OBJECTIVE OF SKULL KING: Be the player with the most points at the end of the final round

NUMBER OF PLAYERS: 2 – 8 players

CONTENTS:  56 suit cards, 18 special cards, 32 reference/reminder cards, Scorepad

TYPE OF GAME: Trick Taking Card Game



Skull King is a commercial trick taking card game from Grandpa Beck’s Games.  The game Oh Heck serves as the foundation for Skull King.  Players are dealt cards and must bid on how many tricks they will take.  Players who meet their bid earn point while players who fail to meet their bid lose them.  In Skull King, however, there is much more going on.  There are many special cards including Pirates, Mermaids, Escapes, and the Skull King himself that all affect gameplay. 


The base deck consists of 56 cards.  There are four suits: Parrots (green), Maps (purple), Treasure Chests (yellow), and Jolly Rogers (black).  Each suit has 14 cards numbered 1-14.  The Jolly Roger suit is always trump.


There are 14 special cards included.  The five Escapes are the lowest ranking cards in the game.  They always lose the trick.  The five Pirates always beat any numbered card.

Tigress can be played as an Escape or a Pirate.  The player must declare which one as soon as she is played.

The Skull King beats all Pirate and numbered cards.  There are also two Mermaids.  These beat all numbered cards and the Skull King, however, they lose to any other Pirate card.


There are also a variety of additional cards that were once sold as an expansion for the game.  They are currently included in the most recent publication of the game.  These cards can be added and played with advanced rules.

When the Kraken is played to the trick, the entire trick is discarded.  No one wins, and the player seated left of the player who plated the Kraken leds the next trick. 

The White Whale affects the trick in a few interesting ways.  Any special cards played to the same trick as the Whie Whale automatically become Escape cards.  All numbered cards lose their suit and become the same color… white with fear!  The highest numbered card wins the trick.  If two or more of the highest numbered card is played, the first one played wins the trick.  If all the cards in the trick are special cards, the trick is discarded with no winner.  The player who played the White Whale leads the next trick.

If both the White Whale and the Kraken are played to the trick, the second one played wins.

The expansion also includes two Loot cards.  The player who plays a Loot card, and the player who captures it become allies for the round.  Each player is awarded 20 bonus points for meeting their bid.  If all other cards in the trick are escapes, the player who played the Loot wins, and no alliance is formed.


The box also contains 16 player aids, 16 bid reminder cards, 4 blank cards and a scorepad.


This article will explain the setup and rules for the base game.  The Kraken, White Whale, and Loot cards will not be used.  For more details about the large amount of extra rules and ways to play, see Grandpa Becks site.

After removing the Kraken, White Whale, Loot Cards, and blank cards from the deck, give each player a set of bid reminder cards and player aids. 

Ten rounds are played in Skull King.  A different number of cards is dealt each round.  For the first round, shuffle the the deck and deal one card to each player.  The rest of the deck is placed face down and to the side.

Determine who will keep track of bids and score and give that person a scorepad.

The deal will pass left each round.


Each round begins with players bidding on how many tricks they think they will take.  Simultaneously, each player will pound the table three times while saying yo ho ho.  On the third pound, players reveal their bid with their fingers.  If the bid is more than 5, the player simply says the number.  The scorekeeper documents each player’s bid, and players use the bid reminder cards to keep track as well.


The first trick begins with the player sitting left of the dealer.  They may play any card they want from their hand.  Continuing left, each player can either follow suit or play a special card.  If they cannot follow suit, they may play any card from their hand.  A player is never required to play a special card unless it is the only card type remaining in their hand.  The player with the highest ranking card takes the trick.  They lead the next one.  Play continues until all of the tricks for the round have been played.


Who wins the trick is determined by the cards that are in it.  If all of the cards in the trick are numbered cards and follow the lead suit, the highest ranking card takes it.  If they are all numbered cards, and there are any trump suited cards (black Jolly Roger cards) in the trick, the highest ranking black card wins.

Escape cards always lose the trick unless every player has played one.  In this case, the first player to play the Escape card (including the Tigress) wins the trick.

Pirate cards beat all of the numbered cards including the trump suited ones.  Tigress can be played as either a Pirate or an Escape.  If more than one Pirate card is played to the trick with no other higher powered card, the first player to do so wins the trick.

The Skull King is the highest ranking pirate.  He beats every Pirate card and numbered card in the deck. The only cards that can be the Skull King are Mermaids.

Mermaids have a few special conditions.  They beat all numbered cards, but lose to all Pirate cards except for the Skull King.  If both Mermaids are played to the trick and wold win it, the first player to play a Mermaid wins.  If a Pirate, the Skull King, and a Mermaid are all played to the trick, the Mermaid wins.


When leading the trick with an Escape card, the next normal suited card played determines the suit that must be followed.

When leading with a Pirate (except for Tigress when she is led as an Escape), Mermaid, or the Skull King, there is no suit that must be followed for the trick.  The rest of the players may play any card they wish.

After completing the round, tally up the scores for each player, collect the cards, and shuffle the entire deck back together.  Deal passes left for the next round.  Continue playing rounds until the end of the game.


When a player meets their bid, they earn 20 points for each trick they bid and capture.  If a player misses their bid, they lose 10 points for each trick they captured over or under their bid.

Players who bid zero and capture zero tricks earn points equal to 10 times the number of cards dealt that round.  If the player fails to meet their bid of zero, they lose points equal to 10 times the number of cards dealt that round.

Players that meet their bid also have the potential to earn bonus points.  If a player fails to meet their bid, they are unable to score any bonus points.  The yellow, purple, and green 14 earns the player who catches them 10 extra points.  Capturing the black 14 earns the player 20 extra points.

Each Mermaid captured with a Pirate card is worth 20 bonus points.  Each Pirate captured with the Skull King earns 30 bonus points.  Capturing the Skull King with a Mermaid earns 40 bonus points.


The player with the highest score at the end of the game is the winner.

Mark Ball
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