my collection and decided that maybe it was time to start thinning the heard. While I think my massive game collection looks super cool on the shelves and all, there are some problems. Namely - I'm running out of room. Also, I really don't need all these games. I play a small fraction of them and while I enjoy them, there are plenty I don't really need. So this year, I'm going to try and put some effort into seriously playing some titles and see if I can figure out what I really think about some of these games.

Mystery Rummy Series

The Mystery Rummy Family is a set of card games  by Mike Fitzgerald (occasionally with other contributors/designers) based on the classic Rummy game. The "standard" for play is along the lines of: 
  • Each player has a hand of cards and tries to play melds and layoffs (cards that match other players melds) to score points.
  • Typically there are two kinds of cards: the generic "set" cards and special cards. The special cards typically are limited to only a single card play by each player each turn. Specials might add to the value of specific sets, or let a player draw extra cards (or hunt through the discard pile). They might adversely affect an opponent. In some sense, these are the ones that make this more than standard Rummy games. 
That's it (in a nutshell). Draw, play and discard. Each game has its own twists and quirks which I'll explore in a second. First let me say - I have not played every one of the games in the "series" - there are a couple more out there. That being said, what I'm doing is exploring the games I own, so that is all I'll be speaking on in this post. 

Wyatt Earp

Wyatt Earp was an early entry in the Alea Small Box series of games and is really a fun little game. When players play a meld (the set cards are famous old west outlaws), you increase the reward/bounty on the outlaw. At the end of the hand, if there are enough points played for an outlaw, then the collected reward is distributed for that outlaw. Depending on who contributed points (played cards), the reward may be split between players. Sometimes, the reward goes up, but the outlaw wasn't "captured" (because not enough points played for that outlaw), so the reward carries over to the next hand. The reward money is essentially your points for the game and the first player to a set amount wins. The special cards can increase payouts for an outlaw, block an outlaw from being eligible for capture, help you dig for cards, etc. 

I really like this game best with three players. Players are really fighting to split bounties and block players from a big cash payout. When played two-player, it is pretty easy for one player or the other to make out like a bandit and win the game quickly from one lucky run of cards. With four players, it drags on a little long.

Jack The Ripper

This is the first in the true Mystery Rummy series and one of my favorite in the family of games. It plays well with 2-4 players, though we like it the best of all the series for two players. It also feels like one of the more balanced games in the series. Their are good counters to playing certain cards and it leads to a little bit of holding cards and bluffing once players understand the game.

In this game, the set cards are suspects in your Jack the Ripper case. At the end of the hand, if a suspect has more evidence against them than any other suspect, they are declared the ripper and those cards played are doubled in value. There are special cards that make a suspect ineligible for the doubling of points and other special cards for victims. If all the victim cards are in play, then there is a special "Ripper Escapes" card that can be played immediately, which scores that player a whopping 35 points (1/3 of what is needed to win the game) and then only that card and the couple of points from the played victim cards count for the round. Of course, the victim cards are how the players draw additional cards, so there is a fair incentive to play them, but once you get closer to having them all in play, you want to be careful about the last one. My only complaint with this game? The cards might be the stiffest cards I have ever played with. They are really really hard to shuffle well.

Murders in the Rue Morgue

The second entry in the Mystery Rummy series is based on the story by Edgar Allen Poe. The set cards are clues or scenes from the story and are paired up for scoring purposes. Each time a set is played, a player chooses to bury a card from the draw pile or the top card of the discard pile. These buried cards will go to the player who manages to go out during the first pass through the deck of cards, thus encouraging players to try and play fast. What discourages a player from going out quickly is that the big point scores come from holding both set of the paired sets (having both is a bonus). There is also a card that scores decently if both sets are in play (regardless of who holds the sets). The buried card mechanic also makes it so that you can flush a card from a set that you know your opponent(s) are trying to get, thus stymie-ing them. 

While fun, this entry in the series suffers from a lack of special cards. The special cards mostly boil down to "draw" cards or the bonus cards mentioned before. This simplifies the game play a bit and makes it a hair less interesting. This is good with two or three players, but probably is best with three.

Jekyll and Hyde 

The third entry in the series is strictly a two-player affair. In this game the sets are split up with some being Jekyll sets and some being Hyde. One or two of the sets go either way. The trick is, you can only lay down a set matching the current "state". The state is defined by a two sided card (one being Jekyll and the other Hyde of course). The special cards mostly revolve around flipping the state back and forth (potion cards) which also gets you extra draw cards. For scoring, you score double for the sets matching the state when someone went out. If you can manage to only place sets of one type and it is the matching one, you shut out your opponent. 

But that's it. Which has (IMO) made this the least interesting version in the series. It is certainly the easiest for a new player to pick up, but honestly, the other games aren't really that hard to learn. Huge thumbs down on this one.

Al Capone and the Chicago Underworld

Al Capone varies the standard formula by having variable size sets. The sets are various underworld bad guys. The sets range from only 4 cards total to 8 or 9 for Al Capone himself. You get a bonus for collecting the whole set (with the larger sets worth more points). The special cards have a nice variety and some that let you steal cards that your opponent(s) have already laid out. This can lead to a bit of playing "chicken" and holding out your cards for a big layout (of course, if you don't play them, you can't score them, thus the game of chicken). There are also some "go fish" kind of cards to try and find those underworld bosses that your stupid opponent is holding onto. If you can manage to nab all the Capone cards, you shut out your opponent for the hand.

The forth in the series is interesting in that it is a really good partnership game. I've been told to avoid it with three players. With two, it is ok, but the play takes on an extra dimension when you are working with a partner. With two players, the game feels a lot more "standard" as it is hard to dig for all the cards in the set. With a partner, the big layout means giving the other team a chance to do the same AND match up on what you played AND possibly steal from you, but it also means your teammate can end up dropping their hand as well for a quick finish. Lots of good stuff going on that take the series to the next level. You are far more likely to hit the sets when you have another player feeding you (and you feeding them). 

Escape from Alcatraz 

Alcatraz probably varies from the standard formula a bit more than others in the series. The set cards fall into two types - plans and escapees. You can play no more than one escape to the table per turn. Unlike the other games, the deck is only the set cards. You can only play a meld if there are more escapees in play than there are currently melds in play. The special cards only come into play when you play a meld or layoff on an opponent's meld (and you can only get that once a turn). When you get an action card, you simply turn it over and follow the instructions (usually there are options for what you can do). The next big variation is that you do not score points for playing the melds and layoffs. Instead, you score by foiling these plans. Once there are at least 8 cards for a set in play, you can foil a plan by playing an escapee (from your hand or from the yard) with the cards you have in play under your "Foiled" card. Other players may do the same for their cards matching the set. When the round ends, you score only for the cards that you have under your foiled card. 

My problem with the game is that it really is pretty dull with two players. It is also frustrating in that you can only get to the action cards by playing a meld, which is predicated on there being an acceptable number of escapees in the yard already. Therefore, if you never draw an escapee, you can get yourself somewhat locked out of getting to play your melds. Basically, it feels like there is more chance and less control. All these games have chance (they are cards games), but when the control mechanism are minimized and the luck of the draw is higher, it takes away from the enjoyment of the game. Though it probably doesn't sound like it from my description of the gameplay, the game's theme and what you are doing actually do go along fairly well. It just isn't that entertaining to actually play it. I've played it with two and with 4 players, and in both cases, it felt like three was probably the correct number here. I want to give this a couple more tries (something I never feel towards Jekyll and Hyde), but thus far haven't been terribly impressed with this attempt at something new to the series.

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