Players: 3 to 6 (or 12 with two sets)
Game Length: 60 minutes
Best enjoyed: With 4 or more players up for a simple yet tense bluffing game
Skull and Roses, or simply Skull as it’s known nowadays, is a simple bluffing game where each player has a set of four cards – featuring three Roses cards and one Skull card. The players take turns placing cards face down, until one of the players decides to make a bid to announce how many Rose cards he thinks he can reveal, without revealing a single Skull. The players then take turns either increasing this bid or passing, until there is only one player left who hasn’t passed. That player must then reveal that many of their opponents’ cards without revealing a skull; if they can’t manage it, they permanently lose one of their four cards, and if they can, they gain a point. If they should lose all four of their cards, they’ll be out of the game.
What makes Skull and Roses special is that when you look for the number of Roses you bid for, you must reveal all your own cards first. If you happen to win a bid after putting down a skull, this means you’ll immediately lose. This means you can probably expect those who were bidding high to only have Roses in their piles, unless they were trying to bluff you. But maybe they weren’t? You’ll find yourself second-guessing the other players and trying to hide your own intentions as you make your bid.
In order to win the game in full, a player only need to win two bids. After the first win, she’ll flip her ‘Skull and Roses’ board over to the ‘Roses’ side, signalling that she is halfway to victory, and the stakes are immediately raised: if she should happen to win a bid now, the game will be hers. She can use this to her advantage, forcing others to raise their own bids to improbable levels to keep her away from victory, and with each lost bid their options are depleted. But then as soon as someone else wins, they get the same power – and she’ll need to start keeping them away from winning bids herself.
Skull and Roses is a very simple game that can be played quite easily with a deck of cards (this version is commonly called Heartless; working out how to play is an exercise left to the reader), but if you buy the proper box you’ll get a set of great coaster-like cards. If you buy the original Skull and Roses (either the Black or Red box), you’ll get a set of 6 biker gang-inspired cards, and with the newer Skull box you’ll get more psychedelic drawings in various themes.
Skull and Roses works excellently as a pub game, so long as the patrons don’t mistake the playing pieces for beer coasters, and is easy to teach and learn. You can drop in and out of the game, simply picking up a set of cards and joining in, as victory for any player is only ever two rounds away. However, games can sometimes drag on, especially when players are determined to not let others take victory easily, and end up slowly losing their cards on nearly-impossible bids.
Skull and Roses is a great buy if you’re looking for a game that’s quick and easy to learn, with good opportunities for social interaction. The game itself can be had for cheap, too, and you can play up to 12 players if you purchase a second set, making it an excellent addition to any boardgamer’s collection.