…the card game. Not what Carol calls me when I issue a direct order that may save the lives of all on board in a voice that some observers might deem (shall I say?) imperious. The game of S*ithead, known in this family as Spithead, so the wee ones wouldn’t be linguistically corrupted at too tender an age, has rules of Byzantine complexity. At least the version that I was taught by Carol has. Her version, and its myriad house rules (I swear she continues making them up to this day), necessitated my writing a reference sheet just to keep things straight.
The provenance of the game lies in the wilds of Finland. Finnish, as every cunning linguist knows, is itself so complex the only way to learn it is to be born there. Hence the Finns are good at English, the lingua franca of modern commerce (and Russian, but for different reasons – ed.). Paskahousu, literally ‘s*it pants’, pronounced just as it is written (if you’re Finnish – ed.), is a shedding, or last in loses game. Ergo, S*ithead is also a shedding, last in loses game. Now we’ve cleared that up, let’s look at how one becomes the S*ithead in our house while playing cards. There’s plenty of other ways to become a s*ithead, but we don’t have time for that now.
The game needs at least three people, one to win, two to sit in judgement. With more players things get livelier, and if you have six people, you’ll want another deck of cards. Cut for deal, high card wins. Cards are dealt one at a time. Each player gets three cards placed face down. Then each player gets three cards dealt face up. These cards are arranged in front of each player. The face up cards are the penultimate cards to be played, and the face-down cards the last. The dealer then deals each player another three cards that the player picks up as their hand.
At this point each player may exchange any face-up card for one in their hand. The goal being to maximize the value of the face-up cards for later in the game. To do that it helps to know the role of each card. We’ll examine that next.
The cards are valued in ascending order with Aces high. According to our house rules certain cards have additional functions:
- 2 – Wild. May be placed on any card. Any card may be played on a 2.
- 3 – Wild (may be placed on any card) and then reverses the direction of play and is invisible. In other words, the previous player must play a card per the value of the card beneath the 3. Example: if player A plays a King and player B plays a 3, then player A must play a King, Ace or wild card next. Play continues in the reversed direction.
- 5 – Invisible.Must be played in order and the next player must play the value of the card beneath the 5. When played on a 3, then both cards are invisible and the card beneath the 3 becomes the nominal card. If a 5 is the first card played, then it has a value of 5.
- 7 – Can only be placed on a 7 or lower. Requires the next player to play a 7 or lower.
- 8 – Player may play again, an 8 or higher.
- 10 – Removes (“sweeps”) the discard pile, putting the discards out of play for the rest of the game
- Four of the same cards in a row sweeps the pile. Play passes to the next player. Players may argue if a 5 is played between the run.
Based on this, a good strategy for the face-up cards at the start of play is keeping as many high value, or wild cards as you can.
The person with the 3 of Clubs, or the nearest Club to it, starts play. Note: this is the only time a card’s suit has any meaning. Play continues clockwise, until it is reversed by a 3.
Players must keep a minimum of three cards in their hand at all times. Once a card is laid down, then another is drawn from the undealt deck. If the first card is a 4, then the next player must play a 4 or higher (with the exceptions of the house rules above). If the player cannot play a card legally, they must pick up the entire discard pile. Once the undealt deck is exhausted and players run out of cards in their hand, they can use their face-up cards on the table. Once out of face-up cards, players can then use their face-down cards, but cannot look at them ahead of time. The first person to play all their cards is declared the winner.
In the Bag
The official rules state that the rest of the players continue until only one person is left holding cards. The very last player becomes the S*ithead. However, by our rules, the s*ithead is the one that forces another player to pick up a pile of discards at some crucial point in the game. Thus, making the use of the term a subjective rather than objective determination. In our defense, we don’t require s*itheads to wear a brown paper bag on their head until the next loser is declared.
If this sounds complex you may not have had enough rum before you began reading. Like most games, it is far easier to learn by demonstration rather than reading the rules. (Especially when almost every card has some unique function that seemingly changes in the dealer’s favour at every turn of the game. Just saying – ed.) If you fancy a game, come aboard. Bring some rum and we’ll be happy to teach you.