Contract Rummy is a variation of Rummy where the game changes from hand to hand! On each hand, players have a different “contract” to fulfill in order to go out: some hands require a certain number of runs, while others require a certain number of sets. No matter what, though, the basic rummy gameplay flow—draw-meld-discard—is the core mechanic of the game. It has been adapted by Mattel into one of their proprietary games, Phase 10.
Contract Rummy is ideal for four players, but can be played with three or five as well. Score is only kept to keep track of unmatched cards (deadwood) at the end of the hand; therefore, scoring as few points as possible is the way to win the game.
Object of Contract Rummy
The object of Contract Rummy is to score the lowest number of points by being the first to deplete your hand, primarily by forming melds. In order to do so, the player must lay down a certain combination of melds that meet the contract for the hand.
Contract Rummy is played with a deck formed by taking two standard decks and adding one fewer jokers than the number of players. That is, three players play with a 106-card deck (104 cards plus two jokers), four with 107 (three jokers), and five with 108 (all four jokers). If you’re using Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards, not only do you get all the benefits of their durability, but you also get to play with jokers that have an awesome dragon on them.
You will also need something to keep score with. Pencil and paper works best, but, by all means, use an Etch-A-Sketch if you think that’ll work better.
Shuffle and deal ten cards, face down, to each player on the first three hands, or twelve on the fourth through seventh hands. The remainder of the deck is placed face-down in the center of the table, forming the stock. The first card of the stock is turned face up; this card, the upcard, is the first card of the discard pile.
The player to the left of the dealer plays first. They begin their turn by drawing either the top card of the stock or the upcard of the discard pile. If they draw the upcard, their turn simply continues. If, however, they draw from the stock, the other players have the opportunity to take the undrawn discard by asking “May I?” If multiple players ask “May I?”, of the players that asked, the first player to the active player’s left has priority. The player that takes this upcard draws both the upcard and the top card from the stock as a penalty. If other cards have been discarded this hand, the act of taking the upcard exposes a new upcard under it; this new card may then be taken by any other player in the same way. This can continue indefinitely, with the only restriction being that a player cannot draw two consecutive upcards. The play then reverts to the active player (i.e. the player whose turn was interrupted by the first “May I?”)
If the stock is depleted when a player wishes to draw from it, set the upcard aside and turn the the remaining cards of the discard pile face down, then shuffle them to form the new stock. If both the stock and the discard pile are exhausted, the hand ends immediately.
After the draw has been settled, the player may meld cards if able. There are two types of melds in Contract Rummy: sets or groups, which are three or more cards of the same rank (e.g. 9-9-9), and runs or sequences, which are four or more cards of the same suit in sequence (e.g. 10-J-Q-K). Suit is irrelevant when it comes to sets; one can have two identical cards (i.e. of the same rank and suit) in the same meld. In sequences, aces may be low or high, but not both at the same time; A-2-3-4 is a valid meld, and so is J-Q-K-A, but Q-K-A-2 is not.
All melding is subject to one restriction: their first meld of the hand must, all at once, make the contract for the hand. The contracts for each hand are as follows:
- Two sets of three.
- A set of three and a run of four.
- Two runs of four.
- Three sets of three.
- Two sets of three and a run of four.
- One set of three and two runs of four.
- Three runs of four, melded all at once.
Note that for the purposes of fulfilling a contract, sequences of the same suit may not be continuous; 3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10♣ would be considered one eight-card sequence, not a 3-to-6 sequence and a separate 7-10 sequence. (Two separate runs may later be joined together by layoffs as described below; this does not affect fulfillment of the contract.)
After a player has made an initial meld that makes the contract, they may on subsequent turns lay down further melds.
Jokers are wild cards and may be put into a meld in place of any card. If a joker is placed in a sequence, any player who holds the card it represents may, in the lay-off phase of their turn (see below), add the card to the meld and take the joker into their hand (e.g. if a meld of 5-6-★-8♠ has been played, a player who has the 7♠ may substitute it for the joker and reuse the joker for another meld later). Jokers that are part of sets may not be reclaimed in this manner. Any joker which has been taken in this manner must be played to a new meld on the same turn.
On the seventh hand, no initial meld or laying off takes place. Instead, all twelve cards must be melded all at once, with no discard.
Laying off and discarding
Before a player has melded, and on the turn that a player makes their initial meld, they simply discard a card and their turn ends. On subsequent turns, they may lay off cards by adding them to melds on the table, either their own or another player’s. As many or as few cards may be laid off as one desires.
After laying off, a player discards one card and play passes to the player on their left.
Ending the hand
The hand ends whenever both the stock and the discard pile is depleted, or, more commonly, when one player has gotten rid of their entire hand. At this point, all players with cards left in their hand score points for the cards remaining:
- Jokers and aces: 15 points
- Face cards: 10 points
- All other cards: face value
The deal then passes to the left and the next hand is played. Game play continues until the end of the seventh hand, at which point whoever has the lowest score is the winner.