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Several years ago my husband and I stumbled upon Kooky Kalooki while we were out shopping. It says it’s a Jamaican card game, and since his mom is from Jamaica, we thought it would be a great gift for her. Despite never having heard of the game before, his mom quickly became the expert (9 times out of 10, she wins).

If you’ve ever played Phase 10, it’s a little like that, but more complicated. Everyone starts on Round 1, so everyone is dealt 9 cards and is trying to get 3 sets (more on sets later). If I’m the only one who gets 3 sets, I move on to Round 2 and get 10 cards for my next hand while everyone else is still on Round 1. So once you play a few hands, you can all be working towards different goals (the tricky part for whoever is dealing is remembering how many cards everyone gets). Now, in the rules you’re supposed to play 9 rounds or to a certain amount of points, but we play until someone completes Round 9. The way we play always takes longer.

For each Round you need a certain number of sets and/or runs:

Set: 3 (or more) cards of the same number (for example three 10s or three 8s)

Run: 4 (or more) consecutive cards of the same color (for example 6,7,8,9 in black or 10, 11, 12, 13 in red)

If your Round wants more than 1 run, you can’t have 2 runs of the same color. There are 4 colors in the game: red, yellow, green, and black. This means that in the final Round, you have to have a run in each color. You also can’t put down sets of the same number (for example two sets of 5s).

Cards run from Ace to 13. Ace can be low (1) or high (14).

There are also wild cards called Kooky cards. These can be used to fill gaps in sets and runs; however, two kooky cards can’t be next to each other in a run. 3, Kooky, Kooky, 6 doesn’t work, but Kooky, 3, Kooky, 5 does. You also can’t use two Kooky cards to make a set of 3. Kooky, Kooky, 6 isn’t allowed, but you could play Kooky, 6, 6 or Kooky, Kooky, 6, 6. Kooky cards can be moved around in a run if you get the card the Kooky card represents, but you can’t ever remove them and put them back in your hand.

Let’s say I go first. I draw and discard. Then it’s Professor’s turn. He also draws and discards, but the card he discarded is one I really need to complete a set. Before the next player draws, I can ask for that card (I can Call it). If the next player says I can have it, I pick up the top card of the discard pile and the top card of the draw pile (I now have 2 extra cards in my hand). If the next player refuses my Call, they have to take the top card of the discard pile. You can only Call cards if you haven’t laid any down. You are also limited to 3 Calls per round.

If you can lay down the requirements for your Round and discard (going out), that hand is over (this is where points come in if you play using points). If you have extra cards, you continue to play. If you can add those cards to your own or to another player’s set and/or run, you can go out that way as well.

It takes playing a few times to get the hang of things, and even though we’d recently played, I still had to clarify a few things. If you like Phase 10, but you want more of a challenge, this is definitely the game to get.

As I said before, Professor’s mom usually wins this game. One time she was stuck on Round 3, and I was on Round 6 or 7, and she still ended up completing Round 9 first! Sometimes it feels like you’re never going to complete a certain Round, especially when all you need is one card and someone else goes out. It can also be really rough when you need runs, but you have something like red 2 and 10 and green 5 and 12.

The last time we played, I actually managed to win. Though the most amusing thing about that game was during the last deal Professor’s mom said it was the last hand. When Professor said not necessarily, his mom said, “well, you aren’t going to win.” It was pretty harsh (but in a loving sort of way).

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