SHITHEAD CARD GAME RULES

shithead rules title

OBJECTIVE OF SHITHEAD: Don’t be the last player (the Shithead) to get rid of all the cards.

NUMBER OF PLAYERS: 2 to 5 players

MATERIALS OF SHITHEAD: Standard 52-card deck

TYPE OF GAME: Card game

AUDIENCE: Adults


OVERVIEW OF SHITHEAD

Shithead is known by many names, most commonly Palace, China Hand, Karma, and Ten-Two Slide. But as you can tell, we know this game by its more colorful name: Shithead. Before we get into the Shithead rules, let’s discuss where this exciting game comes from.

Most likely, this card game is of Scandinavian origin. This game has many similarities to the game Vändtia (“turn ten”). It also bears relation to the Finnish game Paskahousu (“shit pants”). No matter where this game comes from, this game has now spread across the world since the 20th century from young backpackers traversing the earth with a deck of cards.

Shithead is a beating or shedding card game like Crazy Eights or Mau Mau. This means the players try to avoid being the last player to get rid of all their cards. The loser of Shithead is aptly named the Shithead and has to suffer an additional consequence, such as making the tea or at least shuffling the cards ready for the next round.

Since the card game has traveled around the world, it’s not surprising to note that Shithead comes with many differing house rules and variations. But don’t worry. We’ll go over all of the Shithead rules now! So, grab a deck of cards, and let’s get playing!

SETUP FOR SHITHEAD

Of course, as with any other game, before you can start shedding those cards, you’re going to need to set up the Shithead card game. All you need to play is a deck of cards, so get it out and give the cards a good shuffle. Mix the cards up thoroughly.

Subsequent games will have their Dealer chosen for them, as Players declared the Shithead at the end of a game will be forced to deal in the next game, as well as other possible punishments.

HOW TO DEAL IN SHITHEAD

shithead setup deal

Once you have shuffled the deck, it is time to deal the cards. Choose any random player to deal the cards. Any subsequent games will already have a chosen dealer, as the losing player, also called the Shithead, will have to shuffle the cards and deal the next game.

Here’s a step-by-step process for dealing the cards:

  1. The dealer passes each player three cards, face-down, in a row.
  2. The dealer then places three cards, face-up, on top of each player’s face-down cards.
  3. The dealer deals each player a three card hand, face-down, one card at a time.

The cards that remain form the draw pile or the stock. Players pick up their three card hands and look their cards.

Before play begins, players may exchange cards in their hand for their face-up cards. Players may not look at their face-down cards until they are played.

A bit confusing, right? To know what cards you want to exchange, you’ll have to keep on reading these Shithead rules! But to get you started, here’s a hint: players usually take any lower-ranking cards into their hands and put higher-ranking cards as face-up cards.

HOW TO PLAY SHITHEAD: SHITHEAD RULES

After every player has exchanged their cards, determine which player goes first. To determine the first player, find the player who has a 3 face-up card. If there are no 3s face-up, the first player to declare they have a 3 in their hand is the first player. If there are no 3s dealt at all, repeat with the number 4 (and so on).

PLAYING

The objective is to get rid of all of your cards as fast as you can.

The first player starts the discard pile by putting any card in their hand face-up on the table. Do not use any of the three face-up or face-down cards on the table in front of you! You can play more than one card at once as long as all the cards are of the same rank. Then, draw cards from the stock to maintain a three card hand. Play passes clockwise.

Each player must play a card or set of equal value cards face-up on top of the discard pile. The card played, however, must be of equal value to or of higher rank than the previous play. Play continues around the table until someone is unable to beat the previous play.

DRAWING

It is absolutely essential to maintain at least three cards in hand. So, if you have five cards in hand, there’s no need to draw.

If the draw pile is running low, draw as many cards as you can to get to three cards. Once the stock is completely dry, play continues as normal but players do not replenish their hands.

DISCARD PILE

If it is your turn and you are unable to play a card of an equal or higher value than the previous play, you must collect all the cards from the discard and add these cards to your hand. If you pick up the discard, your turn is finished. Then, the player to your left starts the new discard pile. Play resumes as normal.

You can only play with the cards in hand as long as you have cards in hand. Once your hand is dry (as well as the draw pile), you may use your cards on the table.

SPECIAL CARDS

shithead

There are three special cards in Shithead: 2, 7, and 10.

  • 2: A 2 is a wild card. You can play a 2 on any card – even a King or Ace! A 2 also resets the discard pile, so the next play can be a low value card once again.
  • 7: When you play a 7, the next play must be a card with a value lower than or equal to 7. After the next play, play continues as normal. So, for example, after Player 1 discards a 7, Player 2 may discard a 5, and Player 3 can play anything 5 or above.
  • 10: A 10 burns the entire discard pile. In other words, when a player discards a 10, the entire discard pile is pushed to the side and is not added to any player’s hand. Phew! You can play a 10 on any turn, no matter the top card of the discard pile. After burning the pile, the player that discarded the 10 starts a new discard pile.

FACE-UP CARDS

After the draw pile runs out and you start your turn with an empty hand as well, you may then use your face-up cards to play. If you are unable or unwilling to play with a face-up card, take one and add it to the discard before collecting the whole pile. The next player starts a new discard pile. You cannot play from your table cards until you get rid of all the cards in your hand once again.

FACE-DOWN CARDS

Once you have played all the cards in your hand and all of your face-up cards, it’s time for to play your face-down cards blindly. On your turn, flip a random face-down card onto the discard pile. If the card is playable, as in, it is equal to or higher in rank than the previous card played (unless the previous card is a 7, in which case, your card would have to be equal to or lower), your turn is over, and play continues as normal.

However, on the flip side, if the card is not playable, after placing it on the discard pile, you collect the entire pile, including your face-down card. The next discard pile is started by the player to your left. You must play all the cards in hand before blindly flipping your next face-down card.

END OF GAME

Once you have gotten rid of all your cards—that is, cards in hand and on the table—congratulations! You have avoided losing the game. Now that all your cards are gone, you drop out of the game.

The game continues until all but one player has dropped out. That remaining player is the loser or the Shithead. The Shithead must shuffle the cards and deal the next hand. You can even have the Shithead “make tea,” which can be anything that benefits the comfort or well-being of the group, such as grabbing some beers from the fridge.

Shithead is an excellent card game. Head over to our list of the best card games for 2 players for more recommendations!

SHITHEAD STRATEGIES

While there is definitely some luck involved in playing Shithead, there are some strategies you can employ to better your chances of winning this card game.

EXCHANGE HIGH-RANKING AND LOW-RANKING CARDS

At the very beginning of the game, exchange any high-ranking cards in your hand for any low-ranking cards you may have as face-up cards. This is because you are much more likely to be able to get rid of your low-ranking cards earlier on in the game than later. 

TIMING MATTERS

Manage your cards wisely, and use them at the right time. Keep track of the cards played and use this information to your advantage. And hold onto powerful cards until the right moment to catch your opponents off guard! This will set traps for the other players, forcing them to pick up rather large piles of cards!

VARIATIONS OF SHITHEAD RULES

There are many different variations of Shithead rules around the world. Here are some of the most popular variations:

JOKERS

If you use jokers, this game can accommodate 6 players. You can play a joker at any time, and they reverse the direction of play. Unlike what you may think, jokers are not wild cards.

DEALING VARIATION

While you should deal in Shithead following the rules above, a common dealing variation is as follows:

  1. Deal a row of three cards, face-down, to each player.
  2. Deal six cards to each player.

Players then pick up those six cards and select which three cards out of the six they want in hand and on top of their three face-down cards.

PLAY FOR WINNER

Instead of simply finding a loser, you can play Shithead to find a winner as well. The first player who drops out (as in, plays all their cards) is the winner.

Then, continue playing until the game produces a loser. Let the winner punish the loser (keep it fun and friendly!). Perhaps the loser must “make tea” for the winner alone, for example, grab the winner a fresh beer or rub their shoulders. The loser still deals the next hand.

TEN RULES

In some variations of the Shithead card game, some players play with the rule that you can only play a 10 whenever the rank of the card can beat the previous play. For example, you cannot play 10 if the card on top of the discard pile is a Jack, Queen, King, or Ace. 

INVISIBLE CARD RULES

Another common Shithead rule is that the number 3 card is considered transparent or invisible. So, when you play this special card, which can be played on a card of any rank, the next player must beat the card below it since the invisible card cannot be seen.

SKIP RULES

If you want to add another special card to the mix, play with the rule that the number 8 acts as a skip card. So, if a player plays this card, the next player doesn’t get to play. 8s can be accumulative, so if a player plays two 8s, play skips the next two players.

FAQ

Can You End the Shithead Game on a Special Card?

Yes, don’t worry, you can end the Shithead game on a special card, such as a 2, 7, or 10.

What Happens When the Draw Pile Runs Out in Shithead?

In Shithead, when the draw pile runs out, you start playing the rest of the cards in your hand, then your face-up card, and, finally, your surprise face-down cards.

Can You Play More Than One Card at a Time in Shithead?

Yes, definitely! You can play more than one card at a time, but they must be of the same rank. For example, if you have 2 7s, you can play both 7s.

Mia Kim