I have been on a trick taking journey of discovery recently. I hadn’t played much trick taking since I was a kid but then The Crew was released and this brought it into my mind and reminded me of how much I love this simple but compelling mechanism.
Following this I played and fell head over heels in love with Shamans. This is a trick taking game with a hidden traitor and it plays amazingly well at all player counts which is really difficult to do with hidden traitor games.
Most recently Cat In The Box took over my table which is another trick taking game with a brilliant idea of removing the cards colours and allowing the players to declare the colours when played. I reviewed this game here and I highly recommend you check it out.
All this trick taking made me seek out new adventures and there is no better way to do that than with pirates roaming the seas in Skull King from Grandpa Becks Games. The question is does this game sail on to glory and riches or should it be buried at the bottom of Davy Jones’ locker? Read on to find out.
Shiver Me Timbers
Normal trick taking has four suits with one being the trump suit. Skull King has four normal suits: Parrots (Green), Pirate Map (Purple), Treasure Chest (Yellow) and Jolly Roger (Black). The Jolly Roger is the trump suit but not the top trumps, oh no, this game also includes Pirates (Red), Escape (Blue), a Skull King (ultimate pirate), and mermaids (Aqua) and this is just the base game without the expansions that come in the box.
You still play your tricks in the normal way with the start player playing a lead colour which all other players must follow (unless a player plays a special card – pirate, escape, skull king or mermaid), the player with the highest card wins the trick, but now you have to consider the following possibilities:
- 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). By now you are probably asking why you want to lose a trick and the answer to that is all to do with scoring.
Yo-Ho-Ho, A Pirates Life For Me
After the cards have been dealt for the round and all players have looked at them in secret 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. This is then noted on bid reminder cards.
The game presents two different ways of scoring, The Skull King and The Rascal, both of which are fun but I would recommend The Skull King for the best laugh per game played. The Rascals scoring is a more kind game with no negative points awarded whereas The Skull Kings feels really cutthroat and more pirate-y with more excitement and rewards for being brave.
The game is played over ten rounds with the first round being played with only one card each and then two cards for the second round, and so on until the tenth round where you play with ten cards each.
When you play the Skull King rules you only score positive points for correctly guessing the number of tricks you win. In that case you score twenty points per trick with some bonuses awarded for certain deeds in the game (capturing a pirate, highest card in a suit etc). If you fail you score minus ten points per trick you were out by, so if you guessed five tricks but only scored one you would score minus forty points. You can guess that you will win zero tricks and if you are correct you will be awarded ten points per card dealt to you (so in round seven that would be worth seventy points).
Scores are cumulative with the player who plays the best over ten rounds crowned the winner.
Drunken Sailor (s)
Trick Taking games often don’t work as well at two players (there are some exceptions such as The Fox in the Forest) but Skull King has a very clever two player variant which is great fun. You effectively play with a ghost pirate who also has cards dealt at the beginning of the round. They of course have no hands so you have to turn over the cards for them on their turn.
Whenever you play with the ghost pirate you always play their card second (in-between the players) unless they won the last trick in which case they lead. It is amazing how many times the host pirate wins the trick with their random card play and this really increases the tension between the players as they try to score the number of tricks they predicted. It is a simple and elegant solution to making a trick taking game work for two.
The Pirate King
I really like this game with just the base rules and I would have been happy to have just that. However, Grandpa Becks Games also kindly included two ways of scoring, several variants, expansions and advanced rules. That combined with the fact that the game plays from two to eight players makes this a big win for me.
I really like the art on most of the cards with the only exception being some of the pirate and mermaid faces look like photos and others look cartoonish. This is always off putting in a game and I wish they would stick with one art direction.
The components are of a good quality with a lovely small box, good rules and player aids, but as with some card games they start to show wear fairly quickly around the edges.
I love the scoring and the swingy nature of who is leading. A good round can make up so much distance to your competitors if they have a bad round.
Skull King is definitely for fans of the trick taking genre and due to its increased complexity it won’t win over anyone who doesn’t like trumps etc. But for fans of trick taking this has to be in your collection.
Now set sail for Trick Taking Island.
That concludes our thoughts on Skull King. Do you agree? Let us know your thoughts and tag us on social media @zatugames. To buy Skull King today click here!