How to Play Liar’s Dice

A Chinese New Year's Tradition Anyone Can Play

Dice
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Throughout China, Liar’s Dice (說謊者的骰子, shuōhuǎng zhě de shǎizi) is played during holidays, especially Chinese New Year. The fast-paced game can be played by two or more players and the number of rounds is limitless. Players usually agree to a predetermined number of rounds or set a time limit but none of that is set in stone; new players and additional rounds can be added as the game goes along. While the number of players and rounds may be casual, Liar’s Dice can also be quite intense as it's traditionally a drinking game. In China, in addition to holiday celebrations, it's also common to see it being played at bars, in clubs, and even outdoors at sidewalk restaurants.

What You'll Need to Play Liar's Dice

  • One cup for each player
  • Five dice for each player
  • One table

How to Play the Game

The first player, Player One, is determined by rolling the dice to see who has the highest number. Once play has started, the winner from the previous round goes first. If there are more than two players, decide in advance if the play will move clockwise or counterclockwise around the table.

Each player has their own set of five dice. In some places, the dice you have is known as your "stash." The total number of dice (five per player) is known as "the pool."

  • All of the players: Place the dice in the cup.
  • All of the players: Cover the cup with your hand.
  • All of the players: Shake the cup with the dice inside.
  • All of the players: Place (or slam) your cup upside down on the table, keeping your stash hidden from view.
  • All of the players: Lift the cup and look at the dice, being careful not to reveal what you've rolled to anyone else.
  • Player One calls how many dice of a certain value are on the table. This number is based on the entire pool, including his or her own stash. For example, Player One could call out, “two fives.” At this point, the remaining players can either accept the call and move on to the next player, or they have the option of calling Player One a liar. (It doesn't matter whether Player One has a five or not. Bluffing is not only allowed—it's actually encouraged. What matters is if the next player believes Player One is bluffing and calls him or her out on it.)
  • If Player One is believed, the next person becomes Player Two. Player Two must now call out a number that is of greater value than the previous call. For example, if Player One called out “two fives,” Player Two must call out a minimum of “three fives.” “Three fours” or "four twos” would also be unacceptable. However, even if the numerical face value is higher, Player Two cannot call out anything less than three of something. (For example, "two sixes" is not a legitimate call.) Again, if the Player Two is believed, the play moves on to the next player.
  • When a player's call is not believed, he or she is called out as a liar. At this point, everyone must reveal their dice. If the player who made the call is correct, the player who called him or her out must pay the forfeit. If he or she is incorrect, the forfeit is theirs. Once the forfeit is paid, the round is over and the winner begins the next round. If it's drinking game, the forfeit usually involves doing a shot of whatever the player is drinking. Of course, you don't have to drink to play Liar's Dice. Forfeits can also be money or some form of token.
  • Subsequent rounds simply repeat the actions of the first until the predetermined number of rounds or the time limit is reached—or the players simply decide to call it quits.

Tips for Players of Liar's Dice

  1. In some versions of the game, the one is considered a wild number, which means it can be played as any number between two and six.
  2. Beware of cheaters who use the edge of their cup to turn their dice as they return it to the table after seeing what they've rolled.
  3. When the venue becomes too noisy, players often use hand signals to indicate their calls rather than shouting them out. The first number is the "how many," the second number is the value of the dice. The hand signals are as follows:
    • One: Hold up your hand and extend the pointer finger upward.
    • Two: Hold up your hand and extend the pointer and middle fingers upward into a V-shape (like a peace sign).
    • Three: Hold up your hand and extend the pointer, middle, and ring fingers upward.
    • Four: Hold up your hand and extend the pointer, middle, ring and pinky fingers upward.
    • Five: Hold up your hand with all five fingers extended upward (like a stop sign) or pinch all five fingers together.
    • Six: Fold the pointer, middle, and ring fingers into a fist and extend the thumb and pinky fingers outward.
    • Seven: Make a fist and extend the thumb outward and pointer finger downward.
    • Eight: Make a first and extend the thumb upward and the pointer finger forward (like a gun).
    • Nine: Make a fist, extend the pointer finger and curve it (like making a "C").
    • Ten: Make a fist or using two hands, extend the pointer finger of the right hand upward and with the left hand extend the pointer finger to the right and cross it with the right hand forming a + sign.