Shithead Card Game: How To Play, Rules and Strategies

In this post, we’ll navigate the thrilling ride that is Shithead, a popular card game full of unexpected twists and turns. We’ll cover how to play, the rules, and some winning strategies. Ready? Let’s dive in!

Overview of Shithead Card Game

Shithead, also known humorously as Karma, Palace, or Shed, is a beloved card game played by a wide range of players. This game requires 2-5 participants and utilizes a standard 52-card deck.

The objective of Shithead is quite simple: get rid of all your cards before your opponents do. Can you guess what the last person to get rid of their cards is labelled as?!

In terms of card ranking, the value ascends from 3 to 10, then follows Jack, Queen, King, and Ace. However, certain cards hold special powers: 2’s and 10’s can be played on any card, and 3’s are invisible, while 7’s must be covered by a card lower in rank.

Shithead card ranking
Card rankings from lowest to highest in a game of Shithead. Note that 7 and 8 are special cards, along with 2, 3 and 10, however they have to be played in rank order, unlike 2, 3 and 10 which can be played on top of any card.

Intrigued? Let’s learn how to set it up!

How to Setup Shithead

Setting up Shithead involves a few easy steps:

  1. Choose a Dealer: Start by selecting a dealer. This can be done randomly or through any method agreed upon by the players.
  2. Shuffle and Deal: The dealer then shuffles the deck and deals each player nine cards: three face-down cards, three face-up cards on top of the face-down cards, and three cards to hold in hand.
  3. Create a Draw Pile: The remaining cards are placed in the center of the table to form the draw pile. The top card from this pile is flipped and placed next to the draw pile to start the discard pile.
  4. Swap Hand Cards: Players can swap cards in their hand with any of their face-up cards. This is a great opportunity to add some stronger cards to your face-up cards, which will come in handy later in the game.
  5. Begin the Game: The player with the lowest card starts the game.
Setup for a game of Shithead
Example setup for a game of Shithead

Gameplay and Rules of Shithead

Once the game setup is complete, you’re ready to jump into action. Here’s a detailed guide on how to play the game and the associated rules:

  1. Start of Play: The game starts by any player with the lowest non-special card, which is a 4. The first person to play their card places it on the discard pile and the game begins.
  2. Turn Progression: The play moves clockwise. Each player, on their turn, needs to play a card of the same rank or higher than the top card on the discard pile. Multiples of the same card can be played together. If they cannot or choose not to do so, they must pick up the discard pile.
  3. Special Cards: Shithead incorporates special cards that give the game its unique flavor:
    • 2: Can be played on any card, resetting the discard pile so the next player can play any card.
    • 3: It’s invisible. When a 3 is played, the next player must play their turn based on the card beneath the 3.
    • 7: Forces the next player to play a card lower than 7. If the player can’t, they pick up the pile.
    • 8: Skip a go. Game play skips the next player. If multiple 8’s are played, this accumulates, e.g. playing 2x 8s skips the next 2 players.
    • 10: Similar to a 2, this card can be played on any card, however the added benefit is that the 10 burns the discard pile. This removes the discard pile from the game, and allows the player to start a new pile. Whenever the discard pile is burned, the player gets to play another card.
  4. Drawing Cards: After playing a card, the player draws a card from the draw pile to maintain a three-card hand until the draw pile is exhausted.
  5. Playing Face-up and Face-down Cards: Once the cards in hand have been exhausted, a player can start playing their face-up cards. After the face-up cards are gone, the player blindly plays their face-down cards. The game ends when a player successfully discards all their cards.
  6. End of the Game: The game ends when all but one players have got rid of their cards. The first player to get rid of their cards is the winner, and the last player left with cards is the ‘Shithead’.
Birdseye view of the gameplay in a game of Shithead
Birdseye view of the gameplay in a game of Shithead. The player at the bottom of the photo is down to their last face down card and can win the game on their next turn.

Variations of Shithead

Although the core mechanics of Shithead remain the same, players across the globe have introduced various nuances and modifications to the game. Here are some popular variations:

  1. Four-of-a-Kind Burns the Pile: In some versions, if four cards of the same rank are played consecutively, the pile is ‘burned’ similar to playing a 10. This can add a surprise element to the gameplay, and can speed the game up if one player ends up with a significant amount of the deck in their hand.
  2. Choice of Special Cards: Players should agree on which specials cards are in play. 3’s and 8’s are the most common examples of cards which are not used as special cards, depending on where you are playing in the world.
  3. Playing with Jokers: Some players choose to include jokers in the deck. These usually have special powers, such as acting as a wildcard or burning the pile.
  4. Different Card Rankings: In some variations, the ranking of the cards is changed. For example, Aces might be made low instead of high.

Remember, the best version of Shithead is the one that brings the most fun to you and your friends, but make sure you agree the rules in advance.

Strategies and Tips

Up close gameplay of Shithead card game

While Shithead may seem like a game of luck, there are certainly strategic elements you can employ to increase your chances of victory:

  1. Choose Your Face-up Cards Wisely: If you can, swap powerful or special cards into your face-up hand during setup. Having these accessible can dramatically shift the game in your favor.
  2. Save Your Special Cards: Keep your 2’s, 7’s, 10’s and other powerful cards for when you really need them. For instance, you can use a 10 to burn the pile when it gets too large, or a 7 to force an opponent to pick up the pile if you know they only have higher cards remaining.
  3. Watch Your Opponents: Keep track of what cards your opponents play and try to remember what’s left. This can inform your decisions about when to play or hold back your special cards.
  4. Don’t Always Play Your Multiples: Whilst playing multiples of the same card will help get rid of your cards faster, it’s not always the best move. For example, if you have two Kings and you know the next player only has a single King in their hand, you could force them to pick up by only playing one King, and then play your second King after they play their King.
  5. Try to Empty Your Hand First: Remember, the first goal is to empty your hand so you can start playing your face-up cards. This gives you an advantage as it allows you to choose from more cards and you will have a better idea of what’s to come.

Now that you’re armed with these strategies, you’re well on your way to becoming a Shithead champion. Next, let’s address some frequently asked questions.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you end the game on a special card like a 2, 7, or 10?

Yes, you can end the game on a special card. If it’s your last card, you’re free to use it, and you win.

What happens when the draw pile runs out?

When the draw pile runs out, the game continues without drawing. Players play their hand cards, then move to their face-up, and finally, face-down cards.

Can I look at my face-down cards during the game?

No, you can never look at your face-down cards. When you play them, you must flip them directly onto the discard pile.

Can you play more than one card at a time?

Yes, you can play multiple cards of the same rank at the same time. However, some see this as a variation rule, so it’s best to check with all players before starting the game.

What other names are used for Shithead card game?

The game also goes by the names Karma, Palace, or Shed.


Well, that’s your introduction to Shithead, a card game filled with surprise moves and nail-biting suspense.

Whether you’re playing with friends at a casual gathering or seeking an exciting pastime for a family night, Shithead promises a fantastic blend of strategy and luck. So pick up a deck of cards and start playing!

If you have your own house rules or winning strategies, we’d love to hear about them. Feel free to drop a comment and share your experiences. Happy playing, and may the odds be ever in your favour!

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