Skulls and Roses: The lesser known 80s band

Brutus Rating:  2 knives in the skull out of 10. There aren’t really a variety of options for easy dickery to your opponents beyond the regular subterfuge.
Pairs well with: Pint of ale from a tankard.


The ratio of complexity of gameplay to complexity of strategy can be a good basic indicator for how good a game is. A lot of really good fun can be found in a game if it has some fairly basic steps and mechanics, and is fairly easy to learn, while also leaving room for a relatively more detailed, complex and developed strategy. Less fun can be had, sometimes, for a game that has a lot of detail in the play but not so much wriggle-room for thought-out plans for victory.

This isn’t meant to be a perfect recipe for board games, of course. Sometimes you want to just sit the heck down and let the board game adventure and some luck take you wherever you’re headed. Preferably to victory. Other times you want to get really deep into the nitty and gritty mechanics of a game and work for your delicious glory that way.

Guest reviewer of the day: Lily the dog
Guest reviewer of the day: Lily the dog

But the play-complexity-to-strategy-complexity formula can still be replicated in a lot of games, including some of the smaller and quicker ones. A good small game is often one that you pick up quickly, has maybe a limited amount of possible ‘moves’, but still lets you develop some excellent strategies for exactly how to play. One of these games is the topic of our review today!*

Everyone present have a skull? Check. You're ready!
Everyone present have a skull? Check. You’re ready!

Skulls is a great game for everyone. After all, everyone has a skull. It’s also pretty damn simple, but you get to develop sneakier and better tactics the more you play.

You’re a member of a biker gang. That’s right, time to whip out the old leather or denim jacket and… I’m not sure, start making motorbike noises and talk about how you miss the feel of the wind in your hair? Presumably that’s what bikers do. You’re competing to become what the rules call the supreme leader. Apparently, biker gangs are run just like North Korea. You learn something new every day!

6D-41-90_FotorEach player in Skulls gets a bunch of circular beer mats with your biker insignia on one side (Which gang are you in today? Panthers? Eagles? Snakes? Weird cow-skulls?) and three of them will have a rose on the other side, the fourth will have a skull. They also get a nice square beer mat with a skull on one side and rose on the other.

Once you’re done with the formalities of pretending to mistake some of the ‘cards’ for actual beer mats and getting yelled at by the person who owns the game, then you’re ready to begin.


It’s a short game, and it’s a game of bluff. Everyone takes turn placing cards down in front of them (insignia side up, or the bluff part won’t be very effective) and definitely remembering whether you’ve put down a rose or a skull. Eventually one person will decide that instead of putting down a new card they’ll ‘bid’ on how many circular beer mats they can turn over without finding a skull. The trick is, whoever wins the bid (and therefore actually has to attempt to do so) will have to start with their own beer mats first, and starting from the top. Getting it right will lead you halfway to victory (counted by flipping over your square beer mat) and the penalty for getting it wrong is a good mocking and removal of one of your four cards, making it more difficult for you to play. (Particularly if you lost four times… having no cards makes it very difficult to play indeed)

It's actually unclear whether it says 'panthers' or 'punthers'
It’s actually unclear whether it says ‘panthers’ or ‘punthers’

So what you DON’T want to do is forget that you put down a skull and then knob yourself over by bidding as high as possible. Unless you’re trying to lure everyone else into a false sense of security with your incompetence so that you can sweep them all away in the next few rounds. The brilliance of this game is that shit like that can actually happen, and maybe even work!

It’s all about trying to trick everyone into thinking you’ve got a rose when you’ve got a skull, and into thinking  you’ve got a skull when you’ve got a rose. And this isn’t just done by plain old conversation: “Hey you should definitely pick my card. I’ve just put loads of roses down. OR HAVE I?” because, you know, that would be silly. It’s also bluffing through your actions. Bidding really high to convince people that you do have roses, just to have the bid snatched away from you at the last second (just as you’d planned!) so that the winner of the bid will pick your card, convinced that you wouldn’t have done that if you’d had a rose, only to fall down crying when you flip it over to reveal your cunning bluff. TAKE THAT, RICH! YOU NEVER SAW IT COMING! WHO’S YOUR DADDY?


It’s also a very reactive game. Because it fits in that part of the collection for small games, ones that you can fit between other games or when you’re busy, and ones that you can play anywhere because it doesn’t have many pieces, you’ll find yourself just intending to play a quick round of it before you start up the Battlestar Galactica or the Eldritch Horror and then realise, an hour later, you’re all still in the kitchen desperately trying to stop Sophie from getting a fourth victory in maybe six games.

You can play it anywhere!
You can play it anywhere!

“AHA! Well, Will clearly has a rose because he tried to encourage us to pick his cards”

6D-41-130_Fotor“AHA! Rich definitely has a skull because he was pretending to deliberate, and there’s no way he would have actually been deliberating about bidding higher than five at this stage because that would be MADNESS, so he must have been pretending to deliberate to trick us into thinking that it would be an option for him and to trick us into thinking he has a rose!”**

“Just… never trust Sophie, guys! She’s going to have a skull, she always has a skull! She…. NOOO!”

The spurt of victories from Sophie was quite the surprise. We actually started to wonder if she’d been playing the really really long game, faking incompetence in previous games just to finally show her colours as a ruthless bastard in Skulls and Roses.

All in all, the developed bluffery from Skulls and Roses makes for a great small game, and ranks it pretty well in the ratio of complexity of play to complexity of strategy. Sophie may have played us all for fools but, as always, the real winner is board games.

And Lily the dog.

This review doubles as an educational piece about how difficult it is to take photos of dark dogs in light rooms.
This review doubles as an educational piece about how difficult it is to take photos of dark dogs in light rooms.

*You’d bloody hope so wouldn’t you, or else what have we been rambling on about for the last few paragraphs?

** Take our word for it, this paragraph definitely makes sense to Skulls and Roses aficionados.

Credit goes to our photographer friend for, of course, the photos. Huzzah!

Camel Cup: The Yellow Menace

Brutus Rating: 2 daggers in the back out of 10
Pairs well with: One of those liqueurs you bring back from holiday that nobody wants to drink. Maybe cactus flavour, or ouzo. Raki is pretty rough too. Damn Greece, you got some terrible booze.

Note: our photographer insists that the bright glaring photographs are supposed to represent the sun in the camel-filled desert. This, we are assured, is definitely on purpose.
Note: our photographer insists that the bright glaring photographs are supposed to represent the sun in the camel-filled desert. This, we are assured, is definitely on purpose.

Disclaimer: In the interests of maintaining ethics in board game journalism we at the Misery Farm feel that it’s important to make our audience aware that this post contains a high level of pro-yellow camelist propaganda. This does not mean that we aim to denigrate other colours of camel or beings who identify as camels. All camels are equal. Yellow camel is just slightly more equal than other camels.

There are several ways in which Lizzy is the villain of The Misery Farm. She wins too often, she’s a little bit too keen to play the bad guy and she has a really awful smug face. These things might all make her seem like a kind of loveable rogue, but there’s one thing that we’ve hidden from you all so far. The real reason she will strike fear into your heart. We’re about to show you the inside of Lizzy’s copy of Camel Cup. If you’re of a nervous disposition, or there are children in the vicinity, look away now.


Urrrrgh. *shudder* That game even comes with baggies, guys. There’s no excuse for that mess.

Anyway, now that horror is over, let’s get onto Camel Cup.

There are two schools of thought on the name of this game. Some people think that it’s actually called ‘Camel Up’. Perhaps because of the stacking method, in which the camels go ‘up’ and stack on top of each other.

The camels lining up for a bit of pre-race chat
The camels lining up for a bit of pre-race chat

These people claim to be right because of silly little reasons like “that’s what the instructions say”, “that’s what it says online” and “that’s just the actual name, you guys”.

The other school of thought says that the game is ‘Camel Cup’. Because the camels, you see, are racing to win The Camel Cup. These people claim to be right because of excellent reasons like “there is an actual Camel Cup race”, and “we just prefer this name so agree with us or get the hell out of our living room”, and “shut up and play.” The Misery Farm are a part of the latter school of thought.


Camel Cup won Spiel Des Jahres 2014 (“Game of the Year”. Thanks Bob, that degree in German wasn’t wasted after all.) When you first look at the game, running around a giant convention hall in Germany, then that fact can seem a little surprising. It looks a bit gimmicky: it has some sort of strange pyramid thing scheme going on.

It turns out that Camel Cup is almost certainly the best gambling, camel-racing game you’ll play all year.

In Camel Cup you don’t play as the camels, and you don’t have much influence on how fast each of the camels race around the track. Instead, you’re the Egyptian aristocracy. Your goal is to make as much money as you can by the end of the race, having gambled on which camel will be the final winner, the final loser, and which camels will win each ‘leg’ of the race.

The Egyptian aristocracy
The Egyptian aristocracy

It’s fairly fast-paced, and (hopefully) everyone will do one of four actions quickly and move onto the next person. Two of these actions are gambling (betting on a camel for either the leg or the whole race), one is placing down an oasis or barren dessert sort of token (the one way in which you can almost sort-of influence the race) and the final is to move the camels. That is, make it so that the camels move themselves. You get limited choice in the matter.

“I BELIEVE IN YELLOW CAMEL!” (Lizzy bets on Yellow Camel to win, as is tradition)

“Green Camel is currently in last place… so I think I believe in Green Camel.” (Generic male gaming buddy gambles on Green Camel)

“I think I’m going to move the camels!” (Everyone starts chanting ‘move the camels’ and banging on the table)

The game also features Nigel Thornberry
The game also features Nigel Thornberry

Of course, I say that hopefully everyone will do one of four actions quickly. Occasionally you’ll get players trying to cheat. By ‘cheat’, of course, I mean ‘actually trying to think about their turn logically before having it’. Don’t do that, it’s a terrible idea. You’ll look like a dick, and it won’t help. Camel Cup can be for up to eight players, so such behaviour is rightly discouraged in our circles, and hurried along by coughing and reminding guilty parties that “Ahem! This is Camel Cup! The fast-paced camel racing gambling game! Get your shit together” until they take their turn. Attempting to mathematically work out the winning and losing odds has no place in this game, for reasons which we will soon make clear.

The magical pyramid of camel-moving
The magical pyramid of camel-moving

To get any good picture of how Camel Cup plays, it’ll be useful to mention how the camels actually move. At the beginning of the leg, the mysterious pyramid of camel-racing is placed in the centre of the board with five different dice inside it, one for each colour camel. The dice are all numbered 1-3. When some brave gambler chooses to move the camels (cue chanting) she takes the pyramid, tips it upside down and pushes open a little flap so that one single die will fall out. The camel of that colour will then speed that number of spaces along the board! The die is then put aside until the other four are out of the pyramid, so that each camel will get one turn at moving before the dice are all put back inside. When all of the camels have moved once, that’s a leg of the race.

Once the novelty of a pyramid dice-shaker wears off, that can all seem very dull. Some dice are rolled, some camels race at that particular pace. *yawn*

But wait! This game didn’t win Spiel Des Jahres 2014 just for some camels trundling along next to each other at a speed of 1-3 per leg! Oh no. I’ve left out the best bit. The camels… they stack on top of each other.


Yep. Apparently the race course is so narrow that there ain’t no room for camels to be side-by-side. When a camel trundles onto an already-occupied tile, they’ll just park their camelly behind on top of that first camel. This is a mechanism that makes Briony feel deeply uncomfortable – when she’s claimed a certain spot on the board she expects not to share, or at least to swear at someone attempting to come near her. This is a particular problem in other games like Tigris and Euphrates as she strongly believes in keeping other civilizations out. Everyone else though? In awe.

6D-33-36BUT THEN! When that first camel moves, does she ask the second one to get the hell off? No! She races on with up to four camels on top of her. The implications that this has on the odds are staggering. Instead of moving a maximum of three places, a camel with some lucky stacking could move fifteen tiles.

Staring into the eyes of Yellow Camel
Staring into the eyes of Yellow Camel

What looks at first like a simple race turns into a crazy one, where the odds a lot of the time are almost impossible to figure out. This is the essence of Camel Cup, and what makes the game so much fun to play. It’s not uncommon to see a camel go from last place to first in one leg, ruining all of your bets and expectations. The game is made by the sheer improbability of it all. It’s made by deciding which camel to bet on just by looking really closely into their souls and seeing which camel really has what it takes (Lizzy deeply believes that Yellow Camel has that X-Factor that’ll take it all the way to the big leagues). It’s made by having all of the enthusiasm in the world for the camel in last place, then actually seeing them win and getting to rub it in the faces of the non-believers.

Having said that, there are several things that Camel Cup is not. Camel Cup is not a lengthy game, nor one for much strategy. Not by board-gaming standards, at least. But that’s ok, because most people’s collections need a place for that kind of game. One that’s fairly quick, fairly simple and doesn’t involve too much thought if you’ve had a long day / are playing with some non-gamer friends / are a bit drunk already at 4pm and can’t quite think straight. It also comes with a Totally Official™ side-game in which players should try to pull faces that match those of the camels on the box art.

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As you can probably tell, it’s important to play Camel Cup with the right kind of people.

The players need to be willing to get excited about some crazy odds and racing camels, and to not mind the lack of reliable strategy or planning ahead. You need to be able to place a wild bet on a camel just by what feels right. I mean I’m not necessarily saying that it’s your fault if you don’t love the game (you might just have terrible friends). But it might not work so well if everyone’s incredibly quiet, or if everyone’s just received some tragic news.


The game receives just 2/10 daggers-in-the-back since there aren’t all that many opportunities to stick said daggers into your opponents’ backs. There simply aren’t many ways to encourage a lame camel to victory or stop the juggernaut momentum of Yellow Camel. You can sometimes place a tile which will make it better or worse to land on, but most of the screwing-over will just be done by the luck of the dice and the speed of the camels.

A great game, for its type.

The real winner isn’t Lizzy. Nor, for once, is it board games. The real winner is Yellow Camel.



Credit for the photographs to Photographer-friend BA (Hons), MA, PhD.