If you’ve been playing tabletop games for awhile you may have heard the term “beer and pretzels game.” It generally refers to short, lightweight games that have a relatively small footprint, easy to pick up and teach and typically provide a good amount of laughter and fun. The name caters to the idea that you could play said games while sitting around a table, eating some snacks and sipping beers, without having to truly focus and commit to the game. You’re allowed to be a bit social, and often times this helps enhance the game itself. Being the prominent tabletop fan of my group of friends, I enjoy these types of games as it allows me to get my fix while making sure others have a fun time as well and that I’m not just dragging people into a game they don’t want to play. Skull (or as it was also known Skulls and Roses) is one of these games. It’s a game of bluffing and pushing your luck. I heard it described by a particular group of board game reviewers as the game that people wish poker was like, and I feel they’re kind of right.
Skull, designed by Harve Marley, is a game of 3-6 players and takes about 45 minutes, though I’ll say that last number is probably the max amount of time it would take and even then it can be one hell of a 45 minute session. In Skull each player is given a square coaster and four discs .The square coaster has a darker side and a lighter side, with very tattoo parlor style artwork on either side. It truly doesn’t matter what side you have up, so long as everyone starts out the same. As for the four discs they are all reminiscent of their respective coaster on one side and then have a flower on the other except for one, which will be a skull. The goal of the game is to flip discs (or get someone else to flip discs) of a certain number without flipping a skull. The first to succeed twice wins.
Since that may have been too straightforward, let’s go into how each step of the game plays. (For a visual walkthrough scroll to the bottom!) I normally wouldn’t do this but one of my favorite things about Skull is that you could technically teach it in about 30 seconds to 1 minute. At the beginning of each round each person playing will place one of their discs face down on top of their coaster. They may pick any one of their flowers or a skull, it doesn’t matter. Once everyone has done so the round will begin with a player (and you can use any method to determine who starts). That player has a choice. They can either place another disc and pass the turn, or start betting how many discs they can flip without hitting a skull in which case they would also pass the turn. If the first player places a disc the turn will pass to the player’s left and that new player will be given the same option. Once someone bets a number, then no more discs can be placed facedown. It’s then up to the next player to either raise the anti or fold. Once there are no other players left to bet or the max number of discs has been called then that player must start flipping. It is worth noting that you must flip your own discs first, and it has to be all of them at once. Once you get through your stack you are free to pick from any person’s stack and can flip as you wish (so long as it is top to bottom). You could flip the top disc from player A, then the top from Player B, and then back to Player A if you were so inclined. If you were to bust and therefore flip a skull then you must shuffle your discs facedown. The individual who owned the skull that busted you picks a disc at random and hands it back to you. That disc is now out of the game. Though you are down a disc only you know what you lost, and you can use this to your advantage to eek out a victory. If you were to flip the required number of discs and not flip a skull then you receive a point. You then flip your square coaster as a visual indication to the number of points you have. Once someone has successfully flipped no skulls two times (or when they’re the last player standing) the game is over and that player is declared the winner.
And that is Skull the game. I absolutely love this game, and it is a big hit with my friends and I. There are quite a few ways to approach playing this game as well, adding to the intrigue that I feel it has. On one hand, you can be the cool guy, not showing any emotion and simply outsmarting other players. You could be the straight up mathematician and find the most efficient time to start flipping. You could be the aggressor, trying to constantly goad people into flipping your (or someone else’s) disc knowing very well they’re going to bust and hit a skull. It is a joy to play, especially if you have these different types of players in the same game. As mentioned in the beginning, Skull plays 3-6 players and though it is definitely a fun game with 3 players, it gets more intense with 5 or 6 players since there is a larger pool of discs to flip. It gets fairly tense flipping (or watching someone else flip) something close to ten discs and agonizing over the last few discs trying not to flip a skull and bust.
A link to purchase the game, though it is out of stock, can be found here. Though I will say that having the actual game enhances the experience (the coasters and discs feel very fun to shuffle and flip and the art is fun to look at!) if you find yourself wanting to try this out before you buy you can make it yourself. My friends and I are big Magic: The Gathering players, and so we just tried this out by passing each player 4 cards (all sleeved) 3 of which were forests and one a swamp, which has a skull symbol. You could do this with a deck of playing cards picking 3 of one suit and 1 of another, or 3 reds and 1 black, and so on.
So the next time you find yourself sitting with a few people, having a beer but wanting a fun challenge of wits and bluffing, then I highly recommend giving Skulls a try. If you want the actual rules to the game then you can find them here, they’re very easy to read and can always be a nice reference if you don’t have the actual game. Enjoy!
-The Secondhand Took