Trash Talk: Mystery Rummy Series

In the last Trash Talk, I talked about a new wave of gaming called micro games. I wanted to continue that theme just a little bit more and talk about the five games in the Mystery Rummy series, designed by Mike Fitzgerald and published by Eagle-Gryphon Games.

Each one of the Mystery Rummy games has its own theme, ranging from classic literature to historical people and events. All except for one—Jekyll & Hyde—are playable for 2–4 players. The Jekyll & Hyde Mystery Rummy game is strictly for two players.

For those who don’t know, Rummy is a card game. During the game, players are trying to collect sets of certain cards in their hand. When a player has a set of three or more cards in a given collection, that player can lay those cards down in their tableau. This is called a meld. Once a player has created a meld, other players can also lay down cards in front of them that are part of that same meld (they no longer need to have a set of three). This is called a lay off.

The object of rummy is to be the first to empty your hand of cards and “go out.” When a player is able to accomplish this, it ends the round. Points are counted based on melds and layoffs in each player’s tableau. Most variants of Rummy will penalize players for cards left in their hand.

On your turn, only two actions are mandatory: draw a card at the beginning of your turn and discard a card at the end of your turn. You can choose to play cards in between those two actions.

What makes the Mystery Rummy games so great is that they are so easy to teach, especially if you are playing with people who don’t play a lot of newer board and card games, but are familiar with general card games such as Hearts, Spades, or Gin Rummy. They also have enough strategy and depth to keep a gamers brain churning and interested.

In most of the Mystery Rummy games there are two types of cards, Evidence and Gavel cards. Evidence cards are marked with a magnifying glass in the top left corner. Players try to create melds using Evidence cards and can play as many as possible on a single turn. Every Gavel card is marked with a gavel in the top left corner. These usually have special abilities that players can activate when they play them. Only one Gavel card may be played per turn. There is also generally a way to “shut out” your opponents—a way for a player to score points while denying their opponents any points. This is generally a difficult thing to do, usually requiring a player to collect a set of negative cards until a particular event occurs or the player collects a full run of the cards.

These mechanics and card traits can be found throughout the Mystery Rummy series. The wide variety of ways that this skeletal structure can be applied to the different game themes is what makes this series so brilliant.

Let’s look at a few variants of the game, beginning with Jack the Ripper Mystery Rummy. In this version, most of the Gavel cards are Victim, Scene, and Suspect cards. Victim cards are key in this variant. Players can’t play any of their evidence melds until someone plays a Victim card. Timing is critical if you’re holding a Victim card—you don’t want to play it until you have melds ready to lay down. Of course, there are other Gavel cards that can force players to play Victim Cards before they are ready.

Another type of Gavel card is the Suspect card. There are six suspects in the deck. Each one is the same color as a set of Evidence Cards. For example, Dr. Pedachenko has a red border. His five Evidence Cards also have red borders. A player can’t play the Dr. Pedachenko Suspect card until a meld of red Evidence Cards has been played into someone’s tableau.

At the end of the round after a player goes out, each color of Evidence card is totaled. The suspect that has the most evidence cards in players’ tableaus is Jack The Ripper for that round. Any cards that are related to that suspect are worth double their normal point values.

Another interesting entry in the Mystery Rummy series is Murders in the Rue Morgue, based on the Edgar Allan Poe tale of the same name. SPOILER WARNING: In this story, one of the first murder mysteries, it turns out that an orangutan committed the murders, not one of the suspects that the police chief was investigating.

In Murders in the Rue Morgue Mystery Rummy there is a draw pile, discard pile and also an Orangutan card. Ten random cards are placed beneath the Orangutan card. Players will again be trying to create melds and be the first to go out, but in this variant players will also have to “feed the orangutan” whenever they place a meld into their tableaus. They do this by placing the top card of either the discard or the draw pile beneath the Orangutan card.

If a player is able to go out before the draw pile is exhausted, the orangutan is caught and the player can add the cards underneath it to his or her tableau. If the draw pile is exhausted before anyone can go out, the orangutan escapes and no one gets the cards.

As I mentioned before, the Jekyll & Hyde variant of Mystery Rummy is the only strictly two player game out of the series.

Like the Murders in the Rue Morgue version, Jekyll & Hyde is also based on a piece of classic literature; this time Robert Louis Stevenson’s terrifying novel. Also like in the Rue Morgue game, Jekyll & Hyde has a special card that sits next to the draw and discard pile. In this case, it is a double-sided card—one side showing Dr. Jekyll and the other Mr. Hyde.

Every Evidence card in the game is marked with a “J” for Jekyll, an “H” for Hyde, or a “J/H” indicating that it can be used for both Jekyll and Hyde. During the game, a player can only lay down melds that correspond with current state of the Jekyll/Hyde card. If the Dr. Jekyll side is face up, only melds with a “J” or “J/H” may be played, if the Mr. Hyde side is face up, than only melds with “H” or “J/H” may be played.

Players collect sets of cards and use special Gavel cards to flip the Jekyll/Hyde card to the desired face that will allow them lay down melds before their opponent can. It’s a great two-player game of tug of war.

The easiest of the five Mystery Rummy games to learn and teach is Case No 4: Al Capone and The Chicago Underworld. In this rummy variant, you use Gavel cards such as Elliot Ness, Search Warrants, and Raids to round up the different gangs of prohibition-era Chicago. Al Capone and the Chicago Underworld is a more straight-up Rummy game—there are no trigger cards that tell players when they can and can’t play melds. If a player has at least three cards of the same mobster, the player can lay them down into his or her tableau.

The catch is that there are cards that allow you to search through the discard pile (as in most other Mystery Rummy games) and others that allow you to steal cards from other players hands or tableaus. In other words, unlike the other games, cards are not necessarily safe just because they are in your tableau. Of course, in order for you to steal, another player must meld cards associated with the particular mobster that matches the card you’re holding.

This presents an interesting twist on the timing of when players should lay down their cards down and when it’s better to hold them a while longer. Some of the mobsters have six or seven cards in a complete set. Players have to decide when a good time to lay down—with just three cards? Four so that you hold the majority of the run? Depending on the Gavel cards that are played, there’s always a chance that a card can be stolen whether in a your tableau or your hand. This adds some great back and forth—and a dash of “take that” vengeance—to a game of Rummy.

The final game in the Mystery Rummy series is Escape from Alcatraz. In this version, players are guards at one of the world’s most famous prisons. In the game they’re creating melds to try to foil famous escape attempts from “the Rock.”

New melds can only be played is if there are available escapees in the yard. At the beginning of the game, players will start with one escapee in the yard. This means only one meld can be started until more escapees are played. Players can never have more different colored melds in play than there are escapees in the yard.

Just like the other Mystery Rummy variants, Escape from Alcatraz has a twist. Every player has a Foil card. When there are at least eight matching Escape cards (the cards you use to create melds) on the table and an eligible escapee in the yard or your hand, you can place all of the cards of that meld under the Foil card and the escapee. This is called “foiling the escape plan.” Clockwise around the table, each player that has the same meld color in his or her tableau can also place those under their Foil cards. If players have an eligible escapee card (now considered a “co-conspirator”) in their hands, they can also place those under the Foil card.

At the end of the round, only the cards under the Foil cards count for scoring points. Melds in players’ tableaus or hands won’t score for or against them.

Mike Fitzgerald has also designed two other games that utilize some Rummy mechanics but that aren’t part of this series—Wyatt Earp, which was just recently reprinted, and Bonnie & Clyde which as far as I know is currently out of print.

What Mike Fitzgerald has been able to accomplish with these Rummy variants is nothing short of amazing. They are essentially the same game, but with twists and turns that breathe new life into each variation. None of them play the same, but are similar enough that once you’ve learned one you can easily grasp the others. They are all an enjoyable, lightweight, fun romps through history for gamers and non-gamers alike.


Written by Jason Hancock

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