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This week for the first proper week of Hands on History Mr Ruddock and I chose to research and play Liar’s Dice. Overall we were very happy with how it went. We thought it was an enjoyable game, which gave us some interesting insights into what life was like for mariners and pirates, and what was important to them.

The Game was invented some time probably in the 1600s or 1700s, but it’s very difficult to know because there aren’t many good early sources. We know that it was widely popular with pirates, explorers and merchants in the Carribean, and we also know that apart from Liar’s Dice they also enjoyed many other forms of card and dice gambling games. The game may have originated from Peru (some modern versions call it Perudo) but we think this is unlikely because the Incas did not have dice until the arrival of the Europeans.

As a game Liar’s dice seems complex, but once you start playing it’s very simple. All players roll a set of dice and keep them hidden from the others, they then take turns bidding on the total number of a particular type of dice on the table. Players can only ever see their own dice, so the game involves a combination of luck, calculating probability, psychology and bluffing. The bids need to keep getting higher, and eventually one player will call another player a liar- at this point all the dice are revealed and the player who was wrong loses a dice. Rounds keep going, eventually when players are out of dice they’re out of the game. The last player remaining wins the cash everyone has staked to play the game.

We were very pleased with the fake money we printed which people used to gamble, and the pack of 20 tiny dice we got online for only $2.16. We thought that some boys struggled to understand the bidding at first, but they worked it out after a few rounds. Doing a demonstration game may have worked better, so everyone saw how it worked. We were really impressed with Ivan, who played with a bunch of different people and was sensible the whole period, he was the best bloke. By the end of the lesson Harrison had won over $800 and quadrupled his money, he was the best player. We’re really annoyed that we forgot to take any photos of the experience.

Playing this game was a fascinating look at what life would have been like for pirates and people at sea. We thought it reflected how much wealth they would have had access too, and how much they were willing to gamble with that wealth. Gambling would have been popular with people far from home without much to spend on. Also, it was a competitive game based on deception and boldness, which would have been important values to the kind of people who played it.