A mystery box filled with miniatures to enhance your RPG campaigns. All official miniatures and for a bargain price!

Buy Miniatures Box »

Not sure what game to buy next? Buy a premium mystery box for two to four great games to add to your collection!

Buy Premium Box »
Subscribe Now »

If you’re only interested in receiving the newest games this is the box for you; guaranteeing only the latest games!

Buy New Releases Box »
Subscribe Now »

Looking for the best bang for your buck? Purchase a mega box to receive at least 4 great games. You won’t find value like this anywhere else!

Buy Mega Box »
Subscribe Now »

Buy 3, get 3% off - use code ZATU3·Buy 5, get 5% off - use code ZATU5

How To Play Skull King

skull king (1)

My review for Skull King is available here so please go and have a read if you want to know if this is the kind of game you would like.

This is a How To Play for this brilliant Trick Taking game so if you want to learn the games rules without dipping too much into the actual rule book and Youtube videos then this is the blog for you.

Set Up

This is the easy part. Take all of the cards from the box and then remove from the pack the loot cards, kraken, white whale, player aids, bid reminders, blank cards and scorepad. With the remainder of the cards shuffle away. Give each player an aid and bid reminders and keep the scorepad on the table. The loot cards, kraken, white whale and blank cards go back in the box for now.

You are now ready to play the base game of Skull King.

Let’s Play

Skull King is played over ten rounds. Each round is made up of tricks and the number of tricks is equal to the number of the round. So in the first round you will only be dealt one card each and you will only play one trick. By the tenth round you are dealt ten cards and will play ten tricks.

Predicting Tricks

At the start of each round you will look at your own cards and then try to decide how many tricks you will win that round. All players simultaneously have to declare how many tricks they think they will win. You do this by bashing your closed fist on the table whilst saying Yo-Ho-Ho and on the last ‘Ho’ everyone reveals how many tricks they think they will win using their fingers to count (closed fist means zero). This is then noted on the bid reminder cards.

Playing Cards

In Skull King you play your tricks in the normal trick taking way with the start player playing a lead colour which all other players must follow, the player with the highest card wins the trick, but with many more cards than just the basic four suits (parrots, pirate maps, treasure chests and jolly rogers) you have to consider the following possibilities if the lead colour can’t be followed:-

  • Parrots, Pirate Maps and Treasure Chests are trumped by Jolly Rogers
  • Jolly Rogers are trumped by Mermaids
  • Mermaids are trumped by Pirates
  • Pirates are trumped by the Skull King
  • The Skull King is trumped by Mermaids

The Escape cards are played if you want to lose the trick and there is a pirate who acts like a pirate or an escape card (your choice).

The mermaid throws a lot of interesting decisions your way as she is good for beating the standard suits but gets beaten by the pirates. However she beats the skull king adding another layer of complexity to the mix.

The winner of the trick takes all the cards played and places them face down in a pile to indicate it is a won trick. If there is another round the player who won the trick plays a new lead card.

Once all tricks for the round are completed you tally up some score.

End Of Round & Scoring

There are two ways of scoring in Skull King. I will first describe the less exciting way called The Rascal’s Scoring.

If you correctly predicted your trick total you will score ten points per trick that round. So for round four that would be forty points. If you were one off from your prediction (so you said you would win two tricks but you won one or three) you would win half the points available so in the same example that would be twenty points. If your prediction was two or more out you win no points.

In addition to the trick points you are also awarded bonus points if you collect the number fourteen card for the parrots, pirate map, treasure chest or jolly roger. Further bonus points are available if you capture the mermaid by the pirates, the pirates by the skull king or the skull king by the mermaid. These points are also affected by your prediction so if you were correct you would receive the full points. If you were one off you would collect half the points and if you were two or more off you would not collect any points.

The game includes optional Rascal Rules which ask you to decide to ‘load cannons’ before play commences just after the bidding. With this rule if you decide to play a cannonball shot you earn Fifteen points for each trick in the round, if your bid was correct. If your bid was off by any amount you score zero points. The other option is a Grapeshot which scores you under the normal Rascals scoring.

But I prefer the Skull Kings scoring method as this is much more cutthroat and pirate-y. Playing this way you will score minus ten points for every trick you were out compared to your bid. So if you bid four tricks but only scored one you would lose minus thirty points. If you correctly score the required number of tricks that you bid you score twenty points per trick plus any bonus scores for capturing pirates, mermaids, the skull king and the number fourteen card in the base sets. If you bid zero and win zero tricks you score ten points per trick played that round plus any bonuses.

All of the scores are noted on the scoring pad and then the game continues with the next player clockwise becoming the start player for the first trick in the next round. Don’t forget to deal one more card than last time.

After ten rounds scores are calculated and the player with the highest score wins.

Two Player Variant

If playing with only two players you deal a hand of cards face down to a ghost pirate. They of course have no hands so you have to turn over the cards for them on their turn.

You always play the ghost pirates card second (in-between the players) unless they won the last trick in which case they lead. They of course do not make predictions or score at the end of the round, instead they just get in your way.

Expansions & Variants

You can choose to play with either the Kraken or White Whale or even both.

When the Kraken is played it destroys the trick and no one wins that turn. The next trick is then started by the player who would have won the trick had the Kraken not been played.

When the White Whale is played it affects different cards in unique ways. Special cards (pirates, mermaids, escapes, skull king) are destroyed and can’t win. Numbered cards turn white with fear. So this would make the highest numbered card win regardless of its colour (they are all white now). In the event of a tie the player who played the highest card first wins.

If both the Kraken and White Whale are played in the same trick the second one played wins the battle and sets the action for that trick.

There are also Loot cards which when played and captured by another player bind you together and if you both correctly win the required number of tricks you both get a bonus twenty points.

You can also play with the Advanced Pirate Abilities. These are different depending on which pirate you use and allow you to choose who leads the next trick, add two cards to your hand and discard two, bet additional points on you correctly reaching your bid total, look through the cards not dealt, allow you to change your bid by one if you choose.

Finally the game includes rules for changing the number of tricks played, number of rounds etc. But I won’t go into this as you can make these rules up for yourself.


I hope this has helped you to learn the rules and how Skull King plays. Obviously I would always recommend people use the official rule book to learn the rules in depth but this blog should give you a really good flavour of how the game flows.

I absolutely love the game and if you want to find me on twitter to discuss how brilliant Skull King is please do @boardgamehappy.