This article assumes you know the game so if you haven't played you can jump into the rules on the Skull game page or watch a How to Play video by SU&SD on the game's page as well.
As I dive into scenarios that help explain the strategies and thoughts behind it, we'll assume there are 4 players named A, B, C and D (You're A).
It's advantageous to go first. The basic reason is that you have the most power, influence, and ability to get information. Let's go through some examples to see why.
- Skull + bid 1. Most of the time someone will bid 2 or 3 and your trap will be set.
- Rose + bid 1. Early game this can be used to just see who passes and take note of potential people who put Skulls down as well. If players know you as a Skull player, then this could be a free win for you.
- Rose + bid 2 or 3. If you have a good read on other players you can put pressure on them to let you win the round or overbid.
- Rose + bid 4. This is risky and comes down to your read on other players. You can get a quick win or easily lose a disc. If there have been a Skulls played the last two rounds, players typically start playing Roses to try and get a round win. If you've got discs to spare then you'll at least get to go first on the next round as well.
- Rose + Rose. If another player decides to start the bidding you know at least 1 more disc than everyone else after the bidder. You can use that to make higher bids if others pass.
- Rose + Skull. Your trap is set. If players B or C start the bidding with a 2 or 3 and you can easily pass without suspicion and your trap is set. You can bluff a bid if Player D starts the bidding with a good chance it'll get increased after you.
- Skull + Rose. Don't do this. It's a trap for yourself and you likely give away information too easily in this situation. You are forced to either wait, bluff, or wait and bluff. It's better to go with the Rose+Rose strategy and catch other players falling into the Skull+Rose scenario.
It's worth going first. Don't be afraid of overbidding in the early game so that you can start the next round going first.
The scenario: Player A might win the game with a bid of 2 and Players B and C both pass. That's a poison pass to player D.
The burden of preventing player A from winning is on D. It's a great move by Players B and C if player D has 1 or 2 discs remaining. Here's some scenarios to look at assuming player D has 3 or 4 discs.
- If B has 3 or 4 discs, they should increase the bid to 3 for the sake of starting the next round. It doesn't matter if they placed a Skull or Rose. They're representing a Rose and players C and D could reasonably raise the bid to 4.
- If B has 1 or 2 discs, they should pass no matter what they placed. Bidding 3 could likely lose them the last disc or the game. Poison passing is great in this scenario.
- If B passed and C has 3 or 4 discs with a Rose face down, they should increase the bid to 3 to start the next round. If player D put a Rose they're still pressured to increase the bid to 4 (to prevent a potential win) and will always pass if they placed a Skull.
- If B bid 3 and C has 3 or 4 discs with a Rose face down, they should increase the bid to 4 to start the next round.
- Play to win in the long run. Don't play to "not lose".
- Player D should always bid if they have 3 or 4 discs to start the next round. If they has 1 or 2 discs they should never bid. Whether or not player A wins, this puts the pressure back onto players B and C to bid to prevent future game wins.
One on One
As much as you control, try to be the first player in a one on one scenario. If you have more discs than your opponent then you have more liberty to play aggressively.
If You're First
- Rose + bid 2. You'll win the round or get to go first again. If you've already won a round, make this your first move. It's even more advantageous if your opponents have discs missing.
- Skull + bid 1. Your opponent will up the bid and lose or pass and you can lose a disc and go again.
- Rose + bid 1. Only do this if you know your opponent will pass.
- Rose + Skull. Only do this if your opponent has 1 disc left. Since you have more info than them, they're more likely to start with a high bid and bust.
- Rose/Skull + Rose. Don't do this. You're putting your fate in your opponent's hands.
If You're Second
Going second is MUCH harder. The strategies are more varied based on the game scenario.
- If your opponent has won a round place a Skull and always bid if you can. If they bid 2, they'll lose a disc and if they only bid 1, it's worth losing a disc of your own to start the next round.
- Have you won a round? Place a Skull. They'll likely place a skull and start the bidding. Pass and let them lose a disc. If they didn't place a Skull, they may have lost that disc already.
- Neither won a round? Place a Rose and Bid the max to try and sneak in a win and at the very least chose to go first.
Playing With 1 Disc
If it's a Skull then you're winning by the other players busting. Try to bluff some bids when you can but hope no one flips your disc till the very end.
If it's a Rose you need to win a bid with an exact guess to have the first player advantage.
If you've already won a round and you're first you can pressure other players with a low bid number threatening a win. It's better to try and read your opponents in this situation and aim for an exact bid.
Here's some general tips when playing to think about.
Never Place All Your Discs
If you have less than 4 discs remaining, then you're giving away the precious information of whether or not you have a skull remaining. Don't give that away to opponents freely!
Blindly Placing Discs
Playing discs randomly without checking doesn't help you play better in the long run. Don't do it if you're trying to improve your gameplay.
Playing Without Your Skull
Play to win and take a higher bidding strategy based on how well you can read your opponents. If you're playing first then the opportunity to play a Rose+Rose turn makes more sense so that you have more knowledge of the discs for others to start the bidding. But remember, don't place all your discs.
Be observant of what other players are doing. If you're watching and seeing when they change behavior you can use that to your advantage. Are they placing a Skull and starting the bidding low often? What for the times when they bid high or pass.
Have a plan before you place your disc. Are you hoping to start bidding, will you increase it, will you max it out to guarantee you go first next?
Try out different strategies early in the game to get a good read of the other players and in subsequent games exploit what you see.