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Shithead - card game

A hand during a game of Shithead
Alternative names F-Knows, Lungnut, China Hand, Palace, Shed, Karma, Danish, or "OG"
Type Shedding-type
Players 2-4 (recommended); 5 maximum
Skills required Memory
Cards 52
Deck French
Play Variable
Card rank (highest to lowest) Highly variable
Playing time 5 mins.+
Random chance High
Related games

Shithead (also known as Karma, Palace, Shed and by many other names) is a card game similar to the Finnish game Paskahousu. In the game the object is to lose all of one's cards, with the last player to do so being the "shithead", who must deal the next game and may be subject to some minor forfeit of the group's choice, such as fetching the next round of drinks.

The game, and variations of it, is popular in many countries amongst backpackers, and as a result is widespread. Although the basic structure of the game generally remains constant there are often regional variations of the game's original rules. It is usually played by the Bardéèl convention.


There are many variations of the rules, and there is no universally accepted set. A common set of rules is listed here.

Dealing the cards

From a standard, shuffled deck of 52 cards, each player is dealt three 'face down cards' in a row. Players are not allowed to see or change these cards. On top of the 'face down cards', they are dealt the same number of 'face up cards'. Three cards are again dealt to each player (face down), and this becomes the player's 'hand'. Players are then allowed to switch the cards in their 'hand' with their 'face up cards' in an attempt to produce a strong set of 'face up cards' for later in the game. Other versions have the dealer dealing each player three face-down cards, then dealing them each six cards. The player then chooses the three best and lays them down The dealer places the remaining cards face-down in the 'deck'. Players will lay their cards in turn in the 'pick up pile' or 'pile'.

Starting play

After the cards have been dealt, players lay cards in turn onto the pick up pile, starting with the first player to lay a three. If nobody has a three, then the holder of a four must lay and so-on. If the holder has a four, then you have to play, and so on. If two players hold a four, the first player with a four after the dealer begins the game. Play will then continue in a clockwise direction until the cards dictate otherwise. Other variations start with the person left of the dealer.

Rules of Play

Each player must lay a card equal to or higher in value than the one at the top of the pick up pile, then draw cards from the deck so they have at least 3 cards in their hand (unless the deck has run out of cards or they already have 3 or more cards in their hand). If a player has no single card that is higher in value than the previous card they may play a pair of cards, in which case the next player must play a higher pair or a triple. If they cannot play a card (or cards), they must pick up the pick-up pile (put it in their hand) and end their turn. In some variants when two cards of the same value are played the next player is skipped.

Play continues sequentially in a clockwise direction unless certain wildcards are played, depending on rule set.

A game of shithead in its final phase

When a player has no more cards in his or her hand, and the deck is empty, he or she may proceed to play from their three face up cards onto the pick up pile. They may not play from this set of cards until they have finished with their hand. If the deck is empty and there are no cards in the player's hand, he or she may lay one or more (if they share the same rank) of the face up cards on the pile. The rank of the face up card must be higher than the rank of the card on the top of the pile, otherwise the player cannot play the face up card and must pick up the pile.

Picking up the pile can often put a player at a great disadvantage when many cards have been played as they will have more cards to lose than other players. Even so, it is still possible to quickly recover from this handicap.

Once all of the face up cards have been played, a player must then play their face down cards, which are known as "blind cards". These must be turned over so that all the group may see what has been played. If the card is less than the previous card played, they must pick up the pile and put it in their hand, forcing them to play their hand again before progressing to the rest of their face down cards.

If a player is able to complete a set in turn (e.g. complete four-of-a-kind 8♥ 8♦ 8♠ 8♣) he or she can do so clearing (burning) and removing the entire pile from play. For example, if a player first plays 7♥ 7♦ 7♠ and the next player in turn has the 7♣ he or she can drop that card to complete the set thus clearing the pile. The player who clears may play another card after. Some alternate rule sets allow players to clear at any time in or out of turn. Other rules make the a four-of-a-wild a normal wild.

If a player has no cards left to play, they are out. The loser, known as "The Shithead" is the last player left in the game. Under most rules the shithead's only role is to deal the next set of cards. Players may adapt this so that the shithead is also required to fulfill a forfeit.

Wildcards and special attributes

Aside from the basic order of play, the core aspect of Shithead is the "wildcards". These vary greatly depending on regional variations, though the core of the rules remains the same. With certain exceptions, wildcards may be played on any other card.

Most variants have the 2 and 10 as wildcards, which may be played onto any card, and can be followed by any card. Playing a 10 or a 4-of-a-kind removes the discard pile from the game, and gives the active player another turn. There are two important distinctions between a 2 and a 10; whilst both may be laid on any card, the 2 does not "burn" the pile, and does not entitle the player to another turn: Following a 2 the player's turn is ended and the subsequent player is then free to play any card he or she wishes. After a 10 is played, the same player may play any card, though without picking up a fresh card from the deck. Additionally, 4 of a kind can only be played in sequence, but does entitle the player to an additional turn to lay.

Many rulesets and house rules give special attributes to other card values, such as reversing the order of play, requiring the next play to be lower than the played card, forcing the next player to miss a turn, or having a particular value card be considered "glass", with the next player playing as if that card were not on the discard pile.

Also additional rules at the end of the game involve 3 cards. The 3 card, the 8 card and the joker card. Your final 3 cards that you turn over can change the game entirely. As the final person to turn over the cards, if you turn over a 3 as your last card instead of winning, you lose by 3.

Having lost the game, you still turn over your face down cards in whichever order you wish. If your last card turned is a joker, you win the game by 3. If you turn over an 8, you just simply win the game.

Tabletop games: Rules and Strategy