Dice Week Day 2: Liar's Dice
Bluffing and bidding with 5d6 in Liar's Dice
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Dice Week continues! Yesterday we looked at Pig and how its simple push your luck mechanism could be used in TTRPGs.
Today we are looking at a game you might recognize from Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest… Liar’s Dice!
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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 second game is Liar’s Dice!
While some claim that Liar’s Dice is a descendant of an earlier South American game called Dudo, others are more skeptical. The BGG Perudo entry dates it to 1800 and credits Richard Borg as the designer. Either way, the game has been around for a long time and exists in many versions.
This is a betting and bluffing game that uses dice rolling as a core mechanism. Dice are rolled at the start of each round, acting almost like a hand of cards.
Models for the Game of Liar’s Dice (Ferguson & Ferguson, 1991) has a wonderfully terse description, calling it a “…game of competition where a player must occasionally lie and the other must detect the lie.”
I recommend checking out Lord Ravenscraft’s analysis of the Liar’s Dice scene in Pirate’s of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. Great overview of the game, and really interesting how much care they put into that scene.
How to play
To set up, each player starts with a cup and five six-sided dice (5d6). Everyone rolls their dice and keeps them hidden from the others.
The objective of the game is to be the last player with dice remaining.
In it’s most simple form:
The starting player makes their bid on what the total number of a specific dice face are on the table (e.g. “Four 3s.”).
In order, each other player can then do one of two things:
Raise the bid by bidding a higher quantity of the same face value (e.g. “Five 3s”)
Challenge the previous bid and all players reveal their dice.
After a challenge has been made, if the bid was correct (i.e. the actual quantity of that face was equal to or higher than the bid quantity) the bidder wins. If the bid was incorrect (i.e. the actual quantity of that face was less than the bid quantity), the challenger wins.
The loser of the challenge removes one of their dice, placing it in front of their cup.
The next round begins, usually with the loser going first.
The last person with dice left is the winner.
There is a lot of variation in how the bidding rules are structured. Some of the common additions to ways to raise the bid are:
Bid a higher quantity of any face value, or the same quantity of a higher face value
Bid a higher quantity of the same face value, or any quantity of a higher face value
Big a higher quantity of the same face value, or the same quantity of a higher face value
There are also variants where 1s are wild and always count toward the face value of the current bid, as well as some that use poker hands (e.g. “five of a kind”) and chips. Other variants allow for limited re-rolls of dice.
One of the more readable discussions of Liar’s Dice is the CS109L Assignment 1a: Liar’s Dice from Stanford University. It includes a clear description of the game rules and variations in bidding rules. It also has a discussion of strategies to win and dice probability. I think this could be a fun programming exercise.
Greg Kroleski made a Liar’s Dice Cheat Sheet that helps you figure out the probability of your guesses as you play. His version uses the Wild Ones variant mentioned above.
Ideas & inspiration
So how could we use this in game designs? Here are a few ways:
Gamble for your lives: As shown in Pirate’s of the Caribbean, the game could be dropped into your TTRPG campaign as-is. It’s already a game that can be thematic and tense, especially if you use some fancy dice (e.g. skulls instead of 1s). Have your villian force the party to gamble for something precious.
Conflict resolution mechanism: It might be a thematic stretch, but I think board games could use a system similar to Liar’s Dice to resolve combat or political disputes. Players could gain dice via other mechanisms, so rather than everyone starting with an equal 5d6, some might have an advantage or disadvantage.
Information gathering: Liar’s Dice could be used in a way where players are collecting data or information (e.g. cyberpunk hacking) and bluffing about how much they have. A challenge could be called to have people show what information (i.e. dice faces) they actually have. This one might need some work, but I think there’s potential there.
My only caution would be that because Liar’s Dice has a decent amount of rules, it runs the risk of (1) slowing down the overall game and/or (2) pulling players out of the immersion of a TTRPG.
Some things to think about:
Not everyone loves bluffing games. I’m horrible at bluffing games and subsequently don’t really enjoy them. Other people really love them and think they are great! Know your players and what kind of fun is their preferred style.
Complex games are harder to integrate into designs. When we looked at Pig it was easy to come up with ideas, because there isn’t much to the game. Liar’s Dice is a small step up in complexity, and might be harder to use.
Old games can experience a resurgence in popularity. Liar’s Dice saw a lot of commercial production in the 1970s. Richard Borg’s variation of the game won the 1993 Spiel des Jahres!
I only recently learned about Liar’s Dice, while it seems like everyone else has played it. This week’s poll asks about if you’ve ever played the game!
Dice Week continues tomorrow! See you then!
— E.P. 💀
P.S. Give me your best (clean) pirate jokes and puns in the comments! 🏴☠️
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