Reviewed by Herb Levy

MYSTERY RUMMY #4: AL CAPONE AND THE CHICAGO UNDERWORLD (US Games Systems, 2-4 players, less than an hour: $12)


Of all the card games out there (and there are plenty), the Mystery Rummy series is unique. First off, it’s a series of games that combine the basic mechanics of rummy with a recurring theme of crime and mystery. It also has an excellent record for providing quality card play. From the first entry, MR1: Jack the Ripper (Fall 1998 GA REPORT), through MR2: Murders in the Rue Morgue (Fall 1999 GA REPORT) to MR3: Jekyll & Hyde (Spring 2001 GA REPORT), we’ve enjoyed Mike Fitzgerald’s creations. This time, Mike teams up with Nick Sauer to take us into the underworld of 1920s America with Mystery Rummy #4: Al Capone and the Chicago Underworld.

If you’ve played any of its predecessors, you’ll recognize a similar play pattern: you draw, you meld (if able) and discard. But there’s more to the action than this.mr4

In MR #4, there are two basic types of cards in the game: Evidence cards and Gavel cards. Evidence cards depict gangsters of the 1920s: Ralph Capone, Jake Guzik, Jack McGurn, Murray Humphreys, William White, Frank Nitti, Johnny Torio, Samuel Hunt, Fred Burke, Mike Heitler and – no gangster game would be complete without – the infamous Al Capone. Sets of these cards range from a low of 4 (for Heitler) to a high of 8 (for Al Capone). Gavel cards allow players to use a “special power”.

Players are dealt a hand of 10 cards. The remaining cards (dubbed the “Case File”) are placed where everyone can get to them. The top card of the Case File is turned up to form the discard pile which, in keeping with the game’s theme, is called the “Underworld”.

On turn, a player begins by either drawing two cards from the Case File OR taking the top card from the Underworld. Then, a player may lay down as many Evidence cards as he wishes. Evidence cards may be played as “melds” of three or more gangster cards or, if a meld is already in play, matching cards (of less than three) may be played. Gavel card play is limited to a maximum of 1 per turn. Played shrewdly, these Gavel cards can turn the tide of the game.

Four types of Gavel cards exist in the game and three of them have dual uses.

Five Agent Meeting cards allow a player to name a particular gangster and then, starting with the player on the left, gather ONE matching card from a player that has one. Alternatively, a player may ask a particular player for ONE specific gangster and that player must give up ALL of the gangster cards of that player he has.

Five Eliot Ness cards allow you to either take two more cards from the Case File OR turn over the next seven cards from the Case File and gather up any of the seven that match any melds you already have in play!

Five Search Warrants allow you to go through the discards and secretly take one card and add it to your hand. Alternatively, you can go through the discards and take ALL cards there that match one of your melds in play.

The three Raid cards have only one use – and a potentially powerful one. With this Gavel card, you name a gangster you have a meld of in play and take from the opposing players all of their played cards that match your meld! (Strategy tip: avoid playing a meld of 3 gangsters when 7 gangsters are in the set. This will prevent a second meld of 3 from coming into play and guard against the danger of losing your meld to the opposition!)

Finally, to end a turn, a player must discard a card.

Play continues until either the last card in the hand of a player is discarded OR the last card in the Case File is drawn. Then, points are tallied.

Each gangster card has a number value ranging from 1 to 3. If a player has managed to meld an entire set of a particular gangster, the whole is worth more than the sum of its parts. For example, each Frank Nitti card is worth 2 points. Get the entire 6 card set and you get 25 points! Should a player (or team) manage) to meld the entire 8 card Al Capone set, they get 35 points for the meld. Should they have Al Capone and also be fortunate (or skillful) enough to go out and end the game, the result can brutal. They score normally for cards played but the opposition is shut out and gets no points at all! First player or team to total 200 points earns the win!

If you’ve played any previous Mystery Rummy title, then the learning curve for this entry is virtually non-existent. But even if you haven’t, MR #4 may be the easiest of the series to learn. (Play aid cards which list the sets and their respective values are nice touches to the package.) The quality of the box deserves mention as it is levels above its predecessors in sturdiness. The cards are well designed in that colors are easily recognizable, point values are easy to read, powers of the Gavel cards are explained right on the cards themselves and the gangster cards have little snippets of background on the infamous figures adding to the ambience. Ironically, the cards also have a downside. Because they have been “upgraded” in thickness to make them more durable, the unforeseen result has been to make shuffling the deck a bit too cumbersome. When the early games in the series get an upgrade in their boxes, perhaps this entry will “downgrade” the card stock!

Mystery Rummy Case #4: Al Capone and the Chicago Underworld plays like a charm. This excellent rummy variant has appeal that can cross the lines between gamers and non-gamers – a good litmus test to determine if a game has solid replay value. This game does! — – – – – Herb Levy


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