How to Play Skip-Bo

By James Holloway

Skip-Bo is a fast-paced card game in which players race to get rid of their own cards while blocking their opponents' opportunities to do the same. To play, you'll need a deck of Skip-Bo cards and at least two players, although you can play with up to six. The deck consists of 162 cards: 12 sets of 12 numbered cards and 18 Skip-Bo wild cards. The game is a variation on traditional card game Spite and Malice, which has similar rules but uses an ordinary playing card deck.

Setting Up

Before play, shuffle the deck and have each player draw a card; the player with the highest result is the dealer. Players sit in pairs facing each other, with enough space between them for three rows of cards. Deal a pile of 30 cards to each player, or 20 cards if there are five or more players. Place the pile to the player's right with the top card face up: This is the "stock" pile. Place the remaining cards in the center of the table to form the "draw" pile. The player sitting to the dealer's left plays first.

The First Turn

Starting with the first player, each player takes a turn. During a turn, players draw enough cards from the draw pile so that they have a total of five cards in their hands. On the first turn, a player can start a "building" pile, located next to the draw pile, by playing either a one or a Skip-Bo card from her hand or the top of her stock pile. She can then play a two on top of the one, start a new pile with a new one card, or end her turn. If she can't start a new building pile, she must discard at least one card and end her turn. At the end of the turn, if she plays a card, she places any cards she wants to discard face-up to the left of her stock pile to form a discard pile. Each player can have up to four discard piles at any time, and you can have up to four building piles in the center of the table.

Winning the Game

As play continues, players try to play as many cards out of their stock piles as possible into the building piles. You must play building card piles in sequence; players can use cards from their hands or from the top of any of their discard piles to build the building piles up to the correct number. Skip-Bo cards are wild cards; a player can play a Skip-Bo card to substitute for any number card. Once a building pile contains 12 cards, remove it and place it to one side; when the draw pile runs out, shuffle the completed building piles together to create a new draw pile. The winner is the first player to play all the cards in her stock pile.

Rules Variations

When more than two people want to play, they form into two partnerships. Each partner in a partnership can play cards from his own stock pile and discard piles as well as from his partner's. Players may not speak to their partners except during their own turns; the player whose turn it is can speak to his partner, but the partner cannot reply. The first partnership to empty all of its stock piles wins. If time is an issue, the dealer can shorten either the two-player or partnership version of the game by dealing only 10 cards to each stock pile.

About the Author

Dr James Holloway has been writing about games, geek culture and whisky since 1995. A former editor of "Archaeological Review from Cambridge," he has also written for Fortean Times, Fantasy Flight Games and The Unspeakable Oath. A graduate of Cambridge University, Holloway runs the blog Gonzo History Gaming.