Dice Week Day 5: Crown and Anchor
Placing bets and gambling with 3d6 in Crown and Anchor
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The final day of Dice Week is here! The games so far:
Today we are looking at a game called Crown and Anchor!
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This week is a series of five posts, each exploring a different dice game. The goal is to get some inspiration to use dice in a different way in your next game design. The side benefit is that you might find a new dice game that is fun to play on its own!
The fifth and final game is Crown and Anchor!
Crown and Anchor
Most sources claim that this game was popular with sailors of the Royal Navy in the 18th century. It’s certainly possible, as it only requires a few dice and some form of boxes or play area. The Crown and Anchor set in the The New Zealand National Army Museum is a homemade set made of painted canvas.
There’s a long list of cultural references to the game including books by Terry Pratchett, Thomas Pynchon, and Robert Jordan.
Because this game is explicitly a gambling game, public games for money might be regulated in some areas.
How to play
Unlike the other games we have looked at this week, Crown and Anchor is played between a player and a banker/house rather than other players.
The banker will have a canvas or felt mat showing six different symbols which match the symbols on the custom dice: Heart, Crown, Diamond, Spade, Anchor, Club.
It’s a simple gambling game:
The player places wagers on one or more of the symbols on the mat.
They roll the three dice, and the payout depends on the number of matching symbols:
1 match pays out 1:1 (you get your money back)
2 matches pays out 2:1 (you get twice your money)
3 matches pays out 3:1 (you get three times your money)
If no matches are made, the player loses all of their wager.
Play continues as long as the player wants to keep placing wagers or runs out of money.
It sounds like similar games exist in quite a few cultures:
A similar version of the game is played in Nepal, called "Langur Burja" (Nepali: लङ्गुर बुर्जा). There is a similar Flemish version called Anker en Zon ("Anchor and Sun"), in which a sun symbol replaces the crown. The French version again uses the sun, and is called Ancre, Pique, et Soleil ("Anchor, Spade, and Sun"). A similar game played in China called Hoo Hey How (魚蝦蟹, Fish-Prawn-Crab in Hokkien) and Vietnam called or Bầu cua cá cọp (lit. 'gourd-crab-shrimp-fish').
It’s worth noting that this game could just as easily be played with standard 1-6 pip dice and a play mat with numbered boxes. Custom dice and symbols are not mechanically significant.
Mark Munoz provided A Brief Review of Crown and Anchor with some tips on adjusting the odds and house advantage:
Default: Normal payout is 1:1, 2:1, 3:1 and 7.9% house advantage. This means that for every $1 wagered you’ll get $0.92 back.
Higher three of a kind: Changing to a 1:1, 2:1, 10:1 payout reduces the house advantage to 4.6%.
Zero advantage: Setting the payout to 1:1, 3:1, 5:1 reduced the house advantage to 0% so you have even odds at getting your money back.
Ideas & inspiration
This time we have more than just an idea, we have an actual example!
At midnight, the whalers gather ‘round the board to read their fate and try to win some souls. To simulate this gambling, have players bet their Souls on a Sic Bo board. Then, roll 3 six-sided dice. If the roll reflects the outcome on a square the player bet upon, they keep their bet, and win an amount of souls equal to the square’s payout value, denoted by 1:N. N is the payout value. If the dice don’t reflect the square, the bet is lost.
The dice rolls are not only a gamble but also are used to determine which random tables are used for events and plot twists! It’s an awesome and thematic use of this type of dice game!
Expect to see more about Hellwhalers at Skeleton Code Machine in the future!
Some things to think about:
Gambling games don’t need to be complex. The long history of Crown and Anchor shows that even simple games with a pretty terrible house advantage can retain their popularity.
You might be able to drop in a complete game. If it’s thematically compatible, some games can be used as-is! Small gambling games are particularly suited to this.
There is a lot to learn from classic games. As we wrap up Dice Week, I’ve developed quite a few new ideas for game mechanisms! I hope you have too. Classic and traditional games might not have the fancy packaging of modern games, but their mechanisms are always worth exploring.
Consider the five traditional dice games we’ve looked at this week. Which of them resonated most with you? Which ones do you think have the most game design potential? Pick your favorite in this week’s poll.
— E.P. 💀
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