30 Mar

Liar’s Dice

Filed under: Boardgames 2 Responses

What with all the dice and dice cups, this does look like a gambling game doesn’t it?

Just a few quick and much belated notes on another one of the games that Sean had us try while Shan’s nieces were here with us. The game we actually played was Bluff, but it’s just one of the many implementations of a classic design that according to Wikipedia has been around since the 16th century. Interestingly, this particular version is from Richard Borg, who also designed Battlelore. I’d heard of and read about Liar’s Dice before of course, but this was the first time I’ve actually played it though Sean tells me it’s a popular game to play in bars.

The basic idea is pretty simple. Each player has a pool of five six-sided dice and rolls them secretly such that no one else can see your results. In the version we played the dice had a face that acted as a joker result. The starting player must then make a bid, claiming that there are at least a certain number of a certain result around the table, for example, there are at least 10 dice showing ‘4’. The next player must then either call the bluff, asking for everyone to uncover their dice and count up the totals or raise the bid. The latter means either increasing the number of dice of the same face, e.g. there are at least 11 dice showing ‘4’, or keeping the number the same but raising the face value.

If the bluff is called and there are enough dice around the table to meet the first player’s bid, then everyone else loses one die from his or her pool for the rest of the game. Otherwise, for each die result that is short, the bidding player loses a die from his pool. These dice are returned to the board so that everyone can easily see how many total dice are left in the game. The person who made the correct guess then starts a new bid. Once a player runs out of dice, he’s out of the game and play continues until only one person still has dice remaining.

While all games using dice naturally involve calculations of probability, few are as blatant as this one is. The inclusion of the joker results, which can be used to stand in for anything else, and the fact that the dice pool changes over time, complicates things. Then add the fact that you are able to see your own result so you are really making a bet about the results of everyone else. The nieces joked about us being bad elders for teaching gambling games to children but I think this is a really good educational tool to practice thinking about probabilities. Finally, you can even bluff and bid for a result that you’re unsure about and hope that others won’t be courageous enough to call you out on it. When Sean tried to do this however, it backfired on him as I immediately called him out and he ended up being kicked in the very first turn.

I’m not totally happy that you get dinged for dice even when you totally have no role in the decisions being made or that until someone in the middle gets eliminated, you basically interact only with the two people sitting next to you, but I can see how these rules necessary for it to be the easy to learn, quick to play game that it is. All that said, I can totally see why this is such a popular party game. There’s an element of luck to be sure, but more importantly you need a good grasp of probabilities and a good sense of whether or not the next player is going to call your bluff. Judging from my nieces’ reactions, they enjoyed it as well and even though I thought they were far too cautious in bidding, the three of us adults were the first to be eliminated and the youngest one ended up winning. Go figure.

Written on March 30 2010 and is filed under Boardgames. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

2 Responses to “Liar’s Dice”


Hey there.
I’ve been looking for this particular instance of Liars Dice for a long time.
The version with the wild card stars.
Would you mind linking or sending me pages of where I could buy one of these?


Sorry, I have no idea. This copy is owned by CarcaSean Cafe in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. Here’s their Facebook page:


The owner will probably be able to tell you where to find a copy if one is at all available.

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