Skitgubbe (a.k.a. Flurst)

A Belorussian translation by Martha Ruszkowski is available. Here's an indirect link to it: a Google search whose only hit is her site.

Rules for the card game
Skitgubbe, a.k.a. Flurst, is a very friendly, entertaining, and playable game. It's simple enough that it doesn't generally require great thought, but varied enough to keep interesting. Each game lasts long enough to get emotionally invested in its outcome, but short enough that you can play over and over in a single session, giving everyone a chance to lose. Once a session starts, most everyone always wants to keep playing over and over [in some circles, the phrase "last game" has come to mean "just two or three more"]. For added amusement, despite its simplicity, the game is completely befuddling to passersby.

For amusing and befuddling further information, look  here.

0. Overview

Use a standard poker deck, 4 suits of 13 cards each, ranked 2 (low), 3, 4, ... 10, Jack, Queen, King, Ace (high).
Number of players:
Requires 3 players minimum. Plays best with 4 or 5 players. Above 6 players works technically but plays absurdly (or requires variants described below).
The game has no winner. Just one loser, known as the goat.

A single game plays through fairly quickly (5-10 minutes). In a given session the group plays games over and over, with everyone trying to avoid being goat as much as possible.

Experienced players might also have personal goals, such as grudges in which they try to cause a specific other player to goat [verb 'to goat' meaning to be the goat], or attempts to make sure that everyone else goats at least once in an evening.

The play:
There are two parts to the game, known as the first part and the second part.

In the first part, players collect cards by taking tricks. Each player's collected cards form that player's hand for the second part.

In the second part, all players try to get out of the game by playing all their cards. The last player with cards loses and must bleat once. [It's okay to just say "baah"].

The rules are deceptively simple. (Or do I mean deceptively complicated?) At any rate, they work simply in practice but can appear confusing at first glance. To help remember the rules, each part has its own mantra, presented below.

Learning Tip: The second part is easier to learn, and provides motivation for the first part. Suggested way to teach is to start by distributing the cards arbitrarily and playing the second part open-handed once or twice. Then play the first part open-handed and continue to open- or closed-handed second part, once or twice. By then it'll be easy.

1. The First Part: "Match If You Can"

The first part has two purposes: to have the players collect the cards to use as their hands in the second part; and to determine which suit will be trump in the second part.

At its essence, the play in the first part resembles a trick-based version of the child's card game "war": each player plays a card in turn, and the player who played the highest card wins the trick and takes all the cards.

This gets dressed up with asynchronous side activity of players sloughing and picking cards in what appears like a frenzy.

The mantra "match if you can" applies both to playing and sloughing. Here's the details:

Three-card hands
Start by dealing three cards to each player. (It doesn't matter who deals; deal can rotate around the table, or whatever.) Put the remaining deck in the center of the table, face down. Players always maintain three cards in their hands -- upon playing or sloughing a card from one's hand, a player immediately draw the top card from the deck to replenish the hand. (This continues until the deck gets exhausted, at which point the hand just stays short.)
Play a series of tricks, until the deck is exhausted and at least one player runs out of cards and so can no longer play. To start things off, the goat from the previous game leads the first trick. [Game play traditionally commences with some other player telling the goat "Lead, goat."] After that, whoever wins a trick leads the next trick. (For the very first game of the session, anyone can volunteer to be goat and lead the initial trick.) In each trick, play proceeds clockwise with every player playing exactly one card.

Here's the structure of a trick:

  1. The leader may play any card from his/her hand, or may turn over the top card from the deck and play that. [Upon making your play, it is customary to announce "play".] If played from the hand, remember to replenish from the deck.

  2. Each subsequent player makes a single play similarly-- either a card from the hand (& replenish) or the top card of the deck--with one important restriction: If your hand has a card of the same rank as the highest card played thusfar in the trick, you must play that card. That is, the rules say, for your play:

  3. you must match if you can!

    If someone has already matched the highest card, you must match it anyway. If you don't have a match for the highest card in the trick, you may freely play any card from your hand, higher or lower than what's already been played, or flip from the deck, whether or not there's a match on the table. [When playing a match, it is customary to announce "them's the rules", or simply "rules", instead of "play".]

  4. After each player has played once, if the highest played card is unmatched, whoever played that card wins the trick and takes all the cards and sets them aside face down. (The winnings don't get looked at again in the first part, just accumulated for use in the second part.)

  5. But if the high card was matched, two or more players are tied for high card, causing a war. (Note that not all matches lead to wars; two players may match but a subsequent player might play a card higher than the match.) To resolve the war, those involved play an separate mini-trick. Whoever first played the card that got matched leads the mini-trick, and the other involved players continue in the original order. If the mini-trick also ends in a war, then another mini-trick must be played by those who tied this time. Repeat until finally a mini-trick ends with an unmatched high card. Whoever played that card wins the trick and takes all the cards from the original trick and all mini-tricks.

In addition to, and separate from the orderly sequential play of tricks, players may slough [pronounced "sluff"] cards. That is, at any time if a player's hand has a card that matches a played card, the player may toss that card face-up onto the table (and replenish the hand from the deck). That is, if you want to slough,

you may match if you can!

Players may slough at any time -- during another player's turn, or before or after one plays one's own turn. Several players may slough at the same time. A player may slough several times in a row. A player may slough a card matching the player's own played card. During a war, any player, involved or not, may slough any card that matches any card in the trick or any mini-tricks. [It is customary to announce "sluff" when playing a slough.] Sloughing may continue after a trick has been won -- the winner should not gather the winnings until after all players have agreed they have finished sloughing on the trick.

Sloughed cards have no impact on determining who wins the trick. They do not cause wars. Sloughed cards simply lie on the table. But, whoever wins the trick takes all the cards sloughed onto the trick and includes them with the winnings for the trick.

A player is never obligated to slough. However, a player is forbidden from sloughing a card "to avoid a war". That is:

Last card of the deck
The last card of the deck gets treated specially. The last card may not be turned over as a play. Additionally, whoever draws the last card does not use it to replenish the hand; instead, without looking at the card, that player sets it aside face down (separate from the player's stack of winnings). It will be looked at after the first part ends.
Ending the first part
The first part ends as soon as a player needs to make a play but can't because the deck is exhausted and the player's hand has run out of cards. This may happen in the middle of a trick or a war's mini-trick; if so, the trick remains unresolved and aborts immediately. All players (warring or not) take back whatever cards they played since the start of the trick and add them to their stack of accumulated winnings. Players who still have cards in their hands add them to their winnings as well.

Remember who won the last completed trick.


At this point, some or all players have varying-size stacks of winnings in front of them. These winnings now become their hands for the second part.

But there are a few simple steps to prepare for the second part.

Determine trump
One player got the last card of the deck and kept it aside. That player now looks at it and announces its suit [e.g. "clubs are trump"]. That suit will be trump in the second part. The player adds that card to his/her hand. [Traditionally, whatever suit is announced, one or more players look at their cards and grumble disgustedly "of course they are."]

Make sure everyone has at least six cards

At this point, all players count their cards, to make sure they each have six or more. If at least one player only has five or fewer cards [in some circles, such a player is termed a "bozo". In other circles, "needy".] then:

  1. All players, including those with too few cards, rummage through their hands and remove the 2-5 of each suit as well as the 6 of trump. This yields a pile of seventeen cards on the table [often referred to as the 'dreck'] to redistribute to those who had too few.
  2. If there was only one player with too few cards, that player gets all seventeen cards [known as the "bozo hand"]. If several players had too few cards, the pile gets shuffled and dealt out to them [a situation is known as "split bozos"]. Note that there's no way to divide 17 cards evenly among more than one player, the players agree who will get the leftovers (as of this writing, nobody really know whether it's better to get or avoid the leftovers).
Note that it's possible for a player to have started with a hand having six or more cards, but after giving away the low cards, ending up with five or fewer. That's fine, the player does not join in the redistribution.

It's even possible for a player to start with six or more cards and give them all away. That player ends up with no hand at all and thus goes out before the second part even starts. (It's considered quite a coup.)

Sort the hands
The players now sort their hands. Group by suit, and sort by rank within each suit. [Some players may take an inordinately large number of cards in the first part; local customs vary as to how much hand-sorting time to allow them before administering derision.]



2. The Second Part: "Beat It or Eat It"

In the second part, the players try to "go out", by getting rid of the cards from their hands.

This part is played with a trump suit. That is, the cards are ranked normally, 2-Ace in each suit, but any card in the trump suit is considered higher than any card in one of the other three suits.

The second part is played as a series of tricks, with simple but somewhat unusual rules. Each trick can end by having all its cards picked back up or by having its cards "killed" and removed from play. Here are the details of the play:

Cards that touch
Throughout the second part, adjacent cards in a suit are said to touch. A player may always play any length run of touching cards as if it were a single card. A player is not obliged to do so, however, and may play only part of a run or any individual card from the run.
Leading a trick
Upon getting the lead, a player may freely play any card (or run of touching cards) from his/her hand, trump or non-trump. Play proceeds clockwise with each player in turn folowing the trick as described below. Depending on circumstances, a trick may last long enough that play comes back around to the leader who would then have to follow it.

The player who won the last trick in the first part (remember?) leads the opening trick of the second part. The lead of the remaining tricks will be discussed below.

Following a trick
When it's a player's turn to follow a trick, one or more plays will have already been made on the trick. The player must do one of two allowable actions:

Beat it or eat it!

That is,
If a player doesn't have cards high enough to beat what's on the table, the player has no choice but to eat the low touching cards. If a player does have high enough cards, the player may choose to eat or to beat. (Beating is usually preferable to eating since the goal is to shrink one's hand; but not always.)

For game mechanics, as plays get placed on the table, they should be kept separate from each other (even if the cards touch in runs). That way, even after any arbitrary series of intermingled plays and eats, it is always easy to count at a glance how many individual plays remain on the table.

Ending a trick by eating
If the cards on the all touch and a player eats them, the trick is over. The next player clockwise gets to lead the next trick.

Ending a trick by killing
A trick gets killed when as many plays are on the table as the number of players in the game.

That is, in a four person game the simple scenario would be: if A leads, then B beats, then C beats, then D beats, that kills the trick in four moves. But it can be messier, such as: A leads (1 play on table) then B beats (2 plays) then C eats A's lead (down to 1 play on table) then D beats (2 plays) then A beats (3 plays) then B beats (4 plays) for a kill.

Actually, the number of plays required to kill a trick is the same as the number of players in the game when the trick was led. That is, a player might go out (see below) in the middle of a trick, but the number of plays needed to kill that trick remains unchanged. [Requests for a reminder, such as "how many plays to kill?" or "is this a kill?" are OK and should be answered truthfully.]

When a player kills a trick, all the cards on the table are immediately removed from play for the remainder of the game. The player who killed the trick leads the next one. Yes, that means a player who kills a trick gets two moves in a row. (If a player kills and goes out at the same time, the next player clockwise gets the lead.)

Going out
A player goes out by playing his or her last card (or run of touching cards). This may happen on a lead or on beating. The player announces "I'm out" [or simply "out"] and is no longer involved in the game play. (There's no way, e.g., for the player to eat and come back in.) The play continues to progress clockwise as normal, skipping over the out player(s). [A player who goes out and gets bored can gather up the killed cards and start shuffling them in preparation for the next game.]

On the way to going out, if a player's hand drops to exactly three cards, the player must immediately announce "three cards". If a player's hand drops to exactly one card, the player must immediately announce "one card". [A player who fails to announce "one card" or "three cards" is said to be "cheating".] Note that because a player may play runs of cards together, it's entirely possible for a player to go out without ever having had exactly one or three cards. [In some circles, if, after announcing "one card" or "three cards", the player eats cards the next turn, the player will announce "not one card" or "not three cards".]

Eventually players will drop down to two. And then one of those two will go out, leaving the other to bleat.

Appendix: Variations

In no particular order. All heavily playtested.

No sloughing for trump
To avoid the mad sloughing scramble for the trump card, we add the rule that the bottom card can not be used to replenish a slough, only a play. (A.K.A. "restaurant rules", it was introduced to avoid knocking over water glasses when playing in restaurants.)
No bottom card
To avoid the mad sloughing scramble for the trump card, we set aside the bottom card after dealing. When the first part ends, we look at that card to determine trump, then discard it from play. (Like restaurant rules, and also the game is played with one fewer trump card, which makes an extra challenge.)
High trump rule
"The highest trump left in the game may only be used to kill a trick". That is, the only legal play for the Ace of trump is to kill, it may not be used for a lead or merely to beat without killing. Once the Ace gets used for a kill and hence removed from the game, the rule applies to the highest remaining trump, iteratively. With this rule, a player who gets the lead and whose only card is the high trump has no legal move. In this case, the lead transfers to that player's right, i.e., backwards. If a player loses track of which card is remaining high trump, any player may say "I believe this card to be the high trump," and all other players must confirm or deny that suspicion. (Recomended to improve the flow in 3-4 player games. Not for beginners.)
Aces low in first part
In the first part of the game, rank Aces low, below 2's. In the second half of the game, resume their high value. (Helps eliminate the development of monster power hands by lucky & cunning Ace- & King-hoarders.)
Roving goat
After each game, the goat gets to move to a different spot in the table. (Allows goats who feel put-upon to rearrange their relationship to their antagonists.)
Double Deck
Play using two decks at once. The rules are the same except that each player needs 12 cards rather than six at the end of the first part. Note that two cards that have the same rank and suit do not touch and must be played separately. E.g. if you have the 5 of clubs, two 6's of clubs and a 7 of clubs, it will take at least two plays to get rid of them all, e.g. 5-6-7 then 6. (Makes for a good 7-8 person game.)
Two tables
Set up two tables, and split into two groups of players. Designate one table the "winners table" and one the "losers table". Play one game at each table independently and simultaneously. Then the goat from the winners table moves down to the losers table and the first player to go out at the losers table moves up to the winners table. (Allows 10-12 people to play together.)
3-player confusion
3 players, 6 hands. Each player is dealt two hands. Play is in the order "player A right", "player B right", "player C right", "player A left", "player B left", "player C left". (subsitute the players' names as appropriate, and chant it out loud as needed during play.) Your right and left hands play as a partnership. Yes, they may look at each others' cards, or rather, you may look at both hands simultaneously. Yes, through adroit play, it's possible to "pass" cards from one hand to the other. (For three players who've played the game so many times they've seen all the 3-person patterns.)