Landmark Games, Part 4

What are the landmark games?  Which games created genres?  Or perfected them? Or changed the way we look at them?  Here’s my list.  I’d love to see yours.


Rummy Games

At its core, rummy games are remarkably simple. Draw a card.  Build patterns in your hand (put these patterns into play on the table or hold them in your hand). Discard a card.

Many rummy games allow the player choice of drawing from the discard pile.  but this is not a requirement of the genre.

The rummy format is remarkably flexible despite its simplicity.

Henry Turkel gave us Word Rummy.

Michael Schacht gave us four piles to draw from when he created Crazy Chicken/Drive–two face down draw piles and two face up discard piles.

Alan R. Moon removed discarding and introduced a map to create Ticket to Ride.

Mike Fitzgerald gave us event cards and directly confrontational scoring mechanisms in his Mystery Rummy series.

Satoshi Nakamura melded European rummy with Pacific mahjong in Phantom Rummy.

Sheamus Parkes saw rummy through a Civilization lens to bring us Utopian Rummy and Plato 3000.

So many designers have put their own touch on the format that it was darned difficult to select which most advanced it.  In the end, I opted for a personal favorite…


Wyatt Earp

In 2010, I had the good fortune to contribute an essay to Family Games: the 100 Best.  In that essay, I called Mystery Rummy Case #3: Murders in the Rue Morgue as my favorite of Mike Fitzgerald’s rummy games.  Because I enjoy partnership games so much, my opinion of Rue Morgue game remains high.  However, Wyatt Earp (written in collaboration with Richard Borg) is the better game for those interested in design.

Wyatt Earp offers three four key elements for every designer to examine: card draw, event cards, card rolling, awarding victory points.


Card Draw

During its development, Stefan Brück introduced a variation on the standard card draw rule.  This new rule allows players to take the top ONE of the discard pile (which is face up) or the top TWO of the draw pile (which is face down).  Most rummy games by contrast let you take only one card from either pile.  In those traditional rummy games, it is almost always correct to take a useful card from the discard pile rather than a blind draw from the deck.  In Wyatt Earp, your decisions are more complex.  ‘That discard is juicy. I can use it. Oh, but the top two cards in the draw pile could both be useful! What is a poor gamer to do?!?’ You know that tougher decisions generally make better games.  Wyatt Earp presents you with a tough decision at the start.


Event Cards

Cards in this game come in two types–wanted posters (the cards you meld for points) and sheriff cards (the cards you play to cause a special event).  Among them, these event cards do pretty much everything you’d want to do in a rummy game–steal cards from opponents’ hands, steal cards from an opponents’ melds, block theft, draw extra cards, add bonus points to a meld.

Many games suffer from the inclusion of event cards because the event cards are strictly better than the rest, meaning that the winner is the player that draws more of them than any other player.  Mike Fitzgerald knows this and cut that advantage off at the knees. His Mystery Rummy games only allow players to use one event card per turn.

Since controlling when your hand empties can be critical, you will often find yourself playing one event card and discarding another simply to clear them out of your hand.  Remember those tough choices during card draw?  Many of them appear because your opponent left a helpful event card for you.


Card Rolling

Some of the best event cards in Wyatt Earp are not guaranteed.  In addition to playing the event card, you will be required to roll (flip) the top card of the discard pile.  Only if you roll a wanted poster does the event happen.  This puts an interesting gamble into the game.  This touch is particularly apt when we consider how many westerns feature gambling at the center of their plot (Johnny Guitar jumps to my mind but feel free to insert your favorite western in its place.  It is certain to feature a card game at some point).


Awarding Victory Points

Putting wanted posters into play (melding sets) is no guarantee of capturing a bandit (scoring it at the end of the hand).  Even if the bandit is captured, there’s still no guarantee you’ll get any of getting his or her bounty (victory points).

Capturing a bandit requires that the players have accumulated a minimum of 6 capture points.  Wanted posters only show 2 capture points each so having 3 in play (the minimum needed to open a meld) is actually an invitation to other players to join in for a share of the bounty.  You will usually be happy to see another player get a share if the difference is getting nothing at all.

To get a share of the bounty requires that you make a significant contribution to the villain’s capture.  Any player who lags the leader by more than 4 capture points gets no part of the reward.

One of the event cards in the game allows you to move cards from an opponent’s meld to your own. Careful planning and a dash of luck (this event requires rolling a card) can snatch a contender’s share right into your pocket.


Closing Thoughts

Rummy games are a familiar and versatile game category.  Although its core engagement is focused almost entirely on hand management, Wyatt Earp surpassed all others in showing the breadth of options that can be contained in a single rummy game.

What are the landmark games?  Which titles should every game enthusiast play at least once?  Wyatt Earp is my fourth suggestion.  We move on to other topics Friday but will be return to look at other landmark games in the future.

Have you played Wyatt Earp?  What do you think of it as a landmark game?  What other games do you see as notable ancestors to newer games?  Which ones were the (ha-ha) game changers? Share with your fellow readers in the comments below.  And if you’re enjoying what you’re reading, create and account with WordPress and follow this blog.  If you keep reading, I’ll keep writing.


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