I don’t know whether it says more about us as a family, or the type of games that come in tiny boxes (for reference I love tiny games in tiny boxes), but we seem to own an awful lot of pirate-themed games. Sure the games are possibly ‘just’ themed and could easily be any other, but would the likes of Skull King be as fun if it was accountant king? Pop up pirate would become pop up tax man? Rainbow pirates turns into colourful landlords… actually that one sounds interesting, but I digress.
Now technically Skull involves no pirates, it is obviously heavy on the skulls and there is little more piratey than a skull! I definitely get suckered in by the art work too, and this game has a myriad of themed cards to entice you, from the Viking skull to the sugar skull you’ll be left fighting over your favourite before the game even starts.
The Bones Of The Game
Skull is a game for between 3 and 6 players and is all about strategy and bluff. While some bluffing games also involve a luck of the draw element, there is no such thing here as every player starts with exactly the same 4 cards and a playing mat. The aim of skull is to bid correctly on how many of the circular playing cards you can flip over without encountering a skull. Be the first one to manage this feat twice, and you are the winner!
I think you know where I’m going with this, but obviously it’s not. In your hand you’ll hold your 4 cards – three flowers and one skull. Your playing mat is just that, it’s where you play your cards face down. It’s also a marker for how many games you’ve won, as when you win your first game you flip it to reveal the reverse which reminds your opponents your only one game away from winning. When a playing mat is flipped a second time, game over!
To start each player plays one of their card discs to the playing mat in front of them face down, then the starting player can either choose to add a disc to their pile or issue a ‘challenge’. If a player adds a disc then play moves to the next person and they can then choose to play or challenge and so it continues. To challenge in skull, a player ‘bids’ how many cards those played face down that they can turn over without revealing a skull. The next player can then increase the bid or pass. This continues until there is a winning bid then they must make good their offer by completing an ‘attempt’ and turning over said amount of cards. You may choose to bid tactically instead of playing a card or you may have to issue a challenge if you run out of cards to play.
Bring Your Best Bony Game Face
Of course theres more to skull than that, if you succeed as the winning bidder you must start by turning over ALL your own cards first so if you’ve already played your skull and were just trying to up the other players bids, tough luck my friend your scuppered! If you didn’t come face to face with your own skull the good news is you can choose which order you turn over the other players’ cards, however you must always work from the top of their pile, you can’t choose to flip an opponent’s second or third card etc. without flipping the top card. Cards must be flipped one by one for extra tension and maximisation of potential goading from fellow players.
Did you survive that round? Congratulations flip your mat, your one game of skull away from winning. Did you fail? Oh dear, well prepare to lose a card. If you made yourself loose by flipping your own skull, you get to choose which card to discard, if not the player whose skull stopped you gets to choose one at random. Either way only you will know which card you lost… for now.
If things weren’t tricky enough for you before, once you and your competitors start winning rounds and loosing cards it levels up. Now you could be forced to outbid challenges just to stop a player with a win under their belt winning again and claiming the game, even if you know you’ll lose the round. Lost a card already? How long you keep which card you lost to yourself could depend on how many of your cards get flipped on an attempt. You could challenge before you’ve played all your cards but should you?
If your unfortunate enough to lose all your cards (hey, it happens to the best of us!) you lose and you’re out of the game. But if this happens to all your opponents and you’re the last skull standing you also win!
That E-skull-ated Quickly!
In the Skull rule book it encourages the goading of your fellow players in an attempt to ‘destabilize’ them whilst they are flipping cards. A bit of the old ‘that’s not what I would do’ and the odd ‘flip my card if you want but it’s a skull’ ohhh what an unscrupulous and brilliant tactic that is! The rule book also suggests variations to the game by using two sets of cards each, or playing with an extra game to accommodate a larger playing group.
Whilst Skull certainly is a simply structured game with easy-to-grasp rules that’s almost what makes it so dastardly with scope for various strategies!
A great little game for any occasion, nice as a games night filler, lovely on a family oriented afternoon and a neat little box to take away if you think your holidays are going to end up wet, windy and lack lustre.