Shithead (card game)

Shithead (also known by many other names, most commonly Karma, Palace and Shed[1]) is a card game, the object of which is to lose all of one's playing cards, with the final player being the "shithead".[2] The game became popular among backpackers in the late 20th century.[1][2] Although the basic structure of the game generally remains constant, there are regional variations to the game's original rules.

Hand in Shithead.jpg
A hand during a game of Shithead
Alternative namesNumerous
Players2–4 (recommended)/unlimited depending on the number of cards available
SkillsMemory, quickness
Cards52 or more
Rank (high→low)Highly variable
Playing time5 mins.+
Related games


From a standard, shuffled deck of cards, each player is dealt 9 cards in total: 3 face-down cards in a row (blind cards), 3 face-up cards on top of the blind cards, and 3 hand cards.[2] The blind cards will be the last cards to be played and players are not allowed to see or change these cards until the ending turns of the game. The face-up will be the second to last set of cards to be played in the game (before the blind cards). At the beginning of the game, players are allowed to switch their hand cards with their face-up cards in an attempt to produce a strong set of face-up cards (possibly all perfect wildcards) for later in the game.[2] Cards with the same numerical value can be stacked on top of each other if needed.


The beginning player is the first person to put a 3 in the pile from the cards in their hand. If no player has a 3 in hand, the game is started with a 4; if no 4, then a 5, and so on.[2] The second player must then place an equal or higher card (in numerical value) than the card played previously, this card is to be put on top of the play pile. All subsequent players are then to follow this rule. The player would then have to draw cards from the deck. Each player should have at least 3 cards in their hand at all times, unless the deck has run out of cards. The game continues sequentially in a clockwise direction unless certain wildcards are played, such as a Joker, depending on the rule set.

Twos and tens are wildcards, and can be played on any card. Any card can be played to follow a two.[2] When a ten is played, the discard pile is immediately "burned" (removed from play) and the same player takes another turn, playing any card or set to begin a new discard pile.[2]

If a player is able to place four cards with the same numerical value (e.g. 5 5 5 5 or 8 8 8 8), this burns the discards in the same manner as a ten. Burning can also happen across multiple players' turns: for example, if a player first plays 5 5 5 and the next player in turn has the 5, they can drop that card to finish the set and burn the play pile. The player who burns the pile must then play another card after.[2]

When a player has no wildcards and no single card that is equal or higher in value than the card on top of the play pile, they must pick up all the cards on the play pile and end their turn. 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 shed than other players. Even so, it is still possible to quickly recover from this handicap by burning the pile.

A game of Shithead in its final phase, with two face-up cards played

After a player has no more cards in their hand, and the deck is empty, they need to play from their three face-up cards. They cannot play from this set of cards until they have finished with their hand. Following the rule: the value of the face-up card must be higher than the value of the card on the top of the pile, if a player cannot play the face-up card, then they must pick up the pile. Once all of the face-up cards have been played, a player must then play their blind cards. These cards are played one at a time, without the player knowing the card until the moment it is played. As usual, if the chosen card is lower than the previous card played, they need to pick up the pile, and are required to play their entire hand again before progressing to the rest of their face-down cards.

When a player has no cards left, they are out. The game progresses until only one player is left, at which point they are crowned the "shithead". Under most rules, the shithead's only role is to deal the next set of cards, but players may decide further punishments for the role, such as fetching the next round of drinks.

Alternative rulesEdit

Two Jokers can be added to the deck as additional wildcards. This expanded deck allows the game to be played by six players.[2]

Many rule sets and house rules give special attributes to other card values, such as reversing the order of play,[2] needing the next play to be lower than the played card,[2] or having one rank being considered "transparent", the next card played having to beat the one below the transparent card.[2] Some versions of the game do not allow 10s to be played onto face cards, and allow the player who played the 10 to take another turn immediately.[2]


  1. ^ a b Parlett, David (1979). The Penguin Encyclopedia of Card Games. p. 480. ISBN 0140280324. (Karma, Palace, Shed, many other names)
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "Shithead - Card Game Rules".