Saturday, June 7, 2008

Liar's Dice

Some people are big fans of bluffing games. I'm not. Perhaps it's because I suck at bluffing. I think it's also because I feel uncomfortable doing so.

Bluffing isn't, however, a major component of Liar's Dice. Sure the name implies a certain amount of fibbing will go on during the game, but by and large it's about calculating the odds and playing accordingly.

Liar's Dice is a guessing game at heart, and it reminds me of Spoof, a game that my father used to love playing with the family on long train trips or to pass the time at a restaurant while we waited for our meals to be served.

The particular variant of Liar's Dice we played last night involved all players (there were five of us) starting with five six-sided dice each. Each die was a standard die except instead of a "6" there was a star which acted as a wild.

The game goes like this:

Each player has a little bowl-like container which is shuffled madly too and fro in order to shake the dice up and randomise their results. Everyone then secretly looks at the results on their own dice before bidding commences.

Each time a player bids, they are making a guess as to the minimum number of times a particular result appears on all the dice in play. Generally, you'll look at your own dice and see what you have the most of and bid that.

You can make a reasonable guess based on the number of dice in play as to the probability of the number of times a particular result appears. For example, if I see three 4's when I look at my own dice, and I know that the other players have twenty dice between them, probability would suggest there are around three or four other 4's under other people's bowls.

[I'll just say here that I'm attempting to avoid confusion by writing dice results as the the actual number (eg "4) while writing the amount of dice as the number spelled out in full (eg "four"). I'm never really sure what the correct conventions are for writing numbers, but usually I'm just lazy and will write "20" instead of "twenty". Besides, I think it's easier to read numbers as digits rather than words. I'm pretty sure the format I've used in previous blog posts has been wildly inconsistent, but hey, it's not like I'm writing for a major publication. Anyway, I digress.]

Player 1 ["One"??] makes a bid and then the player to his or her left decides whether to make a higher bid, or call the first player out.

If a following player chooses to make a bid themselves, it must be for either a higher amount of dice, or the same amount of dice but a higher result. For example, a call of "three 4's" can be beaten by "four 1's" or by "three 5's".

Oh, that reminds me, I nearly forgot about the stars. Wilds are counted towards the result of the number called, so if the final bid called is "eight 2's" then everyone reveals their dice and all the 2's and all the stars are added together to see if the bid was successful.

So, when calculating the odds you need to take stars into account as well.

It's also possible to put in a bid just for stars. Stars are a little different in that (and I think I'm recalling this correctly) a bid of "two stars" falls between "four 5's" and "five 1's"; and "three stars" comes between "six 5's" and "seven 1's" etc. The reason for this is that you only count stars when the bid is for stars, whereas when you bid a number, you count that number plus all the stars.

Bidding continues around the table until someone decides that they are either unwilling to bid higher, or they think the previous player has bid too much. All dice are then revealed and the bid is counted.

If the amount of dice displaying the number that was bid, plus the number of stars is higher than the bid, then the bidder wins. The person who called them out must lose dice equal to the difference between the actual amount of dice and the amount of the bid.

For example, if a player bids "eight 2's", and the next player calls them, and when all players reveal their dice all the 2's and stars are added up to reveal there are actually ten dice that show a 2 or a star, then the player that called the bidder out loses two of his or her own dice.

The bidder is also successful if his or her bid is spot on. In this case every other player loses one die, not just the player who called the bidder out.

Finally you have the situation where a player is called out and he or she has overbid the actual number of dice with the particular result. In this case it is the player who made the bid that loses dice equal to the difference between his or her bid and the actual number of dice with that result.

Once the loss of dice is resolved, all players re-cover their dice, shuffle their bowls about, and the bidding starts again with the player to the left of the final bidder on the last turn (that is, the player who called the bidder out) regardless of whether the bid was successful or not.

Play continues until all but one player is out of dice. That player is the winner.

The bluffing portion of the game really kicks in when the number of dice in play dwindles and players try to con other players into believing they have particular numbers showing when they don't. If you sound confident enough, the next player may not call you out, and thus you won't lose dice if your bid fails.

Like most games at HoGS nights, I only played this once (finishing second of five) and I'd like to play it again some time to really explore the strategy of bidding and bluffing.

Again, this is a nice diversion if want to play a relatively fast game or don't feel like getting into anything too taxing. It's enjoyable, especially bantering with the other players as you try to hang on to all of your dice.

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