Visit a Chinese nightlife venue, whether it be a low-key restaurant, a dive bar, or even a fancy dance club, and you will inescapably encounter the rattle of 骰子 (shǎizi). Learning to play this simple game will give you an easy way to connect with new friends.
骰子 is the Chinese word for “dice” and a ubiquitous game played with them. There are lots of regional variations and house rules for the game of 骰子, but the core mechanic is always the same.
- Each player – any number of players will do – has a cup with 6 dice in it.
- The players turn their cup upside down with the dice inside and shake it (thus the rattle).
- Each player then looks at his or her own dice, but keeps them hidden from everyone else.
- The players take turns guessing at least how many of a specific number are showing on everybody’s dice put together. For example, “I think there are at least seven 4’s.” The number 1 is usually wild, and counts toward every other number.
- When it’s your turn, you must guess either more dice, a higher number on the dice, or both. So, if the last player said “there are seven 4’s,” then you can guess seven 5’s, seven 6’s, or eight or more of any number. But six or less of any number, seven 2’s, and seven 3’s are all forbidden.
- If the person before you made a guess that you think doesn’t work, then you simply reveal your dice to call their bluff. Everyone reveals their dice as well. If the previous guess was right (if there really were seven 4’s), then the person who called the bluff loses. If the guess was wrong, then you win for calling their bluff.
It sounds a little complex when typed out, but quickly becomes second nature. With two players, a game can easily take less than a minute.
At one level, 骰子 is just a game of simple probabilities. But like any social gambling game, there's also an element of reading bluffs and luring other players into traps. This confluence of simple rules, asymmetric information, and social components puts 骰子 in a sweet spot of being easy-to-learn, quick to play, and with just enough low-key strategy to keep things interesting.
While one could easily turn 骰子 into a simple form of gambling or a dedicated drinking game, in my experience it’s usually just an ice breaker, or a way to kill time with friends while nursing bottles of Tsingtao (China’s equally ubiquitous cheap pale lager).
Almost every bartender in China has a stash of dice and cups behind the counter, usually available to rent for a few RMB. So, next time you’re looking for a way to connect with new people, rent a couple sets of dice and play a round of 骰子 with some prospective new friends!