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Shithead (card game)

Shit head is a card game in which the aim is to lose all of one's cards.

The game, and variations of it, are popular in many countries, particularly amongst teenage and twentysomething travellers. The basic structure of the game generally remains similar, but there are often variations in the special roles that the rules assign to particular cards.


Shit head is a popular card game for two to six players in which players aim to avoid being the last player to get rid of his/her cards. The winner of the game is usually considered unimportant, although in some cases the winner is considered to be "redeemed," i.e. previous losses become annulled.

The loser is referred to as shit head, must deal the next game and, in theory, can be forced to do the bidding of his/her fellow players. This usually means a forfeit of the group's choice (which is often alcohol related but need not necessarily be). Shithead status is thus passed from losing player to losing player after each game. They can also be forced to wear a hat (often with the word shithead on it).

Generally speaking there is no major disadvantage to losing, except perhaps the loss of pride or being "stitched up" by consuming alcohol, for example. Some variations do not feature these attributes, and the object is simply to get rid of one's cards.


There are many variations of the rules, and there is no universally accepted set. Players should pick, choose and try a set of rules as they see fit. It is possible to form a game which involves a considerable amount of strategy, or choose a simpler version which relies on luck.

A popular variation uses 2 as the restart card, 8 as the invisible card, 9 as the lower than card, 10 as the burn card and ace as the 'shoot' card in which unless a 2, 8, 10 or another ace can be placed on top, the player who has been shot picks up the shooting ace and all cards underneath.

Dealing the cards

From a standard, shuffled deck of 52 cards (jokers may also be included), each player is dealt a number of 'face down cards' in a row. (The number varies with player number and variation - often three per player, but sometimes more if there are fewer players.) They are not allowed to see or change these cards. On top of the 'face down cards', they are dealt the same number of 'face up cards'. A different number (usually six) is again dealt to each player (face down), and this becomes the player's 'hand'. Players are then allowed to switch the cards in their 'hand' with their 'face up cards' in an attempt to produce a strong set of 'face up cards' for later in the game. For details of what constitutes a strong set of cards, read on. The dealer places the remaining cards face-down in what we shall refer to as the 'deck'. Players will lay their cards in turn in what we shall refer to as the 'pick up pile' or 'pile'.

These terms ('face down cards', 'face up cards', 'hand', 'deck' and 'pick up pile' or 'pile') will be used consistently throughout this page.

Starting play

After the cards have been dealt, players lay cards in turn onto the pick up pile, starting with the first player to claim he/she holds the lowest (weakest) card in his/her hand.

The lowest card will vary depending on the rules in force, but should be agreed on before play begins. It should be defined as the weakest card in the set - and is typically a 4. Red cards are considered lower than black cards - meaning that, for example, play might commonly start with a red 4 rather than a black 4. If two players hold a red 4 as the lowest card, the red hearts card is deemed to be lower. If no red or black version of the lowest card is held, players (led by the dealer) should consider the next lowest card, and so on.

A variation is the player to the left of the dealer plays first. Since the dealer is most likely the 'shithead' of the previous game, they are the one to play last. This adds 'punishment' to being the prior games 'shithead' or loser.

Another variation is that the first player to declare "4's down" upon seeing his/her face-up or hand cards gets to start the play.

Order of play

Each player must lay a card (or two or more cards of the same number) equal to or higher in value than the one at the top of the pick up pile, then draw cards from the deck so they have at least 3 cards in their hand (unless the deck has run out of cards or they already have 3 or more cards in their hand). If they cannot play a card, they must pick up the pick-up pile (put it in their hand) and end their turn.'''

Some variations allow a player who has no moves to draw one card from the deck, instead of picking up the "pick up pile". Once the deck is gone, the player must pick up the pile instead. (In this variant, at the beginning of the game, the top of the deck is turned over instead of the lowest card being played. If a player cannot play on their first turn, and draws from the pile, they may swap this card with a face-up card. This is repeated until the player plays a card from their hand, or picks up the pile (can't draw from the deck or play a card from their hand).)

Some variations allow the player to "match" the drawn card, that is, if the card they draw has the same value as those the player has just played, he or she may play the newly drawn card as well.

When players have no more cards in their hand, and the deck is empty, they may proceed to play from their three face up cards. The cards laid form a pile which must be picked up by any player who cannot beat the most recently played card. (Note also that it is quite common to allow players to pick up this pile even if they "do" have a card in their hand that would allow them to beat the most recently played card. This arguably increases the level of strategy involved in the game). Picking up the pile can often put a player at a great disadvantage when many cards have been played as they will have more cards to lose than other players. Even so, it is still possible to quickly recover from this handicap.

The values of the cards

There are many variations to the rules to the game, and which ones to use should be agreed upon by all players before the game is begun. Suit is irrelevant for all cards. Variations also exist for each type of special card as to whether it can be played on any card (it is effectively "wild") or only on cards of equal or lower value.

Joker: The Joker (or "Bin Wang") card is not always used, but where it is, it is the highest non-special card in the game, and can be beaten only by another Bin Wang card, or a special card.

Aces: Aces are high (meaning that they are stronger than the Jack, Queen and King) but can be beaten by certain special cards, detailed below.

Burn or Nuke Cards: Cards that remove the existing pile from play permanently. The player who lays a burn card has to yell "change places!" before having another go. Burn cards (sometimes referred to as 'sick burns') are usually either four cards of the same value played in a row (not necessarily by the same player) or one specific card (such as a 10) that can be played on its own. Burn cards can typically be played on any card. For example the sequence Q, K, K, burn card means that the pile will be put to the side (face down). An example of the four-card burn would be: Player 1 - J; Player 2 - J,J; Player 3 - J. The pile would be put to the side (face down) and player 3 would have another go. In some variations burn cards may not be played on the reverse card.

Reverse Card: The Reverse Card reverses the standard rules of ascending card value on the pile for one turn, meaning the next player must play an equal or lower card on their next turn - or another reverse card. This is particularly useful when high cards are known to dominate opponent's hands. For example consider the sequence 4, 5, 5, 7 (where 7 is the reverse card) which means that the next person must lay lower (or equal to) 7 - usually they would need to lay a higher or equal card. Again, rules vary widely, but a choice must be made as to whether the reverse card can be played on 'anything' or in ascending order on cards which are lower which is more common, or whether the next player must play a card of a lower value than the card underneath, known as 'transparent sevens', so for "4, 5, 5, 7" a player would have to play card lower than a 5. For example, while it is certainly always legal to play 4, 5, 5, 7 it is not, depending on the house rules in force, always legal to play Q, K, K, 7.

Permanent Reverse Card This has the same effect, but is permanent, until another card of the same value is played.

Play Again Card This card enables the player who played it to have another (mandatory) turn. The Play Again card can be played on any card.

Skip Card: When one of these cards is played the next player's turn is skipped, and play continues with the following player. Optionally, when two or more of this card are played at the same time the number of consecutive players that are skipped may be equal to the number of cards played (e.g. when three Skip cards are played, the next three players miss their turn). Depending on the number of players, this card may result in the player who laid the cards missing his or her own turn, or taking another turn immediately. This can be cumulative: a skip card played upon one other has a double effect, played on two others skips three turns, etc. This can be used where if a second, third or fourth skip card played skips two, three or four turns, regardless of any cards played between the skip cards.

Rotation Card (Jack or 9) Changes the rotation of the game (e.g. clockwise to counterclockwise). Playing more than one rotation card may or may not have the same effect as playing one.

Mirror/Transparent Card: The mirror card simply 'mirrors' whatever card is below it in the pile, meaning the next player has to beat the card which is played before the mirror card. Mirror cards also apply to special cards; for example a mirror card played on a reverse card means that the mirror card then acts as a reverse card. The mirror card can typically be played on any card. Usually a Mirror card may not be a part of a four-card burn (5, 5, Mirror card, 5 would not count, nor would 5, 5, Mirror, 5, 5), however this is not the case in some variants. Commonly, 8 or 3 is used as a mirror card.

Restart Card: The restart card (often a 2) can be played on any card and 'resets' the pack so that the next player will be able to play any card (even the weakest).

Pick-Up / Vengeance card: The pick-up card (often a 3) can be played on any card to make the next player in turn pick up the pile (except the pick-up card itself). The only cards that can top this are:

  • If another pick-up card (or the mirror card, rendering itself the equivalent of a pick-up card) is played by the next person, meaning next player must pick up the cards, OR;
  • The burn card is laid down, removing the pile from play.
  • The restart card is played.

In some games, the player who plays this card can choose who must pick up the pile. In this case, the name Vengeance Card is more often used.

Additional Rules: Some other possible rules are:

  • It is not legal to play a Jack, Queen or King on a 5 OR playing a 5 means all players must pass their hand (not the face up/face down cards) to the person BEFORE them in the turn sequence.
  • It is not legal to finish your cards with either a 6 or a 9 (assuming 6 and 9 are not in use for other purposes). If the last card a player holds (either as a hand card or face down card) and plays is either 6 or 9, they must pick up the pile.
  • If one player plays a card, and then draws another card from the deck (to complete their hand of 3), they may play this newly picked up card if it has the same value as the one they just played ("matching").
  • Once during each game, each player can blindly take a card from the deck and attempt to play it. This is often known as the 'Hand of God' rule. They must show it to all players. If it beats the previous card, play continues. If it does not beat the previous card, the player picks up the face up deck as normal - including the hand of god card. Some variants on Shithead allow players to do this as often as they want.
  • The Queen of Spades may be played (at any time), which means everyone moves their face down and face up cards clockwise round the table (so you get the cards of the player on your right). This can be countered by the player who plays the Queen, if they play 2 or more Queens, and the Queen of Spades is not on the top, e.g. play the Queen of Spades and the Queen of Hearts together, with the Queen of Hearts on the top of the play pile, however in order to do this it must be legal to play a Queen in the current situation (unlike playing the Queen of Spades on its own or on the top when it can be played at any time). Playing this rule often results in players putting low cards in their face up pile at the beginning of the game in order to disadvantage their fellow players, should the queen be played.
  • When a player plays 3 sixes (denoting 666 - the devils number) then next person to play must pick up all the cards in the deck that are not in someones hand or face-up/down cards (i.e the pick-up pile, discard/burn pile and all previous cards played) unless they have the fourth 6 to complete the set. A special card may not be used to constitute any of the 6's in this rule.
  • A wild, or 'linking', card, (usually a 2) replaces the restart card. The linking card may be used to extend a players turn. For example: if the top card is a Jack, a player could play a normally legal card, like a queen, then play a linking card, and then any another card. This is not mandatory, and may be done several times in a turn, making the possibility to play many cards in a single turn.
  • The 9 of Spades can be used as a 'swap around' card, in which when the 9 of spades is placed on the pile at any time, each player will pass his handheld cards to the player on their left. This is merely a variation of the aforementioned Queen of Spades rule, but for the fact that NO card can prevent the swap taking place, including burn cards.

When the pick-up pile is empty

Once a player has lost all of their hand cards and the deck is empty they then play their face up cards. At this stage, other players have the advantage of seeing which cards are available to the player. This means they are often able to play cards that cannot be beaten in order to make an opponent pick up the pile.

Once a player has lost their face up cards they are left with their three 'blind' face down cards of which they can choose any to play (one at a time). If the blind card does not beat the card on the pile, the user must pick up the pile as before. Depending on the agreed rules, players "either" must or need not reveal a blind card if it does not beat the previously played card. It is another example of the versatility of the rules of the game: players can select and agree on which aspects they like for purposes of fun and strategy.

When players are using their face up or face down cards and cannot go (i.e. they cannot or do not want to beat the previous pile card), they should pick up the pile and the card that they would have played from the face up/face down cards. However, some variations hold that this is only true for the face-down cards.

Play continues in this fashion until only one player has cards remaining.


  1. Obviously, the meanings assigned to each card can be changed (making 7 the reverse card or 5 the vengeance card, for example)
  2. The Jack (or Joker?) can also be an 'invisible' card played on any other card.
  3. In one variation, other cards are assigned special status (for example where the King means "change direction of play" or the Queen means "play between Queen and 7 on your next go" - that version is known as fuckhead, at least in certain circles.
  4. Placing a one-eyed card (Jc, Jh or Kd) reverses the direction of play back to whomever played the previous card. The one-eyed cards have no additional 'powers' and thus have to be played legally, i.e. on a lower card. This variation allows for tactical maneuvering when the locations of the higher cards become known.
  5. It is legal to pick up the pile whether or not you can beat it and, therefore, whether or not your opponent knows you can lay. Picking up the pile can lead to an advantageous hand or can be used as a counter attack.
  6. When a jack is played then the card played after must be of the same suite.
  7. A "Less Than" card (usually the number nine) when used requires that the next player must place a card of less than or equal to the cards value.
  8. "Confusion" card(s) are determined at the start of the game, e.g. The Black Jack's, any player who gets this card in their hand can use it at any time to swap the hands between any two players (including themselves). once used the card is removed from play.

Blind Shithead

This variation sees the entire deck split evenly between players in facedown piles. The first player takes their top card and this becomes the start card, then the next player takes their top card and play continues in this fashion. When someone is forced to pick up they must get rid of their hand before they continue eliminating their facedown pile.


A game similar to Shithead, yet more simple, was developed by teenagers to be played at school with a more friendly name. 10's were bombs, 2's beat everything and everything beat two.


If a player called Pete loses all games in a session, future occurrences are referred to as the Lunch, until the next player equals or betters the number of matches lost in the session, while losing all games in the session. There is no restriction on the number of players in the session as long as it is more than three.


The game was first documented in 1994 by David Parlett under the bowdlerized name "Shed" and is found in a large number of countries - it is known to have been played before Parlett took note of it, however. This game may be known as Flowerpot in the Channel Islands, Shaffat in Buckinghamshire, Danish Bastard in Germany and Putresyan in Philippines. In Norway and the United Kingdom this game is also known as Idiot. It is also available on Neopets as Go! Go! Go!

There is also a similar Finnish game paskahousu.


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