Skull is a Small Box Game Worth Carrying with You

A while back we wrote about the small-box games we enjoy most, but of those games, Hive was the only one we ever discussed again, doing them all a great disservice. The even greater offense, we didn’t include Skull on that list at all. In our defense, we hadn’t played it until after we published that piece, but it means that we inadvertently left out one of the greats.
Skull, also known as Skull & Roses, depending on your region, is a simple party bluffing card game that originally released in 2011. In the US where we’re based, it’s currently published by Asmodee for $20 USD. Personally, I think it’s a bit high of a price for the number of included components, but it’s an absolute steal for the price for the experience.
The game is simple. At the start of the game, each player takes a matching set of four cardboard drink coaster looking cards containing three roses and a single skull. In a clockwise offer players proceed to play one card face-down in front of them. Once every player has a card down in front of them, play continues in clockwise order but the active player can now choose to play an additional card open a bid. Players bet on how many placed cards they can flip face up without revealing a skull card. Once players have all placed bids, the person with the highest bet wins the chance to reveal cards equal to their own. If all revealed cards are roses, the revealing player earns a point. In this quick game, the first player to two points.
However, there’s a few catches. Whomever wins the bid must reveal all of their played cards before choosing to reveal another player’s. If a skull card is revealed in their own pile, or any one else’s, the active player permanently loses one of their four cards. 
Losing cards can be absolutely devastating. There’s a 25% chance that the first card a player loses will be their skull, and this is one of the worst things that could happen to a player. As much as Skull is a bluffing game, it’s equal parts deduction and observing patterns to determine which players still have a skull card in their possession. The moment a player is without their skull, they are an easy target for other players. Players can points if they are the winner of the bidding round, and were successfully able to reveal a number of cards equal to their bet, without revealing a skull. Once the table knows that certain players no longer have a skull and pose no risk, it becomes much easier to play aggressively and score.

To win a game of Skull players need only to score two points. This effectively does two things: keeps Skull to a short play time, and raises the tension as soon as any players have scored. According to the BGG page, the total play time ranges anywhere from fifteen to forty-five minutes, though in my experience, it’s never lasted longer than thirty minutes. It’s rare we don’t play multiple games in a single sitting. 

We rarely review party games because they typically aren’t substantive enough to interest us but Skull is both simple and clever. There are very few rules and can be taught in just a couple of minutes. In fact, there are so few rules, I struggled to wrap my head around the gameplay for awhile. It’s so simple that I found it difficult to understand how Skull could call itself a game at all. I still get confused looks whenever I teach it to new players because there’s so little discuss. The beauty of it is how quickly the pieces fall into place. After only one round of betting, you can visibly see the turning point when the turn structure clicks for players. From then on, you can just sit back and discover what filthy liars your friends and family are.

The edition of Skull that’s currently in print is beautiful. While the score placemats and cards could easily be mistaken for bar coasters, the artwork is lovely. Each of the six sets of cards feature detailed art representing different cultures around the world through illustrations of regional flowers and intricate skull designs. The six sets of player components feature artwork inspired by Pacific Islander, Japanese, Celtic, African, Mexican, and Aborigine cultures. Each set contains illustrations of a regional flower and an intricately decorated sugar skull featuring traditional art elements from each culture. Other than just being something pretty to look at, the components don’t add anything to the experience of the game, but I really appreciate that the artwork went so many steps beyond simple color-coded components. 

There are so many good things to say about Skull, but I really want to highlight a few of key thoughts:

Skull has a lot of game to it despite how few rules there are. Most of the rules focus on how and when to bid and how that relates to scoring. This should be easy enough to understand for anyone who’s played any form of card game before. The rest of the game is all about learning to read other players at the table and then lie to them.


Skull‘s small box is easy to travel with. I often travel with my copy, especially whenever I’m expecting to find myself with a group for long periods of time. Without fail, Skull gets pulled out as a way to pass the time on all manner of occasions. I’ve played with co-workers (and boss) on breaks, strangers at the airport during a layover, camping, my mother-in-law’s friend’s birthday party over July 4th weekend. In all cases, Skull was a hit. So much so that I even purchased a copy for my MIL’s friend as a belated birthday gift.
The only true downside I’ve encountered with Skull is that the coaster-like cards current edition gets beat up from use pretty quickly. The ink has begun to fade from the cards from regular use, beginning to form identifiable patterns on each card of the cards. It likely only has a few more uses before I’ll need to replace it with a new copy to avoid people from eventually identifying the wear markings with specific cards. But given the low price of Skull, I’m happy to purchase a new copy, especially as the wear is a sign of just how much love Skull has gotten.
Skull is one of the few games I feel that I can review and recommend universally. Its low cost, portability, limited rules, and commonalities with simple playing card games make it a great fit for players of any age or experience level. With some luck, you may even make some new friends in odd places by carrying it with you.

Number of Times Played: 

We lost count and failed to record it. Estimated to be well over twenty separate sessions of multiple games. 

Reviewed Player Counts:

Three, four, five, and six players.

Supported Player Count: 

3 – 6 players. 

Play Time:

30 minutes

Core Mechanics: 

Hand Management


Family friendly, age and experience agnostic design make Skull suitable and welcoming for all.


Colorful sugar skulls, flowers, and intricate patterns make Skull more visually appealing than it has any need for, but compromises nothing. Components will likely see wear faster than some most others.

Replay Value: 

Skull has an incredibly high replay value. Ultimately the experience will be a direct reflection of those you play with, providing a greater variety depending the more people you introduce.