Skull* is probably the perfect game. It’s certainly perfect to play in pubs. You don’t even need to buy it because you can make it with a pen and some beer mats.
Each player has four cards/tiles/beer mats. Three cards have roses on them, the other has a skull. The cards are played face down. The aim of the game is to flip over roses whilst avoiding skulls. The first person to win two rounds wins the game.
A round begins with everyone playing one card face down on the table. The lead player then has the option to add another card to their stack or start bidding on how many roses they can flip. If they add a card then the turn passes to the next player who has the same decision to make. If the lead player decides to bid (a bid doesn’t have to start at 1) then all subsequent players must raise the bid or fold.
When the penultimate remaining player folds the final player must take the challenge and start flipping. The player starts by flipping their own cards from top to bottom. They may then start flipping opponents cards. If they flip over a number of roses equal to the bid without flipping a skull they win. If they flip a skull, they loose the bid and must sacrifice a card at random.
Pretty simple right? We introduced a friend to it on Saturday evening over some beer and wine. He picked it up in a couple of rounds.
I love this game because it’s as close to a game of pure bluffing and mind games as I have ever played. It’s not like Netrunner where the bluffing is a small component, bluffing is EVERYTHING in Skull.
As the lead player do you play a skull first then immediately start bidding? Forcing other players to bid higher to stop you scoring. When the turn passes back to you, fold. That increases the chances that whoever takes the challenge will flip a skull. But if no one bites you have to flip your own skull. Everyone has fun!
I get to make my favourite play when I’ve only got one card left. If it’s a rose I’ll play it face up as the ultimate bluff. Everyone knows what I’ve got so the game becomes me trying to play my opponents off each other.
A game of Skull rarely takes more than ten minutes so when it finished everyone is up for another game to reclaim their honour/dignity or to prove how great they are.
I picked up my copy from Amazon for about £16. The artwork in this version is beautiful. I always play as the Viking/Celtic/Runic tribe. The tiles are made of thick card but do show signs of wear fairly quickly if you end up playing as much as we do. This is a game that everyone should learn to play and have some way** of playing it in their collection.
*sometimes called Skulls and Roses.
** the rules are available for free online.