Skull Review – Beautiful Art and Bluffing Galore
Occasionally, a game comes along that proves you don’t know what you are missing until you have played it. Skull is that for me, and having played it with friends over Christmas, we instantly purchased it for our personal collection. It has a fantastic backstory, and is a brilliant mix of bluffing and player elimination. Skull isn’t a perfect game, but it fills a niche and that is a niche I would encourage you to explore. It is fun, it can be furious, and it is different enough to deserve a place on the shelf.
Let’s review Skull, the game by Hervé Marly.
What is Skull and how do you play it?
Skull, also known as Skull & Roses, is a bluffing game by Hervé Marly with insanely fantastic art by Rose Kipik and Thomas Vuarchex. In Skull, players take it in turns bluffing and out-chicken-ing each other in order to try and either conduct two successful challenges or outlast the other players.
When playing Skull (a game for 3-6 players), players will each have a set of four coaster-like discs. On three will be roses (or similar flowers), and on one will be a skull. Players take it in turns placing their coasters face down on colour player mats in front of them, one on top of the next. This continues in a circle.
At any point after the players have all placed one coaster each, a player can choose to challenge, at which point they say “Challenge” and a number, where the number can be anything from one to however many coasters are down. If, for instance, there are four players and each has placed one mat before the challenge is called, it could be that someone shouts “challenge 3” or “challenge 4”. If everyone has placed at least three coasters someone might shout “challenge 8” or “challenge 11”. You get the idea.
What this is doing is denoting the number of coasters you are prepared to turn over, starting with all on your own mat. Once you have turned over all the coasters on your own mat, you can take them off the top of anyone else’s pile, removing them as they go.
So, if Alex, Bob, Carl, and Donna are all playing, Alex may challenge 5 and take two coasters from his mat, two from Donna, and one from Carl, believing Bob to be sneaky and unworthy of coaster goodness.
If, when a challenge is called, all the coasters turned over are flowers then the challenge is successful. If you did it then you flip your mat over to show that you have won one challenge and are halfway there. If a skull was turned over, however, the challenge failed and you lose one coaster at random.
The first player to win two challenges or out-survive the other players wins.
What is it like playing Skull?
So, what is it like? Well, it’s hard to explain. Skull is a fantastic bluffing game, and it really is akin to Poker in that bluffing sense.
It’s odd, because in the modern gaming renaissance we have plenty of games that incorporate bluffing; however none that I can think of do it in quite the same way as Skull. Skull has a kind of two step bluffing component that makes it really intense. Where other games incorporate bluffing, Skull IS bluffing, and I think that is where the real distinction takes place.
This is what makes Skull different and such an interesting game to play. First, you need to determine if your opponents are bluffing to decide whether to challenge, but if you win the challenge you then enter a second phase. By winning a challenge, you are then faced with the responsibility of determining if the other players were actually bluffing by finding out whether you’ve been able to “read” them successfully. Things just got real. You have to turn your coasters over, starting with your own (tough luck if you were the one bluffing!) and then you have to choose where you want the remaining coasters to come from.
What this does is mixes a really interesting combination of reading your opponents and guesswork, whilst also incorporating that risk element.
So, is this original? Well, yes and no. The idea of bluffing is not original. It is used all the time, but Skull is almost a pure bluffing game. It is almost 100% bluffing and that is certainly different.
From a more practical perspective, Skull itself is apparently a version of an old game called Skull & Roses – although that is in accordance with the rule book (I haven’t found a link to any further information on Skull & Roses as a game, so please post in the comments below if you have any more info about it).
The only aspect that I don’t hugely like is the player elimination aspect. It is possible to lose all of your coasters and then be out of the game. Since a game can last 45 minutes, that can be a while to be sat to one side of the table. That being said, even though I went out in the first game we played, it wasn’t enough of a problem for us to not buy the game.
To summarise on the gameplay aspect though – Skull fills a niche in the gaming market. It is definitely a modern-era game, but one which wouldn’t be out of place in a casino. It is because of this that Skull is a welcome addition to our table.
What really makes Skull though is the art. Skull is an absolutely stunning game, with thematic sets/coasters and beautiful art. Rose Kipik and Thomas Vuarchex did an incredible job and I urge everyone to take a look at what the artwork is like.
TL;DR: The Good, The Bad, and The Floral
Like we do with all games around here, let’s have a look at what we see as good, bad, and neutral around the game Skull.
- Skull is very easy to learn and, after playing it a few times, it already feels familiar.
- The artwork is absolutely stunning. Each set of skulls has its own distinct personality.
- Skull is simple but effective. You can do three things – place a coaster, challenge, or pass once the challenging has begun.
- Skull offers that gambling feel without being a gambling game.
- Skull doesn’t really require any set up which makes it quick and easy to just play.
- The components are okay. They do the job.
- If you don’t like bluffing then Skull is not a game for you.
- The simplicity may put some players off.
Skull Review: Conclusion
So, what can we say about Skull? Well, it may come as no surprise that I think this game is brilliant. It really fills a niche we have on our shelves, and so I have no qualms about having it ready as an additional option on gaming days. That being said, it is reminiscent of Poker and other more risk based, gambling games, which aren’t for everyone. What Skull does though, it does very well, being one of the definitions of simple, yet effective.
So, what do you think? Is Skull the kind of game you would enjoy (or do enjoy), or is it the kind of game you would rather leave to one side? Let me know in the comments below.