Ahoy There! Look at you lot o’ landlubbers! Soft hands betray that ye’ve never scaled rigging, swabbed decks, or swung a sword. Well, I hope ye learn quick, fer I need e’ry hand I can get on this treacherous voyage. Treasure awaits, but only fer the bold, as mermaids and pirates be after it, too! Will ye be lifted by the winds of victory, or torn asunder on the jagged reef of defeat? Are ye truly brave enough to join me crew? Then climb aboard, and cry out a hearty “Yo-ho-ho!” - THE SKULL KING.
Skull King is a trick-taking game in which you will bid the exact number of tricks you predict you will win each round. You’ll battle with your rivals as you strive to keep your own bid afloat… while seizing opportunities to also sink your opponents! The pirate with the highest score at the end of the game wins and earns the title of Captain of the Seven Seas!
Remove the following from the deck before starting: the Blank cards, the Loot cards, the Kraken, and the White Whale. You’ll use these when you learn the advanced rules. Separate the player aids and bid cards. Distribute the player aid cards and a set of bid reminder cards to each player. Place any remaining player aids and bid cards in the box. Now shuffle the deck and prepare yerselves fer battle!
Skull King is played over 10 rounds. 1 card is dealt to each player in the first round, 2 are dealt in the second, and so on, ending with 10 cards dealt to each player in round 10. The entire deck, including all cards played in the previous round, is shuffled at the start of each round.
8 Players: Due to the added complexity, we recommend a maximum of 6 players when playing with new or inexperienced sailors. When playing with 8 players, the max hand size is 8 cards. You’ll still play 10 rounds, but will only deal 8 cards in each of the final 3 rounds.
After the cards are dealt and you’ve studied your hand, you’ll decide the exact number of tricks you predict you will win in that round. Remember, the higher a card’s value, the more likely you are to win a trick. Once you’re all ready, you’ll pound your fists on the table in unison three times while calling out “Yo-ho-ho!” On the third pound, you’ll each extend the number of fingers equal to your bid or a closed fist if bidding zero. Using your 2 bid reminder cards, place one over the other to indictate your bid (see diagram below). If you’re brave enough to bid 10, simply stack both face down. Have a player record each player’s bid on the scorepad.
Captain’s Log: In the event that you bid more than 5, simply say the number out loud instead of extending your fingers on the third pound.
Understanding the interaction of the various cards and their value is essential to accurately predict the number of tricks you’ll win, so pay close attention and then check your player aid if you need a reminder.
There are 4 suits of cards numbered 1-14 in the deck.
There are 3 standard suits; Parrots (green), Treasure Chests (yellow), Maps (purple), and the trump suit: Jolly Roger (black). Jolly Roger cards outrank (trump) the other 3 standard suits. If a suit card is played first in a trick (leading), it establishes which of the 4 suits is in play. All other players, if they can, must play a card of the same suit, with the exception of special cards (see next section). If you don’t have a card that is the same suit as the one in play, you may play any card of your choice. Example: Samuel plays a green 7, Bonny then lays down a green 12, and Henry plays a green 8. Bonny wins the trick. When you play a different standard (non-trump) suit card than the suit that’s in play, your card will lose, even if it is the highest number played. Example: Scarlet plays a yellow 12 and Thomas plays a yellow 5. Jack doesn’t have a yellow card and plays a purple 14. Scarlet wins the trick. If you are able to play black (trump), it will beat any standard suit card, even those of a greater numbered value. Example: Scarlet leads with a yellow 12. William follows with a yellow 5. Jack doesn’t have a yellow card so he plays a black 2. Even though the 2 is the lowest number played, Jack wins the trick because black trumps other suits.
Special cards allow you to break the rules governing numbered cards. You can choose to play one in any trick, even if you would normally be required to follow suit.
Escapes (5): The 5 Escape cards are the lowest value cards in the game and (almost always) guarantee that you will lose the trick in which they are played. Use them wisely to avoid taking a trick you don’t want to win. Captain’s Log: In the rare event every player plays an Escape card (or the Tigress as an escape) in the same trick, the first Escape card played wins the trick.
Pirates (5): Pirate cards beat all numbered cards. They are of equal rank with each other, so if more than one Pirate card is played in a trick, the person who played the first pirate wins the trick. Tigress (1): The cunning Tigress chooses her battles wisely. When you play the Tigress, you must declare whether she will count as a Pirate or an Escape; the choice is yours!
Skull King (1): The scourge of the seas is the trump of Pirates and beats all numbered cards and Pirates (including the Tigress, when played as a Pirate). The only ones who can defeat him are the Mermaids, luring him into the sea with their precious treasure.
Mermaids (2): Mermaids beat all numbered suits but lose to all of the Pirates, with the exception of the Skull King, who is lured by their treasure. If both Mermaids end up in the same trick, the first one played wins the trick. Captain’s Log: If a Pirate, the Skull King, and a Mermaid are all played in the same trick, the person who played the Mermaid wins the trick.
Leading with Special Cards
When you lead a trick, you may choose to play either a suit card or a special card. When a special card is led, the rules for the suit in play are altered as follows: Leading with an Escape When an Escape (or the Tigress as an escape) is played first in a trick, the next player sets the suit with the card they play, unless they play an escape of their own, which would defer setting the suit to the next player, and so on. Leading with a Character When a Mermaid, Pirate, or the Skull King leads a trick, there is no suit for that trick, regardless as to the cards that were played. Others may play a card from any suit they choose, or a special card.
On Your Turn
Once bidding is complete, the player to the left of the dealer leads out the first trick by playing a card face up in the center of the table. In clockwise order, each other player plays a card following the rules outlined in the previous sections. The person who played the highest-ranking card wins the trick, gathers the cards into a stack, and places the stack in front of them. Then, they play a card to lead the next trick. Play continues until all the tricks in that round have been played. Complete the round by tallying each player’s score on the scorepad.
The player to the dealer’s left becomes the new dealer. This player shuffles all cards, including the ones played in the previous round, and then deals them, increasing the number of cards dealt by 1 from the previous round. After the tenth round is completed, final scores are tallied, the player with the highest score is declared the victor and is appointed as the pirate captain of the seven seas!
Captain’s Log: As the new captain, ye can command yer crew to walk the plank or the dog! However, seein’ as ye don’t have a sword, ye might face a mutiny if’n you do...
There are two different scoring systems you can choose from when playing Skull King. Both are fun and unique.
THE SKULL KING SCORING (Classic Rules)
The classic scoring system for Skull King, excellent for bold and casual play rife with risk and reward where scores swing like sail lines in a gale. With the Skull King’s scoring, you only earn points for the round when you bid correctly. If you’re off, even by 1, you’ll lose points instead.
Bidding One or More
When you win the exact number of tricks that you bid, you are awarded 20 points for each trick taken. Example: Calvin bids 3 and then takes 3 tricks. This earns him 60 points (20 × 3). Capture more or fewer tricks than you bid, and you’ll lose 10 points for every trick you were off. You don’t earn points for any tricks captured that round.
Example: Angela bids 2 but takes 4 tricks. She’s off by 2 so she loses 20 points (-10 × 2). Bidding Zero Bid zero and get your bid correct and your potential score is 10 points times the number of cards dealt that round. The higher the card count, the greater your reward!
Example: Kate bids zero on round 7 and takes zero tricks. She scores 70 points (10 x 7). However, if you bid zero and then take 1 or more tricks, you’ll lose 10 points per card dealt that round instead. Zero bids are risky, but fortune favors the bold!
Example: Johnny bids zero in the ninth round but he captures 2 tricks. He scores -90 points for the round.
In each round you’ll have the chance to earn bonus points, but get your bid wrong and you won’t score any of them. The Number Fourteen Cards 10 points for each standard suit (yellow, purple, or green) 14 card you have at the end of the round. 20 points for possessing the black (Jolly Roger) 14 card at the end of the round.
Captain’s Log: Every 14 you have at the end of the round earns you a bonus, whether played by you or an opponent.
Capturing (taking) character cards will earn a bonus: 20 points for each Mermaid taken by a Pirate. 30 points for each Pirate taken by the Skull King. 40 points for taking the Skull King with a Mermaid.
Captain’s Log: Order of play is not a determining factor in order to win these bonus points.
Example: Lawrence leads with a yellow 14, Charlotte plays a black 14, and Anne lays down a Pirate. Morgan plays the Skull King, winning the trick. He earns +10 points for taking the yellow 14, +20 points for taking the black 14, and +30 points for taking a Pirate.
THE RASCAL SCORING
This scoring method is ideal for cunning and calculated players who seek a more even-keeled adventure.
Each round, all players have the same potential points, regardless of the number you bid. You can earn 10 points for each card dealt that round.
Example: 5 cards are dealt, so your potential score is 50 points, whether you bid 0, 3, 1, or 5.
What determines whether you earn all, part, or none of those potential points is your accuracy.
Direct Hit: When you get your bid exactly right. Earn all of the potential round points.
Glancing Blow: When you are off by 1 on your bid. Earn half of the potential round points.
Complete Miss: When you are off by 2 or more. Earn none of the potential round points.
The same rules apply to bonuses. You’ll tally all your potential bonus points if you land a direct hit, half if you land a glancing blow, and none if you completely miss.
Example A: Harry, Shirley and Poe bid 0, 1, and 2 in a round where 3 cards (30 point potential) are dealt. They each land a direct hit (get their bid) and score 30 points each for the round.
Example B: In the next round where 4 cards are dealt (40 point potential) Harry, Shirley, and Poe bid 1, 0, and 4, Harry gets his bid, Shirley is off by one, and Poe is off by 2. Here’s what their scores would be: Harry: Direct Hit = Full points (+40) Shirley: Glancing Blow = Half points (+20) Poe: Complete Miss = No points (+0)
Optional Rascal Rules
Crave more risk and reward? Then add this enhancement to the Rascal’s Scoring. With this rule, you’ll choose between two cannon loads immediately after bidding. This will impact your potential score. You’ll each reveal your choice simultaneously, with a “Yo-ho-ho!”
Grapeshot (open hand): Follow standard Rascal scoring.
Cannonball (closed fist): Earn 15 points for each card dealt, if you bid correctly. Earn 0 if you’re off, even by 1. You must get your bid correct to earn any bonus points.
Example: Assume 6 cards were dealt and that you bid 3.
If you chose Grapeshot (open hand): Correct bid: Score 60 pts for the round (6x10). Off by 1: Score 30 points for the round (6x5).
If you chose Cannonball (closed fist): Correct bid: Score 90 pts for the round (6x15). Off by 1: Score 0 points for the round.
Shuffle and deal 3 hands (yes, you read that correctly). You’ll bid and play following the same rules as normal, but with one spooky twist. You’ll be joined by Graybeard’s ghost! However, he’ll need a little help from you to play his cards (not having a body is a real bummer).
Each round, you and your opponent will alternate who leads out. Regardless of which one of you does, Graybeard will always play his card second. On his turn, flip over the top card of his hand and add it to the trick (don’t peek unless yer wantin’ a hauntin’). Graybeard isn’t much of a strategist (a small part of why he’s dead) so he doesn’t have to follow suit.
When Graybeard wins a trick, he leads out the next one, otherwise, he always goes second. He doesn’t bid and doesn’t have a score. He plays solely to aggravate others (the big part of why he’s dead).
An ancient foe has awoken. From the deepest part of the ocean, something terrible has risen. The kraken is too much for any with two legs. But another has arisen with a hunger for revenge. The great white whale seems up for the challenge that even I cannot win. Only our wreckage survives in her wake. I feel it be best we just stay out of their way! - THE SKULL KING.
Ye Be Warned!
Played the game and want to add more fight to your battles? Think of these added rules as a menu of options for you to choose from. You may include as many or as few as you like. To help you learn the advanced rules, we’ve included player aid cards you can reference as you play. Leviathans From The Depths Be warned that addin’ both the Kraken and White Whale can make fer some nefarious battles, the likes of which ye never afore have laid eyes on. Try addin’ just one of the two to yer game at first to see how yer crew handles things before addin’ ‘em both.
Kraken (1): Pirates fear nothin’ at all, ‘cept fer maybe the Kraken (and their in-laws). When played, the trick is destroyed entirely as the Kraken consumes all. No one wins the trick and the cards are set aside. The next trick is led by the player to the left of whoever played the Kraken.
White Whale (1): Once hunted by whalers, the White Whale now hunts any vessel that dares cross its path. The White Whale affects both the special suits and numbered suits, in unique ways. Special cards change to escape cards and flee in terror! Numbered cards (including trump) turn white with fear! This means that the highest numbered card wins the trick, regardless of the suit. If there is a tie, the first one played is the winner. If only special cards were played, then the trick is discarded (like the Kraken) and the person who played the White Whale is the next to lead.
Example: Cathy leads with the black 2. Ezra plays a pirate. David plays a yellow 14. Lori plays the Skull King. Charlie plays the White Whale. The special cards become escapes. The suit cards lose their color, leaving just their number, meaning that David’s 14 wins the trick! Roiling waters The Kraken and White Whale are ancient rivals. When played in the same trick they’ll battle! The second one to be played wins, turning the first one played into an Escape.
Captain’s Log: When either of these beasts leads a trick, there is no suit for others to follow.
Loot cards (2): Time to get yerself some treasure me hearties! When you play a loot card, you enter into an alliance with the player who captures it. If both of you bid correctly, you are each awarded 20 bonus points.
Captain’s Log: If you lead a trick with a loot card and the cards that follow are all escapes then you would win the trick. No alliance was formed, so no bonus is awarded. Blank cards (4):
Advanced Pirate Abilities
Unlock each pirate’s unique skill! To do this, you must first win a trick with that pirate rather than just capturing them. Also, it must be used immediately and does not carry over to the next round. Last but not least, you may not use a pirate ability in the final trick of a round.
Rosie D’ Laney: A galley chef with a temper hot as her pies and cold eyes as blue as the sea.
Ability: Choose any player, including yourself, to lead the next trick.
Bendt the Bandit: An orphan raised by smugglers, Bendt is a trader (and traitor).
Ability: Add 2 cards to your hand from the deck and then discard 2 cards.
Rascal of Roatan: A notorious mercenary and gambler with suspiciously good luck.
Ability: Bet 0, 10, or 20 points. Earn the points if you bid correct, lose them if you fail!
Juanita Jade: Rumored to have mermaid ancestry granting her the gift of divination.
Ability: Privately look through any cards not dealt that round to see which are not in play.
Harry the Giant: Known to wrestle panthers and crocs for fun, no one dares oppose this man.
Ability: You may choose to change your bid by plus or minus 1, or to leave it the same.
Variable Card Counts
Ready for your voyage?
Change how many rounds and how many cards per hand. These are some suggested ideas: Even Keeled:
Two rounds each of 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10 cards per hand. Skip to the Brawl:
One round each of 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10 cards per hand. Swift-n-Salty Skirmish:
Five rounds of 5 cards per hand. Broadside Barrage:
Ten rounds of 10 cards per hand. Whirlpool:
Two rounds each of 9, 7, 5, 3, 1 cards per hand. Past Your Bedtime:
One round of 1 card per hand, plus a goodnight hug.
Captain’s Log: Be sure to make note of how many cards you’ll deal each round, by recording them in the ovals on the left side of the scoresheet under the round numbers.
Game Designers: Brent Beck, Tauni Beck, Jeff Beck
Copywriters: Jeff Beck, Cathy Bock, David Bock
Illustrator: Apryl Stott
Graphic Designer: David Bock