Hits 9901 | Created 2007-11-29 | Modified 2007-11-29
If you wander into a hostel in Oaxaca, or a bar in Koh Panyang, and there are bunch of backpackers playing cards, the chances are that it is shithead. Very commonly found in Britain, it is also played all around the world - the number one backpacker export (that and the ruining of rural communities...)
This version is one that can be found in Lancaster. It is the version that I teach to anyone that wants to learn it. There are many others.
Overview To not be the shithead. The shithead is the person left with cards at the end of the game. During play you must lay down card(s) equal to the value of, or higher than, the top card of the stack. If you cannot play, you must pick up the stack.
Deal Depending on the number of players, the number of cards dealt alters - you can combine multiple packs if you have many players. You should be able to have between 9 and 12 cards per player and still have a fair sized pack left to be used in the game.
Deal one card, face down to each player in a clockwise manner. Continue until each player has four cards face down. The cards should not be looked at by the players, but left in a row, face down, in front of them. Next deal a card face up onto each of the face-down cards. Each player should now have four cards face down, with four cards, face-up, on top of each of them.
Next deal four cards to each player to be picked up and used as their starting hand.
Place the rest of the cards in the centre of the table. We'll call these cards the deck, and the cards played in the game next to it the stack.
Special Cards As already mentioned, the player must always try to play the same or higher in the game as the last card played. If they can't, however, they may be able to play a special card to get them out of trouble.
Special cards vary wildly in different game variations. But all games will contain at least the first two:
2 Can be played on any card without conditions. After playing on a two, you can play again on top of it. The next card you play can be anything that is higher than a 2 - i.e. anything.
10 Can be played on anything lower than a 10. Causes the stack of cards to be taken out of the game. You then get to play again into the empty space, playing any card you like.
8 Can be played on any card. It is a transparent reverse. That is, the direction of play is reversed and the next player has to beat whatever is underneath the eight. For each 8 played the direction changes, so if you play two 8s, the direction remains the same; three and it reverses. If you are faced with playing on two or three 8s, you must beat the card underneath them all.
9 Can be played on any card. The next player must play another nine, or a card lower than a 9. So, you could play an 8 or a 2 without problems, but not a 10.
Pre Play Before you begin, you can swap any cards in your hand with any of the four that are face up in front of you. This is important, as you have to play these cards later in the game. Usually, you'll put your best cards face down in front of you, and leave the worst in your hand. The worst being the low cards, and the best being the high and special cards.
Play Whoever has a three and is quick about it can play first by throwing it down into the middle to create the first card in the stack. If no one has a three then a four will do, if there are no fours, a five, etc.
Sometimes, it is asked how many threes people have, and the person with the most goes first. This is a fairly informal rule though.
Play starts in a clockwise direction, but can be changed mid-game with the use of 8s.
When you play, you must ensure that you have at least four cards in your hand at all times. If you have less, you must pick up cards from the deck until you do.
Typically, your play would be to put down one card and pick up another. If you have a handful of cards, say twenty, then you wouldn't have to pick up, as you would have more than four already.
Harassing new players that forget to pickup is a constant mantra in the game - 'pickup', 'you forgot to pickup', 'you didn't pick up', 'pick up', etc.
If a player realises that they didn't pick up, or someone is discovered to have only two cards in their hand at some point, then they should take cards from the stack straight away to make up the numbers.
So on your turn you play to beat the last card played, and then pick up from the deck to ensure you have at least four in your hand.
If you cannot beat the card that was played last (and you must if you can), you must pick up the entire stack into your hand. You get to play again when this happens.
Multiple Cards. If you have two or more of a card in your hand, you can play them all at once. Only cards of the same value though, not runs of any kind. Example, three 6s, two 4s, four 8s. You do not have to play all your cards at the same time though - if you have three Aces for example, you might just want to play one, and keep the other two for later.
Four and Out. If four or more of any card are seen together on the top of the stack, at any time, then the stack is taken out of the game and the player who played the last card gets to play again into the empty space. If you have just picked up the stack, you may find that you have a number of four or more of-a-kind - you can play these, if you wish, one at a time; each time they are removed and you get to play again - example, if you had four kings and four 6s, you could play the four kings, they would be taken out, then play the four 6s, they would be taken out, and then play any other card.
Mid Game. Once the deck of cards that you pick up from is gone, you no longer have to pick up cards. You just play through what you have in your hand.
End Game. When you finish all the cards in your hand, you must play the cards that are face up in front of you, in any order. Do not pick them up though, they must remain face up in front of you. You can play more than one of them at the same time if you have matching values in front of you, example, if you have three 9s and a king, then you could play all the 9s at once, or just the king. If you cannot go, you can play whatever you would have played onto the stack, and them pick up the stack, effectively picking up the stack and he card you wanted to play into your hand. You must now play through this hand before being able to return to playing your face up cards.
Once you have played all your face up cards, you can play your face down cards, but you must do so blind. That is, you must pick one at random and turn it over onto the stack. If it does not beat the top card of the stack, you must pick the whole stack into your hand, and then you get to play again. You must play through the cards in your hand before returning to play your other blind cards.
You must show the blind card to the other players. You cannot simply take a sneaky peek and pick up the stack saying, 'nope, doesn't beat it.' Play the blind card boldly onto the top of the stack and then see if it beats it.
If you only have one blind card left, you should not look at it before you play. Even though you have no choice, it should remain blind until you play it.
If you turn over a 2, for example, during play of your blind cards, then you get to play again, so choose another blind card to go on top. The bizarre and fluky nature of, for example, a finish consisting of three 2s and a ten, are well known.
When you play all of your cards, and have non at all left, you sit out of the rest of the game. The game continues until the bitter end and there is a loser - the shithead.
The shithead always gathers the cards, shuffles and deals the next round. As the game is usually played for some kind of forfeit, example, making tea, rolling a joint, going to the distant 24 hour garage at 3am in the rain, the title of shithead becomes apparent.
Miscellaneous Rules If you can play, you must - i.e. you cannot simply pick up the pack if you have a card that you could play on it.
If you are playing your final card from your hand and have a matching face up card, it can be added to your play. Example, you are left with only a 6, and have two 6s face up. You can play all three onto the stack.
Example Play An example of starting play.
Players A, B, C and D.
Card are dealt. All players change their cards.
Player C throws down a 3 and picks up one card from the deck.
D plays another 3 and picks up one card.
A plays a 6 and picks up one card.
B plays an 8 and picks up one card.
Direction has changed due to the 8, so A plays a two 7s (as the 8 is invisible), and picks up two cards.
D plays a Jack and picks up one card.
C plays a 2, picks up a card, then plays a 4, then picks up a card.
B plays three 4s and the stack is taken out of the game, he picks up one card, then plays a 9.
A plays a five (lower than a nine), and picks up one card.
D plays 10, the stack is taken out, he picks up one card, plays a Queen., picks up one card.
C plays another queen and picks up a card.
B cannot beat a queen, so picks up all the stack, and plays a 3, he does not pick up a card, as he already has more than four in his hand...
And so on.
Tips If you make space, play into it. (i.e. If you play a 10, play four or more of a kind, or pick up the stack, then you get to play again).
Variations Oh, the variations of this game are truly mind boggling. The only thing that all games have in common is that there are cards face down, face up and in your hand. You play to beat the card before you. There will be 2s and 10s as special cards. The loser is always the shithead.
You can play three cards down, three cards up, and three in the hand instead of four, if you don't have enough cards. Remember that you can have as many decks as you like in the game though. If you play three, then you must remember to keep three cards in your hand during play, not four. You can, in fact, play with five down and five in the hand, or six down and three in the hand, whatever takes your fancy really.
Minor variations include different special cards, of which 7s are often used for various purposes.
Harsh vs. Easy 10s - Some people play that 10s can be played on any card (easy 10s). This is useful if you play a version with no 9s or 8s, or generally few special cards.
The major difference found though is this:
Don't play again on 2s. Some people play that you don't get to play again on a 2, but the next person plays anything on it.
Don't play again after pickup. Some people play that after picking up the stack, you don't get another go, but the next player gets to play anything.