Skip-Bo is a card game that was originally created in 1967 but it has a much longer history than that. Skip-Bo took a lot of inspiration from the traditional card game Spite and Malice. In Spite and Malice players combined several standard sets of playing cards. Players would play cards to the table in numerical order and the first player to get rid of all of their cards first would win the game. When I was kid I remember playing the card game Flinch (another game based off of Spite and Malice) quite a bit. Since I enjoyed Flinch I was interested in trying out Skip-Bo. Skip-Bo is a mindless card game that anyone can play but lacks enough strategy to be more than an average card game.
How to Play Skip-Bo
Shuffle the cards. Deal cards out face down to the players based on the number of players:
- 2-4 players: 30 cards each
- 5+ players: 20 cards each
These cards form your stock pile. Each player turns over the top card from their stock pile to the number side.
The rest of the cards are placed faced down on the table to form the draw pile. The youngest player gets to start the game.
Playing the Game
Each player begins their turn by drawing cards from the draw pile until they have five cards in their hand.
After drawing cards players will be able to play cards to the center of the table. Players can play cards from their hand, the top card from their stock pile, or one of the top cards from one of their discard piles. When a player plays the top card from their stock pile, they flip over the next card. Skip-Bo cards are treated as wilds.
Up to four building piles can be created in the middle of the table at the same time. To create a building pile a player has to play a one card.
Other than creating a new building pile players can play a card to any building pile that is one higher than the top card on the building pile. When one of the building piles reaches twelve, the pile is discarded. When the draw pile runs out of cards, all of the discarded building piles are reshuffled.
If a player is able to play all five of the cards from their hand, they are able to draw five new cards from the draw pile and continue their turn.
Once a player has played all of the cards that they can/want to play, they will discard one of the cards from their hand into one of four discard piles in front of themselves. Players can add multiple cards to each discard pile and there are no rules about where you can play a card when it comes to discard piles.
After a player has discarded one of their cards, play passes to the next player clockwise.
End of Game
The game ends when one of the players play the last card from their stock pile. This player wins the game.
If players want to play several games, the winner of the game will score points. The player will score 25 points for winning and five points for each card left in the other player’s stock piles. The first player to score 500 points wins the game.
If the players want to play with partners, both partners can use each other’s stock and discard piles. Partners can never discuss strategy though. The game ends when both partners’ stock piles are empty.
My Thoughts on Skip-Bo
So before I get into my specific thoughts on Skip-Bo I would like elaborate on why Skip-Bo is not a particularly original idea for a card game. As I already mentioned the original Spite and Malice was a card game that used standard decks of cards and players were tasked with playing higher numbered cards on top of one another. In 1894 the card game Flinch was created which utilized a deck of 150 cards numbered 1-15 but featured the same gameplay as Spite and Malice. In 2003 a modern version of Spite and Malice was created that added a couple special cards to the mix but still kept the main mechanic of playing higher numbered cards. These are just a few of the card games that share the same basic mechanics as Skip-Bo.
If you have ever played one of the aforementioned games you already know what to expect out of Skip-Bo as it is basically the same game with only a couple slight tweaks. For those of you who have never played one of these games before, Skip-Bo is a pretty generic card game. You draw cards and then play cards to the center of the table that are one number higher than the cards currently on the top of the stacks. The goal of the game is to get rid of all of the cards in your face down stack of cards.
I think the best way to describe Skip-Bo is as a mindless card game. Like UNO and quite a few other card game, Skip-Bo is a game that is so simple that you don’t really have to put too much thought into any given turn. The rules are really straightforward to the point where if you can count up to twelve you should have no trouble playing the game. Skip-Bo is the type of game that you can play with anyone from children to your grandparents. It is the perfect type of game to play if you want to turn off your brain and play something that is relaxing and won’t tax your brain.
Skip-Bo is a perfectly serviceable game that can be fun in short doses. I had some fun with the game but at the same time I found some issues with the game.
The biggest problem that I had with the game was the length. With games like UNO, one of the game’s greatest strengths is how short the game is. Unfortunately this is not the case with Skip-Bo. While the length is really easy to adjust by changing how many cards you start with in your stack, the game is way too long if you follow the rules included with the game. The game recommends starting with 20-30 cards but that is way too many in my opinion. I personally would recommend ten cards at max. Skip-Bo is a game that should take 15-20 minutes but ends up taking closer to 45-60 minutes. If you use the scoring rules the game will take even longer.
Outside of having to get rid of too many cards, another problem that makes the game take too long is the fact that you can easily go through several rounds with no players playing any cards. Players could either have no cards that they can actually play or a player could choose not to play cards from their hand/discard piles since it will just help the other players. This could theoretically get so bad that you can’t finish the game because no one has the cards needed to increase one of the piles or the player(s) that control them refuse to play them.
Other than the game taking too long, the game has a problem of not having enough strategy and relying too much on luck. While I wouldn’t say that Skip-Bo has no strategy, I wouldn’t say it has much. Basically the only strategy in the game is choosing when to play cards and how you should add cards to your discard piles.
When choosing the best time to play cards you have to factor in two things. You probably shouldn’t play a card to one of the piles if it is going to help one of the other players and not help you. Otherwise you have to decide whether the card is valuable to keep or if it would be better to play the card so you can draw another card on your next turn. If the card won’t really help you get rid of the top card from your stock pile you are probably better off playing it so you can draw more cards on your next turn.
Probably the most strategy in Skip-Bo comes from choosing how to add cards to your discard piles. If you are lucky and don’t have to keep many cards in your discard piles it doesn’t really matter how you choose to play the cards. When you start to get a lot of cards in your discard piles though the decision becomes a lot more interesting. Generally I see two ways to approach playing cards to your discard piles. The first approach is to keep stacking cards of the same number on top of one another. This allows you to free up the other discard piles for different numbers since if you ever need more than one of the same number you will get access to another one as soon as you play the first card. The other option is to stack numbers in descending order. This works most of the time since it gives you the opportunity to play multiple cards in a row. If you make the stack too large though you might not be able to play the cards that you really want to because they are covered up.
The problem with both of these strategic decisions is that it doesn’t really matter as luck will regularly mess up any type of strategy you want to implement. Your fate in the game is likely going to come down to how lucky you are. First if the cards in your stack work well with the cards currently in front of you, you will be able to get rid of them quickly and win the game. Second players can get lucky and draw the cards they need to get rid of cards from their stack. If a player draws a lot of Skip-Bo cards they will have a huge advantage as the Skip-Bo cards are kind of rigged. Finally a player can easily benefit from the player before them making a mistake helping them get rid of one of their cards that they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to get rid of.
The fact that the game lasts too long and that the game relies pretty heavily on luck makes Skip-Bo kind of drag after a while. I had fun with Skip-Bo for the first 15-20 minutes. After that point the game became kind of boring though. With only a couple mechanics you end up doing the same thing over and over again while playing Skip-Bo. With the little amount of strategy and high reliance on luck after a while it feels like the game is playing itself. If the game only took 15-20 minutes this wouldn’t be that bad as the game would work pretty well as a filler game. Once you get to the 20 minute point though the game starts to drag.
Skip-Bo’s components are basically what you would expect out of a card game. The artwork is quite generic and the card quality is what you would expect out of a typical card game. I do appreciate that the game does include quite a few cards. This helps the game because it reduces the need to shuffle and also allows the game to support more players. The fact that you don’t have to shuffle as often is nice because through normal gameplay the cards end up getting sorted numerically which means you have to shuffle the cards pretty thoroughly.
Should You Buy on Skip-Bo?
At its core Skip-Bo is a very average but unspectacular card game. The game is really accessible as anyone that can count up to twelve shouldn’t have any trouble playing the game. You can have some fun playing the game if you don’t mind a game that mostly revolves around mindless fun. The problems with the game mostly come down to the length and the lack of strategy/reliance on luck. If the game lasted around 15-20 minutes I would say that it would work pretty well as a filler game. Using the normal rules though the game will usually take closer to 45 minutes to an hour. Skip-Bo has a couple areas for strategy but for the most part the strategy is pretty straightforward and luck is generally going to be the deciding factor in most games. This is not to say that Skip-Bo is a terrible game but it is mostly just mindless fun.
If you don’t really care for mindless card games, Skip-Bo is probably not going to be for you. If you already own Flinch or one of the other similar games I don’t really see Skip-Bo being different enough that it warrants a purchase. People who really enjoy mindless card games though will probably enjoy Skip-Bo quite a bit. If you can pick up the game cheap it might be worth picking up.