An ancient game of ornate skulls and dangerous roses, Skull is simple to learn but dangerously difficult to win. You must bluff, lie and pierce through the deceptions to expose the roses. Be wary, though - if you happen across a skull, the consequences are dire!
Players will hold three rose cards and one skull. Add a card to the pile in front of you, and when you feel lucky, announce your challenge and declare how many cards you will flip. Cards that show a rose are safe, but if you expose your opponent's hidden skull, you lose one of your own cards. Keep your cards to the bitter end to win this clever game of deception and perception!
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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.
Since the beginning of March 2020, the single most popular landing page on Board Game Atlas was a simple forum post by user JamesReid860 titled "Good games to play over Zoom". And with a view count of 40.8K views to date, it's clear that board gamers all around the world are searching for ways to combat the physical distancing created by COVID-19.
Below, I put together a list that includes some of the most popular games from that forum post. It also includes commonly suggested games I've seen around other board game communities. Hope this helps make your next remote game night a success!
"Roll n Writes"
Whether or not roll and writes are still in fashion, there's no denying that it's one of the most suitable genres for remote play. Its low barrier to entry comes from simple rules, barebone number of components to manage, and often printable player/score sheets you can find online. Oh, and its near infinite player count. It only requires one person with the copy to point the camera onto the board state, while all other players come ready with their player sheet and a pencil (or pen) in hand. Besides the fact that you're not in the same room, it creates the same atmosphere of fun, relaxing game time that invites plenty of casual chatting.
"Players will become architects in the American 50's as they use combinations of cards and actions to construct the American dream real estate." (Also pictured at the top)
Tip: Players who are either unable to print out a player sheet or prefer digital can download the app and fill out the sheet digitally: iOS, Android. If it's an option, I'd always recommend going paper and pencil since that's the big part of the fun and relaxation.
"Players roll the Route dice and must then draw the subsequent results on their individual Route boards. Players score points for having long interconnected Routes, as well as connecting the entry points to their board, plus having Routes through the center of their boards."
"Each turn two ten-sided dice are rolled to make two 2-digit numbers. For example, a roll of 3 and 7 creates the numbers 37 and 73. All players write each of those numbers in a state on their map. The regions they can write in are restricted by three cards turned up in the middle of the table.
At the end of the game, each player draws a route on their map, starting with a low number and visiting adjacent states with higher and higher numbers. Players get a point for every state they visit.
Unlike roll and writes, word-based games may not support as high of a player count, but it's an ideal choice for large gatherings if you want people interacting together and getting to know how each person processes information. And while there are tons of word games out there, here are some of the best games to rise to the top (note that these games require hidden information and will require a bit of creativity and coordination work than roll and writes. I'll offer some tips for the harder ones).
"Just One is a cooperative party game in which you play together to discover as many mystery words as possible. Find the best clue to help your teammate. Be unique, as all identical clues will be cancelled!"
"The two rival spymasters know the secret identities of 25 agents. Their teammates know the agents only by their CODENAMES.
The teams compete to see who can make contact with all of their agents first. Spymasters give one-word clues that can point to multiple words on the board. Their teammates try to guess words of the right color while avoiding those that belong to the opposing team. And everyone wants to avoid the assassin."
Tip: Have the player with the copy of the game setup the camera to give a top down view of the board state. Have all players download the Codenames Gadget App. The two spymasters for the round can generate an identical key card by entering the same code on the app (see images below).
"Wavelength is a social guessing game in which two teams compete to read each other's minds. Teams take turns rotating a dial to where they think a hidden bullseye is located on a spectrum. One of the players on your team — the Psychic — knows exactly where the bullseye is, and draws a card with a pair of binaries on it (such as: Job - Career, Rough - Smooth, Fantasy - Sci-Fi, Sad Song - Happy Song, etc). The Psychic must then provide a clue that is *conceptually* where the bullseye is located between those two binaries."
Tip: There was a recent post on Reddit where a user shared automated PowerPoint slides to help facilitate the game for remote play. This is the hottest word-based game around so don't glance over it! You can also check out Shut Up & Sit Down's latest review for their take on the game.
Bluffing games can be a hit or miss depending on the player's personality. You should really give this game a try though. One of the simplest, pure form of bluffing games around that's easy to DIY. You may be surprised to see who in your group has the biggest gambling spirit, or someone you probably shouldn't trust as often!
"Players will hold three rose cards and one skull. Add a card to the pile in front of you, and when you feel lucky, announce your challenge and declare how many cards you will flip. Cards that show a rose are safe, but if you expose your opponent's hidden skull, you lose one of your own cards. Keep your cards to the bitter end to win this clever game of deception and perception!"
Tip: Use coasters if you have them handy. Just make sure they have clearly distinguishable "front" and "back" sides that you can use as a rose/skull. You could also have the players bring out the artist in themselves and DIY the skulls and roses for fun.
With all that's happening around the world, maybe it's time to try out a game where you work together to accomplish the same objective? Note that these games will still require fiddling around to get the right camera view that captures the entire board state and the cards that each player has "drawn". The person who owns the copy will have to be more than willing to coordinate each player's moves, which will be quite frequent to be honest.
"Dare to discover Forbidden Island! Join a team of fearless adventurers on a do-or-die mission to capture four sacred treasures from the ruins of this perilous paradise. Your team will have to work together and make some pulse-pounding maneuvers, as the island will sink beneath every step! Race to collect the treasures and make a triumphant escape before you are swallowed into the watery abyss!"
Tip: Make sure to turn on some music to accompany the game! It will be a nice way to maintain a bit of the tension that gets lost from not having the tactile element of gameplay. Go to the linked game page and click on the melodice link to help you choose.
Pandemic (or whichever version you have really)
"In Pandemic, several virulent diseases have broken out simultaneously all over the world! The players are disease-fighting specialists whose mission is to treat disease hotspots while researching cures for each of four plagues before they get out of hand."
Tip: Similar advice as Forbidden Island. Plus, especially given the current times, be courteous and respectful of other players' decisions throughout gameplay. Besides, if a player makes a bad move, it will make the gameplay more "exciting".
If All Players Own a Copy
The games I'd recommend for this situation are similar in nature to roll and writes. Less player interaction, simultaneous turns, somewhat solitaire-like, but have satisfying gameplay. Here are the games that have been mentioned the most often. Games in this category may need a tiny bit of house ruling to address issues like limited resources and other minor issues, but it should work quite seamlessly.
"Toadstools, Mandrake, and African Death's Head Hawksmoth, Oh My! It is the 9-day Quedlinburg festival of quack doctors. Purchasing good ingredients for your brew can help you make the best "healing" ointments in the land, winning you fame and fortune! You can use that fortune to buy even more powerful ingredients to put into your pot. But be careful, one ingredient too many and your potion will explode!"
"In Tiny Towns, your town is represented by a 4x4 grid on which you will place resource cubes in specific layouts to construct buildings. Each building scores victory points (VPs) in a unique way. When no player can place any more resources or construct any buildings, the game ends, and any squares without a building are worth -1 VP. The player with the most VP wins!"
Tip: Unlike the way it looks, Tiny Towns is actually quite mean. The remote play will likely eliminate this aspect as players won't be able to observe one another's board state and try to ruin a good pattern. Actually, scratch that. If you really want to retain the usual dynamics of the game and don't mind not seeing each other's faces, then all players should point their camera toward their board.
Lastly, I wanted to give recognition to games that I wouldn't have thought of but were mentioned frequently enough that I thought it worthy to share.
"Have you ever had the desire to walk the streets of Victorian London with Sherlock Holmes in search of Professor Moriarty? To search the docks for the giant rat of Sumatra? To walk up Baker Street as the fog is rolling in and hear Holmes cry out, "Come, Watson, come! The game is afoot!"? Now you can! You can enter the opium den beneath the Bar of Gold, but beware, that may be Colonel Sebastian Moran lurking around the corner. You can capture the mystery and excitement of Holmes' London in this challenging and informative game. You, the player, will match your deductive abilities against your opponents and the master sleuth himself, Sherlock Holmes."
Tip: The publisher, Space Cowboys, have "material for remote play" available on their website. Here's the direct link to the google drive that contains the necessary resources. And here's the link to a comment by a Redditor who explained how his/her group approached playing this in remote.
Dungeons and Dragons
To be honest, I've never tried. But, it's been one of the most widely mentioned tabletop game options to play over video chat. Makes a lot of sense actually, and perhaps this may be the right moment for people who have been hesitant to jump on board!
And we're done! I hope at least one of these games will work out for your remote game night with friends and family. Stay safe everyone!
I got into board games fairly recently and like any recent convert I'm introducing everyone I can to board games. It's a great way to spend time with friends after dinner outside of playing Super Smash Bros or watching a movie. I want to be able to see their faces and have side conversations while spending time with them.
I ended up buying growing my collection of games to a little over 30 in just a few months and was having a blast playing something new every week!
I'm proud to report I even have a shelf of shame with 4 games that I haven't gotten to play through yet. I'm slowly working my way through the collection and will get to them soon but I've been noticing something lately. I'm starting to sense a shift in the way I play games and the ones I suggest when a friend comes over.
Easy to Teach Games
I've been realizing that I'm playing board games more often with friends that I didn't play with last week. I find myself not really getting to go deep into the hobby with more than just one or two people who are often not available so I try and scramble together a few other friends I know and I continually go back to the same few games. I end up choosing games that are still fun for me but are easy to approach for newer gamers.
1. Skull - Quick to teach, Quick to play, Serious Strategy
Skull is especially easy to throw in a backpack when going to a friends house which is one of the other reasons it's a go to. The simple betting structure and quick matches make it great. The additional amazing subtle feature of the game is that strategies continue to change the longer you play with the same people. You start trying to read what they're doing and change up your own game to bring out victories you wouldn't have gotten otherwise.
I recommend starting by never bluffing for the first few rounds. The reputation that you always play it straight makes bluffing later on way more effective.
2. Dominion - Seems Overwhelming but Easy to teach and replay-able
I try to get Dominion to the table whenever I can. Especially now that I just got Intrigue. The rules explanation with the quick "A, B, C" turn structure make it so easy to get everyone into the game quickly. I love that the box comes with 500+ cards and the custom setups makes new gamers nervous thinking it'll take forever to learn and be too complicated. Learning this game and grasping the strategy within just a few minutes has been something that has gotten my friends to try bigger and more complex games.
3. Railroad Ink - Scales in Player Count and Feels Unique
I heard about Railroad Ink from Shut Up & Sit Down and instantly added it to my collection of games that I use to introduce people to games. It's so portable and easy to bring for any number of players (even solo) that it jumps in my backpack with Skull when I'm going to a friends house.
4. Pandemic: Iberia - A Coop that I Mostly Enjoy Playing
I say mostly because I only bring it out when it seems like the group would want to play something cooperative. I never feel like playing cooperative games just due to my love of competition. If there's a story or legacy element that put's us all in it together working toward a goal then I'm all in on that. Games like Pandemic tend to lead to quarterbacking and I'd rather test my strategy skills against other players over the game's mechanics.
Fitting In The Rest
I've been staring at Gloomhaven for a few weeks without getting it to the table. I have a few other games like Dice Throne which I haven't played yet and Root which I've only played once and would love to open up as well. Although I have the desire to bring it out and play, I think I need to establish a more consistent group of friends to play with before I'm able to really dive deep into the games that I want to spend more time on.
[Railroad Ink: Deep Blue Edition, Forbidden Island, Pandemic, Forbidden Desert, Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: The Thames Murders & Other Cases,...]
[Reef, Dominion 2nd Edition, Railroad Ink: Blazing Red, Skull, Pandemic: Iberia]