Recently, I’ve been having a chat with a friend about pairing two excellent things: some of Sydney’s finest breweries with board games. The discussion originally cropped up over a game of Test Match — yes, the cricket board game. But if you’re going to take any board game to a brewery, or a pub, Skull is perfect for the occasion.
First released in its current form back in 2011, Skull is, and remains, one of the best bluffing games ever created. It works like this. Every player is given a square cardboard coaster — like the ones you’d find in a bar — and four circular discs. On those discs, you’ll get three flowers (or roses) and a single skull.
Every round starts with each player picking one of their four discs in secret, placing it face down on the square coaster. The first player from there then chooses to either add to their stack by putting down a second disc, or betting a number. The bet is how many flowers that person thinks they can turn over in a row without hitting a skull.
WHAT IS IT?
A tabletop bluffing game
Easy to learn. Great for playing in public spaces. Supports six players. Cheap.
Don't spill anything on the coasters.
Once they’ve made the bet, no more discs can be placed down. So the rest of the table can either up the bid, or pass. Once everyone passes, or the bid can’t be raised any higher — someone basically betting the maximum number of cards on the table — the winning bidder flips over the cards in front of them, and then the rest of the flowers they need one at a time.
If they hit a skull, they have to shuffle their cards and randomly discard one. If they don’t hit a skull, they win a point. Two points is all you need to win the game, so games of Skull never take long. And because you’re basically playing with fancy coasters, you don’t need much room.
Players can be eliminated if they lose all their cards, but what generally ends the game is whoever reads the table the fastest, or whoever works out what players don’t have skulls left. The natural randomness of losing one of your four cards every time you get it wrong adds plenty of replayability, and the natural tension of bidding and hitting seven or eight flowers in a row, only to hit a skull on the last try, makes it a perfect pub game.
In some ways, it’s better than The Mind for a pub or brewery. There’s little shuffling involved, the coasters are colourful to look at, and the mechanics are simple enough that anyone can play within a couple of minutes.
According to the game’s manual, it was created back in 1921 by the creator’s great-grandfather while sailing around the world. The game become popular among adventurers on the West Coast of the United States, and was later discovered by bikers and given a new name, Skull and Rose. “Impelled by a mysterious force, I’ve immediately represented these skulls and flowers on a series of cardboard cards, then transcribed the rules,” the game’s manual says.
Whether it’s true or not, Skull is excellent nonetheless. It’s cheap at $33, takes up next to no space in your bag, is easy to understand and a perfect way to kick off a Friday night. Like Codenames and The Mind, it’s one of those games that transcends gamers, age groups and demographics, and should be a part of everyone’s gaming collection.