Shithead & Cutthroat 2018

How to Play Shithead & The Extended Rules for Cutthroat

Contributed by John Green

For clarity, Shithead is the base game while Cutthroat is Shithead with extra rules. You shouldn’t jump straight to Cutthroat however for two reasons. First there are too many cards to know and honestly, Shithead is amazing and crazy enjoyable as is and you should play it first. Second, and more importantly, Cutthroat is based on my Shithead variation, so if you are not playing my Shithead rules you may find the cards don’t work 100% as intended.

You could read this sure, but I made some YouTube Tutorials that you could watch if you rather; one for Shithead, the other for Cutthroat. It gives a good explanation of the cards, as well as covering some of the FAQs I’ve encountered with friends. Or feel free to Email me at with any questions or comments.

Shithead, Palace, Shit boots or whatever you may have called it is a popular travelers' game. Many variations of the rules exist such that house rules and unique card rules create unique variations. These rules presented here are my variation of a beloved game.

Shithead

The Setup

The first dealer is decided however you like really, by rock-paper-scissors or flipping a coin. My personal preference is the challenger deals (whoever asked to play or joins in last).

Each player is dealt nine cards; the first three dealt are the players’ bottommost card laid face down, with the remaining six dealt forming the hand. Players will look at their hand and choose any three to lay face up, covering each of their bottommost cards.

When all players have their cards laid, the dealer flips the first card upright on the first round. Play begins left of dealer. On subsequent rounds the shithead (loser) flips the first card facedown; this is the winners' spoils. Play begins with the King Shit (winner) taking their spoils, drawing a card from the pile and then starting the deck.

Gameplay

Start each turn by drawing a card from the pile, then choosing a card to play. Drawing is optional as long as a player has more than three cards in there hand, or if there are no cards left in the pile. Players should always have a minimum of three cards on their hand until there are no more cards in the pile. If you play multiple cards and this leaves you with less than three in your hand, immediately replenish back to three cards.  

A player may lay multiples of the same cards on their turn: pairs, trips or four of a kind. Note a card can always be played on itself: i.e., a 6 on another 6.

A player must lay a card of equal (a 6 on another 6) or higher value (a 7 on a 6) on their turn. If they cannot, they must pick up the entire deck. That shit stain then gets to start a new deck. If a player clears the deck, that shit disturber will start a new deck.

Play then continues to the next players’ turn.

The Power Cards

The special cards with abilities in this variation are the 2s’, 3s’, 8s’ and 10s’. These power cards can be played on just about anything, making them the most powerful cards.
2s’ are a free play for the person who laid the 2. Anything can then be laid on the 2. It’s a very straight forward card.

3s’ are a match card. They match or mimic the card it is laid on. So, if played on a King, it’s a King, if it gets played on a 2, it will mimic the 2s’ free play. Optionally, with three plus player games, the 3 may also reverse the direction of play while still matching what it is played on. Note, since someone asked once, a 3 cannot match a 10s’ clear because a 10s’ clear is effective the moment it is laid and play continues with the shit disturber who played the 10.

8s’ are less than 8, which cause a player to play something less than an 8 that turn only. Thus, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 or another 8 must be played. This is important to understand as the 8 is the only card that can stop a 10s’ clear; a 10 isn’t less than 8.

10s’ are clear cards. When played on the deck, the entire deck becomes discarded immediately. The player who cleared the deck then starts a new deck by laying any card they choose.

Additionally, while this IS NOT a power, it does fit here best; anytime four of the same cards are laid the deck is also cleared. The player who played all four cards, or lays the last of the four of a kind clears the deck and starts a new one. 3s’ do not count towards this, so a pair of Queens and a pair of 3s’ does not make a four of a kind clear. However, 3s’ laid in between will bridge a four of a kind; e.g. Queen, 3, Pair of Queens, 3, this final Queen will clear.

And since someone will try it, NO, you cannot just drop a 4 of a kind clear anywhere at all. If you have the four 9s’ in your hand, they could be played on a 7; 9 is a higher value than 7. They cannot be play on a Queen though since 9s’ are a lower value than a Queen.

The End Game

The end round begins when the last card is drawn from the pile. Players will continue to play with just the remaining cards in their hand.  When a player has no cards left in there hand, they may pick from their bottommost cards. Any bottommost card may be chosen as long as it isn’t covered by another card.

When a player picks up the deck in the end round, they may no longer pick from their bottommost cards as long as they hold any cards in their hand.

First player to play out all of their cards is the King of the Shits. Remaining players if any continue playing until the last person, the shithead is left. Shithead deals the next round.

Neat to Know

What makes my variation different for any of the others I’ve played or read about is that mine favors quick games. This is why a player should start their turn by first drawing a card. This gives a player four cards to choose from instead of the minimum three. Also, it cuts down on playing high cards and then drawing a lower one (which you might just have played instead).

With respect to drawing cards, you only absolutely have too if you have less than three in your hand and cards still remain in the pile. Otherwise, completely optional, but I would recommend drawing as long as cards remain in the pile. Furthermore, even if you pick up the deck and have a handful of cards, you may still draw from the pile on your turn.

Speaking of picking up the deck, even if you have a card that can be played, you can choose to pick up the deck on your turn if you like. There are a few good reasons to do this, stocking cards and collecting 4 of a kinds amongst others.

This shithead variation also favors runs. So, for example, let’s say you are holding your four cards and you played a pair of 7s’. This caused you to have less than the minimum three cards in your hand and now you have to draw one card to replenish back to the minimum of three. But hey, you drew another 7. This freshly drawn 7 can be immediately played on your pair as if you played trip 7s’ instead. And yes, you still need to replenish back to three. Drawn another 7 you say? You can immediately play that one too. And also yes, that would be a four of a kind for a clear. Draw another card to replenish and start a new deck you shit disturber.

I’ll stress it here again, a card can always be played on itself; 6 on a 6, 8 on an 8. This is important for the expanded rules of Cutthroat as it will come up. Always remember, play equal to or a higher value to the card on the deck.

Cutthroat

If you are not playing my Shithead variation, these rules may not work 100% as intended. I am writing this assuming you are.

So you’ve been playing Shithead for a while, but you’re interested in adding in some new rules to breathe new life into it. Well, this is it. This is an extension of Shithead so much of it plays out the same with the major difference being 4 of a kind clear is no longer a thing and the 2s’ behave differently. You also will now have much more control over the cards and will be able to back the other player into a corner and cause them to pick up the deck. Forcing a player to pick up the deck will occur more often and generally be done with intention.

The Setup

Cutthroat makes a minor change to the starting card layout but otherwise begins similarly to Shithead.

The first dealer is decided however you like really, by rock-paper-scissors or flipping a coin. My personal preference is the challenger deals (whoever asked to play or joins in last).

Each player is dealt nine cards; the first three dealt are the players’ bottommost card laid face down, with the remaining six dealt forming the hand. Players will look at their hand and choose any three to lay face DOWN, covering each of their bottommost cards. This way, a player knows what their top three bottommost cards are, but not their opponent.

When all players have their cards laid, the dealer flips the first card upright on the first round. Play begins left of dealer. On subsequent rounds the shithead (loser) flips the first card facedown; this is the winners' spoils. Play begins with the King Shit (winner) taking their spoils, drawing a card from the pile and then starting the deck.

Gameplay

The core gameplay does not change between Shithead and Cutthroat, so if you are already playing Shithead, then you can skip this section.

Start each turn by drawing a card from the pile, then choosing a card to play. Drawing is optional as long as a player has more than three cards in there hand, or if there are no cards left in the pile. Players should always have a minimum of three cards on their hand until there are no more cards in the pile. If you play multiple cards and this leaves you with less than three in your hand, immediately replenish back to three cards. 

A player may lay multiples of the same cards on their turn: pairs, trips or four of a kind. Note a card can always be played on itself: i.e., a 6 on another 6.

A player must lay a card of equal (a 6 on another 6) or higher value (a 7 on a 6) on their turn. If they cannot, they must pick up the entire deck. That shit stain then gets to start a new deck. If a player clears the deck, that shit disturber will start a new deck.

Play then continues to the next players’ turn.

The Power and Rule Cards

Cutthroat has three types of special cards: Power Cards, Rule Cards and Cancel Cards.

The power cards with abilities are still the 2s’, 3s’, 8s’ and 10s’. These power cards can be played on just about anything. 3s’, 8s’ and 10s’ have not changed so refer to the Shithead rules for these.

Please read the 2s’ closely, this is the one card people seem to initially misunderstand.

2s’ are a free play for the NEXT PLAYER now. Anything can still be laid on the 2. It’s a very straight forward card. However, they have a second feature, and this is probably one of the best cards in Cutthroat due to that. As stated, the 2 is now a free play for the next player WHEN PLAYED BY ITSELF. This is an important point as you will have to begrudgingly do this from time to time.

What the 2s’ are primarily used for now is linking together multiple cards. I’ll start with an example. On your turn, and let’s say you are starting a new deck because you cleared it, and you start by playing a pair of 4s’, Link2 trip 5s’. Literally what you laid out was 44, 2, 555 with a single 2 LINKING them together. This is a single play and what makes the 2s’ so valuable. 2s’ allow you to play a series of cards together PROVIDING those cards can be played in that order. Using the above cards, you could not have played 555, 2, 44 because 4s’ cannot be played on the higher valued 5s’.

You can use multiple 2s’ in a chain as well, e.g. 44, 2, 555, 2, 9, 2, QQ. The golden rule is that the cards must be played in a legal order. The 2 when used as a Link2 does not simultaneously act as a free play which, like in Shithead, would allow you to play anything after it. Note that a player could play a 2 and the Link2 creating a free play for themselves (2, Link2), but yes, two 2s’ are needed for this.

Also note, you can play a pair of 2s’ or more as a Link2, e.g. 44, 22, 555 where the 2s’ would be called a double Link2 and not a free play. Why? Because you started with the 4s’ first. This is where most people will play it wrong if they ever do. What people try to play is 44, 2 Link2 555. This is two moves: 44, and then 2 (free play) Link2 555. Using 4s’ and 5s’ here is misleading because it ends legally but I wanted consistence with the above examples. Where I’ve seen this one crop up is usually on a less than 8, 22, Q. The 8 is one play, and the 2 Link2 Q is a separate play.

Last thing, you cannot use a 2 to start a deck and call it a Link2. A link happens between cards; it done not start a chain. Thus you cannot link off of nothing as essentially this would be a free play. In the event that the deck is cleared and you have only a 2 left to play, it is a free play for the next person.

Rule Cards

The rule cards with abilities are still the 6s’ and Js’. These rule cards can only be played in the right order, i.e. a 6 can be played on a 5 or less than 8, but not a 7 or K. Similarly, the J can be played on a 6 or 9, but not a less than 8 or Q.

The 6 forces the next player to play a face card: J, Q, K, A or another 6 (a card can always be played on itself). If they cannot play a face card or another 6, they must pick up the deck. Note that free plays and matching with a 3 will not work, those are power cards, not face cards. That’s it, very straight forward. Note that 2s’ can still be used as Link2 on a 6, e.g. 66, 2, Q as this a legal play, and the 2 here is working as a link, and not as a power card.

The J forces a player to play a power card: 2, 3, 8, 10 or another J. If they cannot play a power card, they must pick up the deck. This is a straightforward card.

Cancel Cards

Only four specific cards are Cancel Cards. Those are the 4spade, 7spade, 9spade, and Kspade, and only the Spade cards are used, not the other suits. When used, they cancel out any effect of the card played on. Specifically, they were designed to cancel a 10s’ clear but they also work on any card with an effect: 6, J, 8 and 10. That said they don’t have any effect on regular cards. So a 9spade cannot be played on a Q.

When played to cancel an effect, say a 10s’ clear, play resumes off of the Cancel Card used and the deck remains in play and does not get discarded. When not used to cancel an effect, they must be played as the value they are; just a 4 or 7 or 9 or K. Note that when played as a Cancel Card, they must be played alone to work. That is, you cannot play a pair or 4s’, one being the 4spade and cancel something. This however only matters when playing them for the cancel effect and not otherwise.

With respect to the 3s’ Match, Cancel Cards don’t work on 3s’ but instead what the three is played on. A 3 on a J is cancellable, but a 3 on a Q is not. This is because a 3 is treated like the card it is played on rather than the 3s’ Match. The logic is that if not, any 3 anywhere would be automatically cancellable and in practice it didn’t work well. 

TL:DR play the spade alone to work and only on the 6, J, 8 or 10, otherwise treat is like any other normal card.

Other Special Cards

There are two other special cards used that do not neatly fit the above categories. The first is the Aspade is wild. It may be called as any other card EXCLUDING a 10 (cannot be self-destroying) or a 5spade which is explained next. It generally is used as a fifth Link2, a Cancel Card (usually 4spade or Kspade) a less than 8 or just as an Ace. Besides the two above exclusion, the Aspade wild has one weakness; no matter what it is called as (J for power cards, less than 8) an Ace can always best an Ace, with play continuing off the Ace.

The second special card is optional, and I would recommend using it after getting comfortable with the Link2, Rule Cards and Cancel Cards if even at all. This is the Queens Gambit and Counter Card.

The Queens Gambit happens when one player lays all four Qs’ at the same time. This causes the next player to be forced to pick up the entire deck. When a Queens Gambit is played, ONLY ONE card can be played: the 5spade. This counters or reflects the forced pickup back to the player who laid the Queens Gambit. After the gambit is laid, regardless of the outcome, the Qspade is removed so that it cannot be played again.

The Queens Gambit can only be played where a Q can normally be played; i.e. on a 7 or 9, but not on a less than 8 or K. The Qs’ and 5spade have no effect otherwise and are played based on their card value.

The End Game

The end round begins when the last card is drawn from the pile. Players will continue to play with just the remaining cards in their hand.  When a player has no cards left in there hand, they may pick from their bottommost cards. Any bottommost card may be chosen as long as it isn’t covered by another card.

When a player picks up the deck in the end round, they may no longer pick from their bottommost cards as long as they hold any cards in their hand.

First player to play out all of their cards is the King of the Shits. Remaining players if any continue playing until the last person, the shithead is left. Shithead deals the next round.

Cutthroat is generally played tournament style; a single winner takes all hand, or best of three. All three rounds are played in a best of three. The last round will be either a rubber match, or playing for shame and redemption.