The most popular games in the Wheel of Time series are dice games and they are played exclusively for gambling by both humans and non-humans. Loial says:
“They play a simpler game here [Shienar], with only three dice. We use four in the stedding.”This article summarises what we know of the various dice games and compares them to real world games if possible. In the interest of clarity, the names of all dice games will be capitalised in the article; although in the series, games are sometimes capitalised and sometimes not.
- The Great Hunt, Friends and Enemies
The dice used in the games are of two kinds: dice with spots for most games and dice with small symbols for Crowns (The Dragon Reborn, Visitations.) In order to reduce cheating, the dice are rolled from leather dice cups. However, we know of two characters that did cheat: Dena in Cairhien in The Great Hunt, to teach Loial “a little lesson”; and Comar, who used weighted (loaded) dice in The Dragon Reborn, A Storm In Tear, to win money. Interestingly, both players died soon after cheating, which seems a drastic punishment!
In general, the dice games of the mainland appear to be of two kinds: totalling games, where the highest total number of spots wins; and combination games, where the aim is to have many faces showing the same number or symbol, or a numeric sequence. Other popular betting dice games involve throwing a particular number or numbers, but such games haven’t been described yet. It is also possible to make side bets on whether a particular player will win a round or not. In Tar Valon, Raab, a Sea Folk man, “decided to put his wagers on Mat” and so filled his purse (The Dragon Reborn, The First Toss.)
Quite a few dice games have been mentioned in the series. In Tar Valon, Mat played many games:
He played at Crowns, and Fives and Maiden’s Ruin. He played with five dice, and with four and three and even only two.In Tear, Comar used loaded dice to win at Crowns, Top, Threes and Compass as the innkeeper describes:
The Dragon Reborn, The First Toss.
”No less than a dozen times tonight, I have seen him [Comar] win at Crowns with three crowns and two roses. And half again as often, at Top, it has been three sixes and two fives. He tosses nothing but sixes at Threes and three sixes and a five every throw at Compass.”Comar appears to have two full sets of five loaded dice, one for crowns and one with spots, no more. With such dice, Comar can only play at games where sixes are the highest, not ones (aces).
“Weighted dice.” Thom said, then coughed. “When he wants to be sure of winning, he uses dice that always show the same face. He is smart enough not to have made it the highest toss – folk become suspicious if you always throw the king” – he raised an eyebrow at Mat - “just one that’s all but impossible to beat, but he cannot change that they always show the same face.”
- The Dragon Reborn, A Storm In Tear
We know that ones are high in some games, because Mat threw five ones (the Dark One’s eyes) in The Dragon Reborn, Caemlyn and Basel Gill remarked that it is the best toss or the worst, depending on the game. It would be the best toss in games where the aim is to get the highest combination and aces are high, and the worst toss in games where the aim is to get the highest total of spots.
Crowns is the most popular dice game throughout the mainland:
The spotted dice would do for a number of games, but more men seemed to play Crowns than anything else.It is a combination game where the aim is to get the largest number of dice showing the same face.
- The Dragon Reborn, Visitations
The dice used for Crowns have symbols rather than spots - crowns, roses, rods, stars, cups and one other symbol:
Rattling the dice in the leather cup, Mat spun them out on the table. They stopped with two crowns, two stars and a cup showing. A fair toss; no better… The blue-eye man’s toss rolled across the table, and the dice stopped showing three crowns, a rose and a rod.The symbols are ranked, with crowns highest. Five crowns is the highest toss in the game and is called the king. The probability of rolling the king in any one throw is about 0.0000214. Mat threw the king six times in a row in Tar Valon in The Dragon Reborn, The First Toss, and the probability of doing this is 0.000000000000000000000000000097 or so. Pretty remote.
- Lord of Chaos, Weaves of the Power:
The loaded dice Comar used for Crowns showed three crowns and two roses, and was a throw that would be very unlikely to be beaten (The Dragon Reborn, A Storm In Tear). Therefore roses are probably the next ranked symbol after crowns.
The real world game Crown and Anchor also uses dice with symbols: crown, anchor and the symbols for the four playing card suits (club, heart, spade and diamond).
Speculation: Just as the dice for Crown and Anchor include four symbols from card suits, the dice for Crowns also include four symbols from card suits, only they are the Latin (Spanish and Italian) or tarot card suits. Three of these are known: cups, rods (wands) and stars (pentangles). The unknown symbol would therefore be the remaining Latin card suit, swords. This would mean that the rose has been substituted for the anchor.
While the dice for Crowns resemble those used for Crown and Anchor, the games are different. Crown and Anchor is played with three dice and the aim is to bet on the appearance of particular symbols in the next throw. Crowns is most like the real world game Klondike (although Klondike is played with spotted dice). The aim of Klondike, like Crowns, is to get the highest ranking combination. From highest to lowest, these are:
- Five of a kind
- Four of a kind
- Three of a kind plus a pair (Full house)
- Three of a kind
- Two pairs
- One pair
When two players have made throws of the same combination, the combination with the higher number wins. (For full houses, the throws are ranked on the triplet first, and if these are the same, then the pairs are compared.) If the throws still rank the same, they are tied.
Straights (series of five sequential numbers) are not recognized in Klondike and they are probably not recognised in Crowns either. Aces are high in Klondike.
Robert Jordan has combined two real world games (Crown and Anchor and Klondike) to make Crowns, as he has also done with the playing card game Chop (see Chop article).
Top is played with five dice with spots. Top is most likely a combination game (where the aim is to get particular combinations involving multiples or sequences), rather than a totalling game (where the number of spots thrown are added), since totalling games with five dice are rare in the real world.
Comar’s loaded dice showed three sixes and two fives for Top and was a very high throw. Therefore sixes are highest and ones (aces) are low.
If Top is a combination game, the closest real world game would be Poker Dice. In Poker Dice, the aim is to throw the highest combinations as used in the Poker card game. The list of combinations from highest to lowest is:
- Five of a kind
- Four of a kind
- Three of a kind plus a pair (Full house)
- Straight (Five consecutive numbers)
- Three of a kind
- Two pairs
- One pair
Unlike Klondike, straights are recognised in Poker Dice. Either aces (ones) or sixes can be the highest number and this is decided before the game begins.
If more than one player rolls the same ranked combination, the combination that involved the higher number in the main feature of the combination wins. If necessary, the secondary feature of the combination can be compared. Single dice that do not contribute to the rank do not count. If the throws still rank the same, they tie.
Four dice are used for this game. For Compass, Comar’s loaded dice showed three sixes and a five, so sixes are highest. Compass could be either a total game or a combination game. In the real world, games using four dice are rare.
Piri, or Matches
This game also uses four dice. Mat played this in Maderin in Knife of Dreams and recognised it as a four dice variant of a very old two dice game from one thousand years before Artur Hawking called Piri, or Matches . The aim is to roll certain numbers and avoid rolling others.
The players place their starting bets in the centre and the shooter rolls the four dice. The numbers are totalled. The shooter rolls the four dice again. If the total is the same as the previous throw the shooter wins the wagers and the round ends. If the shooter rolls a fourteen or a four (the Dark Ones eyes), the shooter loses and the next player becomes shooter. Judging by its real world parallel (see below), if the total of the second throw is not a match of the first and is not a fourteen or a four, the shooter throws again and continues to do so until the shooter either throws a match (wins) or a fourteen or a four (loses). While ever the shooter wins, s/he keeps rolling the dice. If a fourteen is rolled on the shooter’s first go, that is a winning toss. The number four is a losing toss whenever it is rolled.
The game is a simplified four dice version of the real world game Craps, which uses two dice. In Craps, the numbers seven and eleven are a winning first toss, rather than fourteen, and the numbers two (snake eyes), three and twelve are a losing first toss. If the shooter reproduces the same total as his/her first toss, the shooter wins the round. If the shooter throws a seven for the second toss, s/he loses the round. If the shooter produces a non-matching total that is not seven for the second throw, they throw again and again until they either win (match the first throw) or lose (throw a seven).
Sixes is a high throw.
Speculation: the game is called Threes because it uses three dice, since Comar only throws sixes at this game and only three of his loaded dice roll sixes. It may be a totalling game, where the number of spots is added and the highest total wins the round.
Cat’s Paw, Third Gem (Ebou Dar), Feathers Aloft (Cairhien)
Two dice are used for this game, with one person throwing them and everyone else betting on his tosses. The stakes are usually equal, but Mat waived that requirement:
"I ... don't know if we can match that," said a man with a short black beard. "M'lord," he added belatedly.Dice are thrown until a winning or losing throw is made. The winner takes all the stakes and new stakes are made for the next round. A throw of a one and a two is an instant loss. A pair of fours is “an outright-winning throw” (The Gathering Storm, The Tipsy Gelding).
"My gold against your silver," Mat said lightly.
- The Gathering Storm, The Tipsy Gelding
The game strongly resembles Barbudi, a popular gambling game for two (although obviously onlookers can make bets among themselves) using two dice. (In Mat’s game it was him versus the clients of the inn, seeing as their pooled resources couldn’t match his own.)
In Barbudi, both players put equal stakes in the centre and then one player throws both dice. If the dice show 6-6, 5-6, 5-5 or 4-4, the player wins the stakes outright. If the dice show 1-1, 1-2, 2-2, or 3-3, the player loses and the other player takes the stakes. Any other combination rolled is indeterminate and the other player then throws the dice. The same criteria are used to determine if that throw wins, loses or is indeterminate. The two players continue rolling in this way until there is a winning or a losing throw. The winner then takes both players’ stakes. Stakes are ventured again for the next round.
The feature of the game is that:
both players have equal prospects to succeed, irrespective of which player takes the first throw.In this case, seemingly equal chance to win. Mat chose a game that would normally be fair, and then exerted his luck to lose (his first toss was a 1-2, which lost, just as it would in Barbudi) until the stakes were very high, and then win (with a pair of fours, which is also a win in Barbudi). Any of the betters could have pulled out, but their greed kept them playing. Mat was relying on that and used them as ‘cat’s paws’ (hence the name of the game) to win what they wouldn’t sell: sufficient quantities of the goods he needed. Mat the ‘shady’ character pays the extra price of being attacked by a town of ‘shades,’ in this case not entirely disembodied ones. And Mat is King of the Dead (see Mat essay) as well as a shady character. Or was Mat the cat’s paw of the Pattern? Mat has complained about being a tool of the Pattern often enough.
- Reiner Knizia, Dice Games Properly Explained
The scene ends with Mat claiming that he won the food and drink fairly.
This game is played with five dice and five ones or aces is a winning toss:
Mat brought the cup down and tossed a handful of five dice.... The game was called Koronko's Spit, and hailed from Shienar.The game appears to be a combination game like poker dice or Klondike (which were described above under Top and Crowns respectively. Aces (ones) rank highest in Klondike. In Poker Dice they may be highest or lowest and the rule books stress that it is important to determine which before joining in the game, something Mat neglected to do.
Mat did not know the rules.
"Five ones," said the man who stank of garlic. His name was Rittle. He seemed unsettled. "That's a loss."
"No it's not," Mat said softly. Never mind that he did not know the rules. He knew he had won; he could feel it. His luck was with him.
- Towers of Midnight, Into the Void
The name Koronko’s Spit was derived by Sanderson from a name drawn randomly from a WOT charity drive list:
Bryce Koronko, I named a game of dice in TofM after you.
- Brandon Sanderson on Twitter, 2010
The Dice Game in Mat’s Joke
The dice game Mat described in his joke in The Gathering Storm On a Broken Road is played with two dice and requires certain totals or throws: a double one, or, if the opponent player threw a six, double twos to win.
There’s not enough information to determine the goals of this game, or if there is a real world equivalent.
The behaviour of the mythical woman in Mat’s joke does have a parallel in dice games though. The game Liar’s Dice (and its many variants) is a bluffing dice game for a group of players where each player throws their own dice – five of them - under cover so that none but they can see what they rolled. The opening player makes a claim as to what their dice show. The next player either challenges this claim or accepts it by making a higher claim and the players after that do the same: challenge or make their own higher claim. A claim is higher than the previous one if the frequency is the same or higher and the number is higher (for example three fours is higher than three threes, which is higher than two fours). When a player challenges a claim, the dice are uncovered. If the dice are equal or higher than the claim, the challenger pays a penalty, if the dice are lower than the claim, the claimant pays a penalty.
Whatever game the man in Mat’s joke thought he was playing, the woman was obviously playing the bluffing game of Liar’s Dice. And playing it very well, so well she didn’t need to hide her dice!
The dice in the joke are blank, and are thus the opposite of loaded dice; they never show the same face, they ‘show’ whatever the thrower wants them to show!
In Tar Valon, Mat played at least one game with two dice. This game would probably have been a simple total game like High Dice, or else a game like Craps or Meine Tante, Deine Tante, where the aim is to roll a certain number and avoid rolling certain other numbers.
One last dicing game reference: the illegal Age of Legends board game zara, in which playing pieces made from humans were used:
the zara board projecting its field of still-transparent boxes in the air; he [Sammael] had always liked the more violent games.has the same name as a real world dicing game. The dice game zara or hazard is mentioned in Dante’s Purgatory 6:1-3, which seems appropriate since the Age of Legends board game was played exclusively by the Dark One’s followers. The dicing game of zara is a gambling game played with three dice, the winner is the player whose pips added up to a number previously called.
Lord of Chaos, To Understand a Message
Mat’s luck is strongest when he plays games that are random – like dice games. In many ways, dice are at the centre of his life - his money comes from dice, his horse, Pips, is named after the spots or pips on dice, and of course, he hears the dice roll in his head when vitally important, and often dangerous, events are about to occur.
Written by Linda, April 2004 and updated June 2013