Skull and Roses

Skull and Roses may sound like an 80s hair metal band or a secret society, but it is actually a simple and enjoyable bluffing game that you can play in about fifteen minutes.

There are a couple of different versions of the game out there – one is called ‘Skull’ – but they are more or less the same. Each player has a beautifully illustrated double-sided mat and four cardboard counters. Three of the counters show roses, and one shows a skull. The backs are identical, so you can’t tell who has put down what. Players take it in turn to either put down one of their counters – either the skull or one of the roses – face down on their mat, or start the bidding. Each player has to put down at least one counter before the bidding starts. Once the bid has begun, you either outbid the last player or drop out.

You are betting on how many roses you can reveal before you hit a skull, and you always start by revealing all of your own counters. If you flip over enough roses, you win the bid and get to flip your mat, and if you win the bid again, you win the game. If you fail a bid, another player picks out one of your counters at random, which you can no longer use. It could be the skull, hampering your ability to sabotage other players.

You can drop out of the bid at any time, and so you can start the bidding or up the ante when you know you have a skull in your pile, as a ploy to trip up your opponents, which can easily backfire. The trick is knowing when to fold and when to bid high. If you never take a chance, you’ll never win, so playing aggressively often pays dividends. After a few games, you’ll start to learn who tends to put skulls down, who tries for roses, who bids cautiously and so forth, rewarding careful study of your rivals. You’ll need to be unpredictable to romp home to victory, and carefully assess whether your opponents are laying a trap or going for broke.

Copies of the game vary quite wildly in price as at least one edition seems to be out of print, but if you’re spending more than £15-20 you’re probably being ripped off. It’s essentially a much simpler form of poker that you could play with a few beer mats and a pack of cards, so what you’re paying for is the pretty artwork. You’ll want a set of fairly solid and durable components, as this is an ideal filler game or something to play at the pub, so it will need to withstand being knocked about a bit, getting soaked in cider, or covered in crisps.

Bluffing games aren’t for everybody, but the fast pace of the action means you won’t be too disadvantaged unless you are as transparent as a Perspex ghost. Odds are you’ll find Skull and Roses an accessible and entertaining way to spend a bit of time. The rules are simple enough that even young children will be able to pick it up after a couple of minutes.

This is one of a handful of quick and simple games that you’ll get more use out of than epic half day World War II simulations, simply because they aren’t too complex and don’t require a massive investment of time and brain power. It’s definitely worth adding to your collection, or, if you’re the crafty type, making your own.

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