Skitgubbe (aka The Swedish Goat Game; Hurtenflurst)

The following rules were snagged from Melissa Binde's SWIL archives. The rules were apparently passed to Melissa by Josh Smith, who got them from a post by Matthew Merzbacher. Matthew had included some variations, some of which he strongly recommended. As a game designer, I feel that his recommended variations are definitely improvements over the canonical rule set, and I have incorporated them into the version below.

—Dave Howell

The Rules

  1. Don't think too much. Skitgubbe is an easy game if you count cards religiously. Don't. That's not the point. Just try to rely on your card 'sense'. My mother can probably play faster than you. Remember: "Play fast, or we get to hit you"
  2. Use a standard (52 card) deck of cards, well shuffled. Any number can play, although more than 6 is absurd and fewer than 3 is dumb. For more than 6 players, the Double Deck Variant adds spice.
  3. There are two parts to the game, the first part and the second part. You collect cards by trick taking in the first part. This will form your hand for the second part where you will try to get rid of your cards. The cards are ranked King (high), Queen, Jack, 10, ..., 3, 2, Ace (low) in the first part of the game, and Ace (high), King, Queen, ..., 4, 3, 2 (low) in the second half.
    Strategy Tip: The number of cards you obtain in the first part is not as important as their ranking. A few low cards will lose you the game, while you can hold half the deck and win (or, more correctly, not lose) easily.

    The First Part

    1. Each player is dealt three cards. At all times (during the first part) you must maintain a three card hand by drawing from the deck (until there is no more deck to draw from).
    2. One card is dealt to one side. This card, which stays face-down for now, will be used to determine trump later in the game.
    3. A series of rounds are played until at least one person is entirely out of cards (and, of course, the deck is exhausted). A round consists of each player making exactly 1 play and (optionally) any legal sloughs (sluffs) they wish.
    4. The initial leader is the Goat, or loser of the previous game. From then on, he who wins a trick leads for the next trick. At the start of a session, someone must volunteer to be goat (I particularly enjoy this, since I seldom Goat [yes, it's a verb too] and I never get to start the game otherwise).
    5. Here's the structure of a round:
      1. In the first round, cards are ranked A, 2, 3, ... Q, K. Note that the Ace is low, not high.
      2. The leader makes a play by either playing a card from his hand or turning over the top card of the deck.
      3. On his turn, each player makes a single play in a similar fashion (a card from hand or the top card of the deck) with one important restriction: If you have a card of the same rank as the highest card played thusfar, then you must play that card (if you have two, then one will do). You are required to make this play.
      4. In addition to playing, a player may sluff any matching card into the pile played thusfar. That is, if you hold a card of matching rank with what's in the pile so far, you can sluff in your card. There are two exceptions to this rule:
        1. You may not sluff a card matching the highest card played so far if you have not played yet. That is, if you have a Queen and an King and someone plays a Queen before you, you can't sluff your Queen and play your King unless someone else before you plays an King first. Your Queen matches the high card so far and must be your play. After your play, you can sluff anything you want.
        2. You cannot sluff on what will be the last trick until it is determined that you won't be getting it. This rule keeps people from sluffing like mad to avoid losing the last trick (you'll understand later, until then: no sluffing on the last trick until someone wins if for certain).
      5. After one round of this playing and sluffing madness, the player who played the highest ranking card wins (sluffs don't count). In the case of a tie (here's the kicker), there is a war. A war is just like a mini-trick between all players who played the highest rank. Other players don't get to play, but can sluff anything they like. The leader for the war is the player who made the first high-card play before (i.e. the nearest to the original leader's left). Further ties must be resolved by wars until there is one winner. Cards played before may be sluffed (by either player) and have no bearing on the winner of the trick. That is, even if the original war was about a tie of Kings, a 7 could win the war.
      EXAMPLE: In the 3 player game, the following hands a dealt:

      Player 1
      8D 3D 5C
      Player 2
      3C 3S 2D
      Player 3
      KC KS 2H

      Player 1 was Goat from the last game (or took the previous trick) and leads the 3D (suit is irrelevant in the first half, except that there are four of them). Now, player 2 doesn't want this trick, but must play one of his 3s because it is the highest card played thusfar. He could (if he wished) sluff the other three (which he does), and get two new cards for his hand. At this point, Player 1 has drawn 1 new card (to replace the 3D) and player 2 has drawn 2 new cards (to replace his 3s). Player 3 doesn't want the 3s, so he plays his 2H (and replinishes his hand). Now, this trick is over, except that two players (1 & 2) tie for top play. There is now a war between 1 & 2. Player 3 can sluff anything into this trick that matches rank. Let's draw the hands and the pot now:

      Player 1
      8D 7D 5C
      Player 2
      QC JS 2D
      Player 3
      KC KS 5H
      3D 3S 3C 2H

      Player 2, in a fit of sluffing madness sluffs in his 2D before the war begins. This is legal, even though Player 1 might have a 2. If this were the final trick, however, such a sluff would be illegal (you have to guess if it might be the final trick - nobody can be too sure). He replenishes from the deck with the 9H. It looks bad for him. Now, since player 1 played first in the original trick, he must lead to the war. Not wanting the trick, he leads his 5C. Player 3 can immediately sluff, but decides to hold off. Player 2, holding 3 winning cards is cursing his sluffing of the 2D and 3S earlier. Rather than take the trick outright, he flips the top card of the deck and gets... the 4C - low enough to give the trick to Player 1. Before player 1 takes the trick away, player 3 sluffs in the 5H and replenishes his hand.

      Now player 1 takes his winnings and puts them face down in front of him (for use in the second half of the game). He then leads a card and the next trick begins...

    6. Play continues until one player is out of cards.
    7. You must maintain a 3 card hand (as long as there are cards to replenish). No sitting around waiting for others to play.
    8. Remember who won the final trick - it's important
    9. It's just possible that there will be an irreconcilable war to end the first half. That is, one of the war players will run out of cards. If this happens, then everyone (including those not involved in the war) take back the cards they played on this trick. The first half is over, and the previous trick is the 'final trick'. This is the only way anyone should ever have more than 3 cards in their hand in the first half.


    At this point, some (or all) people have some taken tricks in front of them. Some may also have cards left in their hand from the first part. These are combined to form your hand for the second half, and you'll want to get rid of this stuff.

    Trump is announced for the second half. Remember the card that was set aside at the beginning of the game? Flip it over now; that suit is trump. The trump card is set aside; it will not be used during this hand.

    If there are players holding fewer than 6 (six) cards at this point, then all players (including those with too few cards) dump the 2-5 of each suit and the 6 of trump into a pile in the middle. This pile (17 cards) is shuffled and distributed to those who lacked 6 cards. Note that only players holding fewer than 6 before dumping are included in the division. Thus, a winning hand for the second round is: a bunch of 2s, 3s, 4s, and 5s (at least 6 total) and someone else not having 6. You get to dump your entire hand (and therefore go out).

    17 doesn't divide by 2, 3, or any other number (other than 1 and 17), so, if more than 1 person is dividing the dreck, then one (or more) player will get slightly more cards. That is, if three players divide the dreck (not unlikely in the 7 player game), one will get 5 cards, while the others get 6 each. Usually players volunteer for extra cards (might be trump, after all). In our game, the person sitting behind the strongest hand from part 1 usually gets first choice (or denial). We take it from there as needed.

    The Second Part

    1. Everyone now has a hand. Sort it by suit (and by rank within suit). The only player who might be out of cards is the player in the Intermission example who managed to give away all his cards. In the second half, Aces are high, not low.
    2. The object of this part is to get rid of all your cards. There is no winner in that it doesn't matter when you go out, there is instead a single loser (or Goat). To this loser, who is sheepishly trying to hide his remaining cards, you say, 'Du luktar som en get' which means 'You smell like a Goat'. This player must make a goat noise. Chide them if it's overly quiet or meek. Then, the pack is shuffled, dealt out (three to a player), another trump card set aside, and the Goat leads for the next game ('Lead, Goat!')
    3. This part of the game has a very simple rule: "Beat it or Eat it."
    4. The cards retain their original ordering (Ace high) except that trumps are higher than anything else (the 2 of trumps is higher than any other Ace).
    5. Two (or more) cards of the same suit which touch (have adjacent rank) may be considered a single logical card. Thus, if you have the 5-6-7 of diamonds, you can play all three of them as "one card," or break up the set.
    6. The play proceeds as follows:
      1. One player leads. Initially, this is the person taking the last trick in part 1 of the game. After that, it depends on the play (keep reading).
      2. In order (around to the left, unless you live in the Southern Hemisphere) each player must either:
        1. play a higher card (or cards, if they're in sequence) than the highest card on the table, OR
        2. pick up the lowest card (or sequence of cards) from the table. If a player chooses to pick up cards, they must pick up all the cards in sequence on the table. If player 1 plays a 4-5, player 2 a 6-7-8-9, and player 3 a J-Q, if player 4 picks up, they must pick up all the cards from 4 to 9.

      3. A higher card is either a trump or a card in the suit lead. That is, if diamonds are lead you may not play anything to this trick other than diamonds or trump.

      EXAMPLE (in a 4 player game):

      Player Move
      1 leads 2-3 of clubs
      2 plays 7-8-9 of clubs
      3 doesn't want to (or can't) play above 9C so picks up 2-3
      4 plays 10-J of clubs
      1 doesn't want to (or can't) play above the JC so picks up 7-8-9-10-J of clubs (notice how they all touch).

    7. The trick is over when either:

      1. All the cards have been picked up (the table is bare) in which case the next person who would have played (the player after the last picker-upper) gets to lead for the next trick; or
      2. There are N plays on the table where N is the number of players who were still playing at the start of the trick (some may have gone out during the trick - that's OK, N is still the same). This is called a kill. The cards are all removed from play (they're gone for this game - back for the next) and the player who made the killing play gets to lead for the next trick.

      SIMILAR EXAMPLE (in a 4 player game)

      Player Move
      1 leads 2-3 of clubs (1 play on table)
      2 plays 7-8-9 of clubs (2 plays on table)
      3 doesn't want to (or can't) play above 9C so picks up 2-3 (1 play left on table)
      4 plays 10-J of clubs (1 card on table, but 2 plays on table)
      1 plays 2 of diamonds (trump) and goes out (3 plays on table;N still = 4)
      2 picks up 7-8-9-10-J of clubs (1 play on table)
      3 plays 5 of diamonds (2 plays on table)
      4 plays 7-8 of diamonds (3 plays on table)
      1 Has gone out - smiles
      2 plays A of diamonds (4 = N plays on table)

      This kills the trick, the 2,5,7-8,A of diamonds are removed (ouch!) and player 2 gets to lead. Now, and only now is N reduced (to 3 players left).

    8. That's it. He who is left is Goat.

      Strategy Tip: Don't use up all your trump too early, unless you're in the 5 player game, where the rule might be 'Trump early, trump often'. There are definite different approaches to the game. Try them all. If you have an overpowering hand (10-12 trumps), making the person on your left Goat is EASY. Try using your power to make the person on your RIGHT Goat.

      Learning Tip: The first half is much harder to understand than the second half. If you want to learn the game, it's easier to arbitrarily deal each player part of the deck and run through the second half a couple of times. Remember to choose trump (see variation 1, below).

    Variations (some good, some ???)

    high trump rule

    This rule, stated simply, is: 'The Highest Trump left in the game can only be used to kill a trick' Initially, the high trump is the Ace, unless it determined trump in Variant 1 above. That cannot be used, except to kill a trick (can't be played unless it's play N on an N player trick).

    After the Ace kills the trick, the King, if it's still around, is high, and so on down.

    This rule is not necessary in games with more than 4 players. It makes the 4 player game flow more unevenly (which is good) and also improves the 3 player game. The only problem is remembering what the current high trump is. Generally someone at the table knows. We've decided that you can always say 'I believe that to be the high trump' if you think it is and all players must confirm/deny your suspicion. Skitgubbe is a gentle game and requires honesty and truth.

    One important note. It's just possible (likely, actually), that someone will be stuck on lead with only the highest trump left. In that case, the lead moves TO THE RIGHT (backward) one player. The player to the right of high-trump man leads (and, unless it's a 2 player trick) the high-trump man must pick up the lead (exercise left to the reader).

    Again, I suggest using this rule, although you might play a few rounds before introducing it. It adds enormous flair to the game.

    double deck

    This variant uses multiple decks of cards (two decks usually suffices). The rules are the same as the normal game with the additions:

    1. You need 12 cards (not 6) to avoid splitting the garbage.
    2. You can only play one of a card at a time. That is, if you have both 6s of clubs, you'll have to play them seperately. Of course, if you have both 5s and 7s, then you still only need 2 plays (one set on each play). What's bad is when you have a 6-7-8 and the player before you plays the 5-6-7. You must split your group and play the 8 (or play something higher).

    Double Deck is a great 7-8 player game

    The Lore

    Late '70s:

    Etan Savir travels to Greece where, on one island, he meets Peo (P.O.) from Sweden. Peo attracts Etan's attention by using watermelons to practice his harpoon gunnery. Peo and Etan get very drunk and Peo teaches Etan a Swedish card game which Etan brings back to the USA (North Carolina, if you must know).

    The game prospers through the '80s, but never gains more than a small devoted following (kind of like Cosmic Wimpout or Indian Oh Hell). At any rate, two of Etan's friends, Adger Williams and myself end up at UCLA together where we meet a Swedish major who has never heard of the game but knows how (more or less) to spell it. Somehow, she manages to turn 'Wheat Cue-Bah' into 'Skitgubbe' which literally means 'Shit-Old Man'. Ake has since reminded me of the spelling (and I won't forget it). I'd like to go to Sweden some day to thank him, but since Skitgubbe is the only Swedish I know, I won't get far once I get there.

    Since 1984 at UCLA, the game has begun to spread and variants have sprung up. The game is also known as 'Snarf and Barf [at CalTech]', 'The Evil Game', and 'Lead Goat!' (that's lead in verb form, not the element). Anyhow, the game continues to delight and amaze audiences everywhere. Some specific variants will be discussed after the main rules are divulged.

    Consider yourself lucky to have this game explained to you. Traditionally (and this is, perhaps, the most tradition laid of games) a novice must try to infer the rules by watching - almost impossible, by the way.

    Warning - this game is addictive. You may THINK you understand, but it is a Zen experience, in that there are games within the game. If you don't believe me, ask Scott (, Ronen ( or even Adger (adgerw@hope.bitnet).

    The game has been carried farther than any of it's Nordic designers ever could have imagined. Ben Trumbore ( has written an X-windows interface to the game that allows play across the Internet! At one point, we had a game going that involved players at UCLA, CalTech, Cornell and Hawaii!

    Enjoy! And remember: 'Du luktar som en get' (thanks again, Ake).

    Mail questions about the lore to matthew@cs (dot) ucla (dot) edu, and questions about this particular version of the rules to skitgubbe@GrandFenwick (dot) net.