A smile creeps across the face of your opponent. As they bet, they flippantly wave the action to you.
Do you go higher? Are they bluffing? Why are they smiling?
Your palms are sweaty, knees knocking, arms heavy. The slow motion kicks in, playing Botticelli.
No, you are not in the World Series of Poker. You just became over invested in a game of Skull, by Asmodée Éditions.
Never heard of Skull? That is understandable, as the vast majority of Americans are not part of what has become known as the modern board game scene.
Let me tell you about it.
Skull is a simple game of strategic wagering and bluffing. Each player begins with four cards. One of the four is emblazoned with the titular skull, while the others bear flowers, while sharing identical backs.
The goal of the game is be the first player to accrue two points or to be the last player left in the game.
To begin a round, all players simultaneously select a card to place face-down in front of themselves.
Then, whoever has been deemed the first player makes a simple choice — place another card face-down on his or her stack, or bid however many cards can be flipped face-up without revealing the dreaded skull.
If that player chooses to place a card, the next player now is presented with the same choice.
If, however, they boast or bluff some measure of precognition by calling their shot, the other players in turn choose either to raise the current bid or wimp out and pass.
Eventually, when all but one player has passed or the bid has matched the total cards in play, the bidder must flip over cards equal to his bid, starting with all of his own cards, without revealing a skull.
If they succeed, they earn a point and are halfway to glorious victory, but if they fail, they lose a card at random forever, or until the game ends — whichever comes first.
It is almost dreadfully simple and might seem predestined to be a drab experience. Wrong!
Let me assure you, in this box you will find an experience that will entertain you with both laughs and moments of great tension.
Simplicity is not a direct link to boredom, after all, and the first time you find yourself inside a Princess Bride-like iocaine powder scenario, — double-, triple- and even quadruple-guessing what your opponent might have placed — you will fall in love with the depth of this game.
Yet it still is easy enough to understand that my 8-year-old plays with the best of us and wins regularly.
Speaking of what is in this particular box, let’s take a closer look. Available wherever Asmodée Éditions games are sold — from Barnes and Noble and Amazon.com to other, more local sources — the game will run between $15 and $25, depending on shipping and other factors.
Opening the box reveals an easy-to-understand book of rules, an advertisement for other games by Asmodée and a pile of what appears to be 30 coasters, which are the cards of the game. The cards are made of a nice, heavy cardboard that fits with the game’s pub game origins.
Six of the cards are square in shape and larger than the others — these mark individual players and help track who has earned their first point.
The other 24 coaster cards are round and are in six sets of four that match each of the larger cards. The art on the card fronts is glorious, yet simple.
With a each player having their own color and flower on their cards, you quickly establish favorites and lucky sets of cards. I personally favor the iris on a purple field.
Also unique are the skull cards that are part of each set, each different and themed to some ancient civilization, ranging from a helmeted Viking skull to a distinctly South American-looking skull.
Most people have, at some point, played board games with family around some table set for one holiday or another.
Maybe you suffered through a 12-hour Monopoly slog or just gave up two turns into Axis and Allies because no one could understand the rules.
No such worries from Skull! It is short — 20 minutes tops — and simple. It is a standout in any board game collection, whether you play with your parents or your gamer geek friends.
One final note: Yes, Botticelli is a painter, not a composer, but I bet you had to look it up, and let’s face it — Schubert does not rhyme well.
The Game Is Afoot is a column written for Ark City Daily Bytes by Ark City native and guest contributor Dustin Ward.