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Subject: A Little-and-Often Review - Skull & Roses rss

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Adam Taylor
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It is my intention to write a brief review (around 300 words) of every game that I play over the coming months. It won't quite be a random sample of games but there is likely to be quite a range; some will be games that I've played many times before, others will be first impressions of games that are new to me, some I will like, some I will hate, some I may be predisposed to like or hate before I even sit down to them. I make no apologies for this but I will lead with a rough number of plays and my rating.

Plays: 5
My rating: 6.75

I tend to think of Skull and Roses as Perudo but without all of the noise and fuss. It has a similar decision space but without the random input of the dice and with a small amount of additional player volition (in that you'll potentially have the opportunity to add extra mats before bidding).

The components are really unlike any other game - they give the impression of a game that was developed in a pub with actual beer-mats - and are rather satisfying to skim casually across the table or to dramatically flip over. The artwork in the original version captures this idea very well and I rather prefer it but the slightly more psychedelic art of the second edition also has its appeal.

The action is very repetitive and doesn't really progress over the course of the game but that’s not necessarily an issue for a short filler and, in general, S&R doesn't outstay its welcome. This can be slightly player dependent though: The possible mechanical flaw of the game is that players really need to choose to participate in the risky business of bidding and flipping to try to score points - I have seen one player pass every single round in the hope of being the last-man-standing - or at least going into a final head-to-head with all of their lives intact. I'm not a mathematician (and would be interested to hear from one if I'm wrong) but, as the success rate of flipping is generally pretty low, it seems that this would be reasonably likely to pay off.

In short, S&R works well if played in the right spirit: Bidding and flipping is a risky proposition but not doing so is much less fun. The simple process of turning over mats can create an enormous amount of tension, excitement and laughter - so long as everyone is invested in the process.
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Clive Jones

Cambridgeshire, UK
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Hmm. It feels like you've overlooked a lot of the game's depth.

You compare the game to Perudo. To me, it feels much more like the essence of Poker pared to the bone: no luck, no complex hand rankings, just the interaction between the players.

Like in Poker, you can play cautiously or take risks. You can play precisely, or you can play randomly.

Like in Poker, none of those strategies in isolation will win against good opponents.

For example:

Quote:
the success rate of flipping is generally pretty low


Really? Play a flower, then bid "1". If everybody else is taking the line that bidding is too risky, take the point, play a flower, bid "1", take the point, win. Twenty seconds later, perhaps people will play differently next time.

Bidding is risky, but not bidding is also risky.

Of course, once people are wise to your technique, play your skull, then bid "1". Alternatively, once people have started succeding with bids of 2 or 3, start the bidding higher than 1, so the risk of people outbidding you is lower. Or play your skull and start the bidding higher than 1. Nobody would be foolhardy enough to do that... right?

Quote:
The action is very repetitive and doesn't really progress over the course of the game


That feels as though you're not using the information you have at your disposal.

If someone's lost a tile, is it their skull or a flower? What are the odds? Can you tell from their play? Are they bluffing? Is it worth "paying" to find out by winning the bidding then turning over their tiles?

Once one player has fewer tiles than the others, it becomes possible to force them to begin the bidding. How can you use that your advantage? Maybe they should react by beginning the bidding sooner than they have to.

Conversely, once a player has a point, it becomes imperative not to let them win another. If they've made a bid that people believe will succeed, somebody has to sacrificially overbid to stop them, but who? Can you trick someone into a false sacrifice when the bid couldn't really succeed? Can the player with a point trick people into a false sacrifice?

When multiple players have points, the situation becomes even more subtle.

Quote:
I have seen one player pass every single round in the hope of being the last-man-standing - or at least going into a final head-to-head with all of their lives intact. I'm not a mathematician (and would be interested to hear from one if I'm wrong) but, as the success rate of flipping is generally pretty low, it seems that this would be reasonably likely to pay off.


It can't possibly. Once you're down to two players, it's trivial to win against someone you know will pass.

Now, someone playing a pass-heavy strategy then swooping in for a late win may have the edge if other players are taking too many risks. But it needs to be done in a more nuanced way than "always pass", and only when appropriate. The other players can then compensate by playing a little more conservatively. Remember you're playing the players, not the game.

Taking things to the next level: if you talk the talk and drop in the occasional bid you're almost certain will get raised, perhaps you can play a cautious strategy without the other players noticing? Just how good are those other players? How good are you?
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Clive Jones

Cambridgeshire, UK
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Incidentally, are you sure you're playing the game correctly?

I've just noticed:
Quote:
rather satisfying to skim casually across the table

Why would you do that? Except when put back in the box because of a failed bid (and you wouldn't skim them, because of the risk they'd flip over), a player's tiles remain in front of them at all times.
 
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Adam Taylor
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clivej wrote:
Incidentally, are you sure you're playing the game correctly?


You mean it's not a dexterity game? Yes, we were playing it right - upon losing a life we would toss the discarded mat (facedown) into the centre.

As to your other points, I don't dislike Skull (I don't particularly dislike Perudo either) it's a perfectly enjoyable filler so long as everyone's playing it in the same spirit: fun and light in our case or heavy and analytical if that's your thing.
 
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Clive Jones

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Sure, people can play it (or not) how they like.

I guess my point is that you seem lukewarm-to-favourable about the game, whereas a lot of people who play it more analytically rate it very highly indeed.

Maybe you'd enjoy it more if you played it more analytically; maybe not. But I wouldn't want someone looking for a game with simple rules but deep strategy to read your review, think "oh, yet another better than average light filler game" and walk away. They could be missing out.
 
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mfl134
United States
Havertown
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DicingWithDearth wrote:
clivej wrote:
Incidentally, are you sure you're playing the game correctly?


You mean it's not a dexterity game? Yes, we were playing it right - upon losing a life we would toss the discarded mat (facedown) into the centre.

As to your other points, I don't dislike Skull (I don't particularly dislike Perudo either) it's a perfectly enjoyable filler so long as everyone's playing it in the same spirit: fun and light in our case or heavy and analytical if that's your thing.


Agreed that it works much better if everyone is playing similarly. If most are playing analytically and a few aren't, they can break the game in ways. If everyone is playing fun and light it doesn't really matter how the game plays other than some excitement going for bids and a winner being declare. Though if you were looking for a lighter game with hints of gambling (though not really bluffing) play Camel Up instead.


Separately, what player count did you play at?

This game plays really tight at 3 players and can be a played a lot looser at 6+ players.
 
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