Publisher: Grandpa Beck’s Games
Designer: Brent Beck
Duration: 30 min.
You’re the greatest pirate of all time… or so you claim. But can you live up to your stakes? Only a pirate who can accurately predict his victories in battle. With a cunning edge and some luck on your side, maybe you can truly rile the high seas!
Skull King is a trick taking game (like Hearts and Spades), but it’s got a twist on it: you start out with one card, and then each subsequent round you will get one more card… but theres a catch. Each round you will have to predict how many of the tricks you will take, without knowing what cards your opponents have. With this new edition, new cards have come into the mix, but is it truly as Legendary as it states?
What’s in the box?
Inside the game is mostly just cards, and a score pad. There are 14 cards of each of the 4 suits, 5 pirate cards, 5 escape cards, 1 Skull King card, 1 Trigress card, 2 mermaid cards, 2 loot cards, 1 kraken card, 21 bid cards and 12 reference cards (1 set for the base game and 1 for the expansion).
The cards are good quality, and the art is colourful and vibrant. Everything on the cards is laid out well and it has great graphic designed. The score pad is double sided, which makes it a little annoying to keep score when you move from the 5th to 6th round, but it makes sense to keep it small and not make the box bigger. You can also download full size score sheets if you wish which is a nice option. Overall, it has great presentation and nice art.
So how do you play?
The game will be played over 10 rounds. In the first round, players will only receive 1 card, 2 in the 2nd and so on until 10 cards in the last round. Once you look at the cards, the bidding phase will occur: the dealer leads fist pounding on the table saying “yo ho ho”, and on the 2nd “ho” each player will extend with their fingers how many tricks they think they will win that turn (if its over 5, say the number out loud, or just keep your fist closed for 0 bids). Now, the player to the left of the dealer begins the round.
If you’ve never played a trick-taking game, one player will play a card and set the suit that every other player must follow if they have a card in their hand. There are 3 regular suits in the game (green, yellow and purple) and they have the same value, and then a black suit which trumps any other suit. So for example, if you play a yellow 5, and the next player plays a yellow 10, then that player is now going to win the trick. the next player only has a yellow 4, but because the lead suit is yellow they must play it (unless they hold a special card). The next player has no yellow cards, so they can play anything they want. If they play a regular suit, they will be out this turn, but if they play a back card, they are now in line to win that trick. After everyone plays one card, the winner of the trick is determined, and then play occurs until all the cards are played for the round and then tricks are scored.
But… there’s more than just number cards in the deck. I’ll explain the special cards:
- Pirate cards have no numbers, but always beat numbered cards. If multiple pirate cards are played in a turn, the first pirate card is the most powerful one.
- Escape cards are considered an automatic out for the turn, and then the next player will determine the suite. If all players play escape cards, the winner will be the first player.
- The Skull King beats everything (except the mermaids). If you play this, you are almost guaranteed victory.
- The Tigress can be either a pirate or an escape card, and must be declared which one it is when played
- The Mermaids are more powerful than any numbered cards, but are defeated by pirates… BUT, they do defeat the Skull King.
- The Kraken destroys the current trick: the cards are set aside and nobody gets them.
- Loot cards are a unique kind of escape card, where the player enters an alliance with the player who wins the trick: if both players win their bids this round, each get 20 points
That’s pretty much every card card in the game. So… let’s go back to the bids… so what happens in, let’s say the 4th round, you predict you will win 2 of the bids. If you do win 2, you will score 20 points for each bid (40 points total), but if you said you will win 2 and actually win 3… then you lose 10 points for each trick you are over/under your bid. But let’s say you bid 0. If you don’t win any tricks that round, you will get 10 points per number of cards played that round (so that would be 40 points in round 4). BUT… if you win one or more tricks, you lose the same amount of points! You will also gain points based on pirates captured with the skull king, capturing the number 14 cards and capturing the skull king with a mermaid… but only if you’ve successfully made your bid. At the end of the 10th round, the player with the most points is the greatest pirate! They should wear an eyepatch to show it.
Is it any good?
Trick taking games have always been hit or miss for me. There’s a lot of luck involved, but sometimes there’s some bluffing which can help. However, when you have a bad hand you know you’re usually out and it feels kind of defeating.
But… when you get a bad hand in Skull King… you can use it to your strengths. You can bid low or even 0, and score points that way. And even if you bid high and gamble, you can win big or still lose some points, but in the end it all balances out. I’ve played this many times, and seen people who are way behind come back with a single hand, and then lose it all the next turn… and thats what makes this game so much fun. The thrill, the rush… risking it all, its a huge fun (and somewhat calculated) gamble and every card played is really enjoyable.
And the bidding… its a great mechanic that makes Skull King really stand out. It’s hard to look at your hand and predict what you’re going to win, but thats what makes it so much fun. and when you big 0 and win… well, thats one of the greatest feelings ever. And it plays so quickly, its easy to teach and learn as well, this is a perfect game to bring to family gatherings or with friends. The game box says 2-6, and its chaotic and intense at 5-6, controlled but still fun at 3-4… but sadly not that good with 2. But this isn’t the kind of game I would play with 2 players anyways.
If there’s one thing I don’t like about this game, its the scoring of the 14 and the special cards. They’re a little hard to keep track of, and can be really swingy, especially if someone has a really good hand and makes their bids. We opt to play without the extra scoring, and find that it’s a lot better that way, but you can use it if you like. It’s not a game breaker by any means, and it’s easy to remove them.
At the end of the day, Skull King is my favourite trick taking game. It has a lot of luck, but it balances it out perfectly with the bidding system. It’s been easy to teach, and well received with everyone I’ve played with. With its high player count and extremely fun gameplay, Skull king i perfect for any fan of card and trick taking games. So what are you waiting for? Go out there and be the best pirate you can be!
- A nice twist on the trick taking game mechanics with special cards.
- The bidding is a lot of fun.
- Trying to mess your opponents bid is extremely enjoyable, especially when they bid 0.
- Portable, quick, and easy to teach.
- The points system with the special cards can be too swingy, and it seems a little too clunky to keep track of it. However, you can play without them.
- Box says 2-6 players, but it’s not that good with 2.
*Thank you to Grandpa Beck’s Games for supplying a copy of Skull King: Legendary Edition for this review. You can find out more about them and their amazing games by clicking here *
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