Sheepshead is a traditional German, more specifically Bavarian, trick-taking card game traditionally played with four players, though variations exist for different player counts. In German, the game is called Schafkopf, which is the literal translation of sheepshead.
The game is typically played using a German deck of 32 cards, consisting of ranks from Ace to 7 in four German suits: Acorns, Leaves, Hearts, and Bells. In a German deck, instead of Queens, there are Obers (Superiors), and instead of Jacks, there are Unters (Inferiors). The 10 holds a special rank between the Ace and the King, As is common with German trick-taking games: These games are sometimes referred to as Ace-Ten-Games.
The objective of Sheepshead is to accumulate points by winning the most points via taking the most valuable tricks each round. The player with the highest total score at the end of the game is declared the winner.
To set up the game, the deck is shuffled and dealt evenly to each player, resulting in each player holding 8 cards.
Before the trick-taking begins, players may engage in a bidding process to determine the game type and its respective ruleset. There are options for 1 vs. 3 and 2 vs. 2 rounds, each with different possible trump suits. If nobody bids, the round ends with 0 points for all players, and the next round begins with shuffling and dealing. If only one player bids, they can decide freely which game type they like best. If multiple players bid, they must always bid higher than the previous one.
In game types with trump suits, usually, the Obers and Unters are the highest trump cards, if applicable, followed by the remaining cards of the trump suit.
Time to take tricks: Players aim to win tricks by playing cards from their hands. A trick is won by playing the highest-ranking card of the leading suit or by using a trump card to surpass other players’ cards. Skillful play and cleverly timed trump usage are key to success in Sheepshead.
At the beginning of the trick-taking, players may also taunt each other by announcing “Re” or “Kontra”, depending on which party they belong to. That way, their fellow player(s) are informed, but the victory and penalty points at the end of the round become plenty, too!
One of the most intriguing aspects of Sheepshead is the social dynamic among players. During each round, players may form temporary partnerships to work together and prevent certain players from scoring points. But it’s not always clear from the round’s start who is your teammate. So you need to pay close attention to the cards that all players put on the table, and maybe you can deduct who plays together.
If you’re looking for a card game that will test your tactics, social skills, and ability to outwit opponents, Sheepshead is the perfect choice. If you can read German, have a look at our Sheepshead School featuring the Sheepshead Manual and more!
To immerse yourself in the rich tradition of this captivating German card game, join us at the Sheepshead Palace (Game available with English language settings, website available in German only). Experience the thrill of forming alliances, outmaneuvering your adversaries, and claiming victory!