If you’re someone who not only likes trick-taking card games but also likes a good challenge, then after reading the Sheepshead rules, you might find this is the game for you.
This means that Sheepshead is an excellent middle ground in terms of difficulty, although the scoring is quite involved, so you’ll need to copy it down to refer back to throughout the game.
Continue reading to learn exactly how to play Sheepshead, including how the slightly complex scoring works as well.
What Is Sheepshead?
Each card in Sheepshead is worth a different number value, and players are required to go round playing one card from their hand, which they believe is the highest value in that round.
This is also known as trick-taking, and players gain points with every trick that they win until someone manages to earn themselves 61 points.
What sets Sheepshead apart from other trick-taking games, however, is the scoring system that is involved.
Standard trick-taking ideas like Trumps are present here, so if you’re aware of these, you’re already halfway to knowing the rules.
There is also the important role of the Picker as well, and we’ll explain exactly what that is later on in the guide.
Number of Players Required: 5 players.
Who Can Play It: Teens, Young Adults, and Adults
Difficulty: Medium difficulty.
Length of Play: 10 – 20 minutes per round.
Main Objective: Become the team to gain the most points by winning the most tricks throughout the game.
Why We Love It: Whether you’re a trick-taking game regular or brand new to the game, the satisfaction of outsmarting your opponents and winning hand after hand never gets old.
Playing Sheepshead – What You’ll Need.
To play Sheepshead, make sure you’ve got yourself a good, sturdy deck of cards on hand.
These Maverick playing cards should do the trick nicely and come with enough packs so that you should always have a deck spare whenever you need it.
Also, make sure that you’re playing around a table that’s big enough for all 5 players to be able to keep their cards hidden and reach the middle where the cards are too.
How To Set Up Sheepshead
Setting up Sheepshead requires 1 person to shuffle the deck of cards and deal them out to players.
But first, take out all the cards that are 2 through to 6 of all 4 suits as this game does not require these cards at all.
This should leave you with 32 cards.Ace through to 7’s of each of the 4 different suits.
Deal 6 cards out to players in 2 groups of 3 each and place the remaining 2 cards face down in the middle of the table.
Ensure everyone keeps their cards to themselves throughout the game.
It’s essential to recognize that in Sheepshead, the order of the trump cards goes Queens, Jacks, and then Diamonds.
In the Queens and Jacks, you’ll need to know that the suit rankings are Clubs, Spades, Hearts, and then Diamonds.
Finally, in the Diamonds and the rest of the non-trump cards, note down that the rest of the rankings go Ace, 10, King, 9, 8, 7.
Starting the Game
Before the game can begin, players must decide who the Picker is.
Similar to other trick-taking games, the Picker is the player who believes they can win a certain number of points throughout the game.
In Sheepshead’s case, it’s 61 points that the player must attempt to win throughout the game.
The player to the left of the dealer gets to decide first of all if they would like to be the Picker. If they refuse, then the next player to their left gets the choice.
This continues until 1 player agrees to become the Picker, who then gets to take the 2 extra cards that’s in the middle.
The Picker then gets 1 of the 4 remaining players to become their teammate for the duration of the game by calling out a non-trump Ace that matches the non-trump ace that they have in their hand.
The Pickers teammate is not required to reveal themselves to the rest of the group until they play their non-Trump ace whilst the other 3 players from the other team as a result.
The 2 teams compete against one another to become the first team to 61 points.
The Picker discards 2 of their cards into a discard pile. These 2 cards will be added onto the Pickers points tally at the end of the game, so keep these handy.
How to Play Sheepshead
Sheepskin plays in the same way as other trick-taking card games in that games get played in tricks, where each player plays a card in their hand one by one to get the highest-ranking card and wins that trick.
Starting from the Picker, players play 1 card that’s in their hand in an attempt to win the trick. Refer to the guide above to work out which card outranks the others.
Each round players must play at least one of their cards even if they don’t outrank the previous cards played in that round.
Whoever wins the trick starts the next trick, and this continues until participants play all of their cards. Once all cards get played, add up the scores.
Scoring In Sheepshead
The different cards in Sheepshead are worth the following values:
- Aces – 11 points
- 10s – 10 points
- Kings – 4 points
- Queens – 3 points
- Jacks – 2 points
Take note of each team’s winning trick cards, so it’s easier to calculate the scores at the end of the game.
Using the below table, work out the total number of values that each team winning tricks managed through the game and award both teams a score.
|Picker/Partner Card Points
|120 (all tricks)
|91 – 120
|61 – 90
|31 – 60
|0 – 30
|0 (no tricks)
For simplicity, agree upon the number of rounds in total you and your group will play of Sheepshead.
Whichever team gains the most points after the agreed-upon rounds win overall.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is the game called Sheepshead?
The game is said to have originated in Middle Europe in the 1700s and disappointingly has nothing to do with a sheep’s head.
Sheepshead is the English translation of Schafkopf, and those words derived from where peasants used to play the game. On the heads (koph) of a wooden keg (schaffen).
With all the peasant discontent surrounding the monarchy in Europe in this timeframe as well, it also explains why the King card gets rated so lowly.
But of course, there isn’t anything officially confirming this and is pure speculation.
Can you play Sheepshead with less than 5 players?
It is possible to play with less than 5 players, but less than 5 would mean that the Picker plays the game solo, which makes it harder to score the necessary card points.
You could try lowering the score to 61 if playing with a solo picker, but note that the minimum number of players you can play with is 3.
Alternative Games to Sheepshead
If you enjoyed Sheepshead but are looking for card games that use a standard deck and are slightly easier to pick up and play, then consider taking a look at the Go Fish rules if playing with younger players or the Horse Race game rules and Piquet card game rules if playing with other adults.
However, if the challenge of Sheepshead appeals to you and you would like more games just as tricky, be sure to read up on the Pinochle rules, Nines card game rules, Big 2 rules, Sueca rules and the Tripoley rules too.