There was a lot of noise coming from our table the night we decided to try Skull. Sideways looks, squinted eyes, and beads of cold sweat could be found all around the table with the inevitable roar of laughter and cheers to follow. A simple card game of 4 cards per player that stirs even the most stoic player into a gregarious frenzy. There is a lot to breakdown here so I’m going to get right to it with our review of Skull.
The components in Skull, though they are light in numbers, deliver that knockout one-two punch of quality and simplicity. The game comes with 6 player boards and 4 coaster-sized cards per player bringing the total to 24 cards for up to 6 players. Each of which is made with thick cardboard for longevity. Skull presents itself with a smaller table presence that lives within it’s mechanics driven by simple to understand rules.
The artwork is stellar with a style that mimics those of Mexican sugar skull pieces of artwork. Beautifully designed flowers and vines wrap around each card with interwoven shades of flourished color. I’m lead to believe that the art and theme was supposed to be about biker gangs. It makes some sense with the content of the skull card artwork but really doesn’t carry through thematically past simply knowing. That being gripe aside, if it really is one at all, the art direction cannot be praised enough with every detail being carefully polished to a high shine.
The rule book for Skull was simple and clear without much difficulty of learning. Teaching was a breeze as well with a rather intuitive rule set that players latched onto quickly.
Skull is more than just a pretty face. It is hard to imagine upon reading the light rules but once the bidding starts to fly around the table, then the real drama of Skull starts to emerge. This comes in two separate portions of play that differs slightly.
The first is the card placement phase which each player must play one card from their hand or issue a challenge. A simple choice at first glance but with a more devious opportunities. I found that players exploit the hesitation of a players choice by adding additional tension through commentary: the overly anxious need not apply here. The verbiage used tends to range based on the players nefarious nature but the message is all the same: panic and discord. Eventually, this tension results in one player calling a challenge and the second half of of this dramatic tale comes to light.
During the challenge round, players throw around lies and bluffs like a politician during an election cycle. Every bid leaves the next player in turn order with the unique opportunity for advantage. Questions begin to percolate within ones ahead of increasing the bid. What was played in the previous round, how close a player is to victory, and what is said during play all play important factors in that decision. This just adds to the growing tension which inevitably results in fun.
Though this can be played quietly and calmly, I feel this to be more social in nature. This social aspect of the game pushes the game in the party genre which many gamers, particularly ones of a less gregarious nature, will find to be draining and unpleasant experience. Also, I could imagine with the imperfect information that you’re dealing with consistently that some gamers might be turned off by the games inherent randomness.
I find myself enamored with the experience that is Skull. The social dynamics and boisterous atmosphere Skull promotes is something to marvel with how little comes in the box. Is this the game for everyone? Not at all. In fact, I would reserve this for casual gaming events with a mixed group of gamers and non-gamers or a night outing with drinks. A perfect companion game for the budding socialite at the table.