Cardboard Children – Skull

Hello youse.

In the run-up to Christmas I’ll be banging out reviews of board games old and new, to flush every last penny out of your battered old wallet or purse. I am going to be reaching into your coat pocket, giving you a Fagin smile, and singing “gotta buy a board game or two, boyyyyyy-ho-ho-hoyyyy”. And you know what? I think you’re going to like it. This week, I finally get around to SKULL.

SKULL

Skull was recommended to me as a great game for when you have friends around and you’re all drunk. So that’s a Monday. And a Tuesday. Okay, for the sake of swiftness, let’s just say it’s NOT a Sunday. Unless there’s wrestling on.

Usually, when someone says a game is good for drunken parties, it means that the game is a very simple one. It’s going to be something very easily explained, nice and chunky, and not too long. The alcohol-addled mind can’t retain information for very long. Board game rules will struggle for space alongside “WHERE IS TOILET?” and “WHERE IS FOOD?” and “WHEN IS SEX?” in the mind of a drunk person. So the best games for a party of inebriated wastrels are little, tight things with an attractive look.

SKULL’s most recent printing is a really nice one. It looks like a set of coasters you might buy from some theme bar in New York City. It looks like a PREMIUM product. It’s actually just a stack of round cards, but it feels like you’ve bought something of some value. This is why GOOD ARTWORK AND STRONG PRODUCTION are important.

And it’s just as well that the production is nice, because this is really a game you could make on your own. Seriously, you could play this with stuff you find around your home, like a bunch of identical shoehorns.

So, as a player, if that’s what you really want to be, you get a set of 4 coasters with your faction’s image on one side. On the other side of your 4 cards you find 3 roses and 1 skull. Every player antes up one card at the start of the game, placed face down. This can either be a rose or a skull. Then play carries on around the table, with players choosing to either place a new card on top of their stack or “bid”. A bid is when a player declares how many cards they feel they can start flipping off everyone’s stacks before they turn up a skull. So let’s say I bid 2. That means I have to flip the top one of mine, then move onto the next player and flip the top one of his. If I turn up a skull, I lose one of my cards. If I turn up roses, I win the round and gain a point, with only two points to win it.

That is the whole game. And it might seem like a pure guessing game. But no – this is a lovely little game of bluffing and brinkmanship, and it’s perfect for a drinking crowd in more ways than one. It’s not just that the game is short and sweet and simple to understand. It’s also that it’s a game that encourages a little bit of bravado, a little bit of bluster and bullshit. It says on the box that this was a game played by Bikers, and I don’t know how true that is. But it kinda feels right, because you can imagine these big drunk biker guys hooting and hollering as they raise the stakes on each other despite each bid bringing them closer to the inevitable skull.

Indeed, it’s hugely exciting when someone makes a ballsy bid and manages to flip six or seven roses without breaking a sweat. It feels good to be that guy, and it’s not always purely macho BS that carries you there. You can make some real headway in this little game by just watching what other people do and trying to read how they play their cards. Considering how little actual design space there is across this game, there are plenty of little holes for you to wiggle your head into. Was that large opening bid just a bluff? Is it likely that the player to your left opened with a skull when they really need a point this round? Once the game clicks with you, there’s enough interesting stuff to think about without it turning into a grind. It remains a good, casual drinking game but you can feel yourself improve despite the fact that the booze is probably destroying brain cells. Bear in mind though that this is a little game you fling out for ten minutes of light fun. Don’t expect the world, you silly sausage.

There’s something to talk about in the fact that you could make this game yourself. I’ve pretty much told you the rules, so if you have some cards lying around you could easily mock this one up and give it a try. But the genuine printed edition of the game is a lovely thing, and inexpensive. With such a reasonable price, I’d happily recommend you just fling some cash at it and give it a try with the full easy-on-the-eye experience, instead of doing some cheapo mock-up on your own. Try before you buy is a good thing, sure, but the reason why I’m here is to save you doing that. I think the looks actually matter in this one, because it’s nice to play with nice stuff.

Hey! You could even laminate it and serve drinks on them! Or be sick on them!

NEXT TIME

Another excellent game to add to your Christmas list will be coming at you next week. I think this one is something pretty special, so remember to check back to see what I’m hurting your pocket with this time.

“YOU GOTTA BUY A BOARD GAME OR TWO!”

19 Comments

  1. Mrice says:

    I quite like the idea of laminating these and using them as coasters. Bash out a little wooden box for them and you have a dual purpose coaster set/game for whenever.

  2. Runty McTall says:

    Have this edition of this game and play it with a bunch of people at work over lunch. As Rab says, it’s a quick game but lends itself well to epic moments as someone swerves their way through 5 or 6 roses, tension mounting as they go, and then it all rests on turning over just one more card correctly…

    One of my friends played it in Nepal using just playing cards with a bunch of travellers he’d just met, not all of whom spoke great English, and a fun time was had by all apparently. Transcends language this one.

    • Runty McTall says:

      Oh, also, the cards are indeed gorgeous.

      • Runty McTall says:

        Also, also, just to be clear, the person winning the bid has to flip all of their own cards first, not just the top one, and then the proceed to other players’ stacks, starting from the top.

  3. Premium User Badge

    Thulsa Hex says:

    Rab, you tease. I’m probably going to have that little ditty stuck in my head right up until I post my list to Santa this year.

  4. The Crane says:

    “let’s say I bid 2. That means I have to flip the top one of mine, then move onto the next player and flip the top one of his”

    Perhaps they’ve changed the rules in this edition but we’ve always played that the bidder has to reveal their entire stack (fnar) before going to flip another player’s top card.

    • Ferno says:

      You are right, You have to flip your entire stack first. The rules are poorly written to explain the entire flipping process but that’s how it starts.

    • jonfitt says:

      That’s definitely the rule in the original version I have. It’s important because it means (unless the bid is less than the number of your cards) there’s no way to put a trap down for someone, then not flip it yourself.

      It means that if you bid you’re claiming that your stack is clean, not just the top one. It’s an important rule.

    • HilariousCow says:

      You can also pick anyone’s stack after revealing your own… it’s not preordained. (Or at least, that’s how people taught me)

      • HilariousCow says:

        Oops. Everyone is saying this already. Heh.

        Great game. Taught it to my 8 year old niece which is roughly the same in terms of mental load bearing as a 28 year old drunk person.

  5. seebas says:

    Small but important correction : you must flip ALL your cards before flipping the ones from other players stacks.

    This adds a lot of depth to the game.

  6. Premium User Badge

    Thulsa Hex says:

    Three comments in a row with identical corrections. Guyyyys.

  7. Nixitur says:

    Others have already corrected that you don’t move onto other players until your stack is empty, but another important rule is that, no, you don’t just move onto the next player. In fact, once your stack is empty, you continue flipping by choosing any card on top of any player’s stack. The game would really be far too random if you had to go round and round and had no choice in what to flip.

    • Nixitur says:

      Not only too random, but also, more importantly, far less exciting.
      If you had no choice in what to flip, all the excitement is in the bidding phase and none of it when you flip. It just becomes routine. But knowing that you winning or losing depends entirely on your choice and looking at the other players, wondering “Did they put down a skull or not?” and then choosing poorly is the most exciting part of the game.

  8. atowncalledbastard says:

    A really great opener. And one of the first tabletop games to really sell me on the virtues of lovely tactile satisfying components. Slapping the discs down is amazing.

    It would be churlish of me not to point out that my YT channel did a play session video of it this week, right?

  9. Ferno says:

    Skull is a bloody brilliant game. If you don’t own it, buy it!

  10. Scurra says:

    So it’s a kind of simpler Liar’s Dice but with potentially more intricate interactions? That sounds very neat.

    • jonfitt says:

      It requires so much less thinking than liar’s dice. It gets down to the meat of the bluffing without you having to maths the odds of every bid.

    • HilariousCow says:

      Yeah, very very similar, but you have far more control about how you bluff, which is great.

      There’s also situations where people deduce your last card, and you can play around that knowledge, keep them in the game, and force their hand in the last round.