House Rules: Dudo, the Dice Lover’s “Bullshit”

For ages the drinking game has united humans in riotous, often misguided consumption. In our monthly column "House Rules," Drew Lazor explores the history and pleasures of drinking games throughout time and around the world. This month: dudo, a version of liar's dice by way of Peru.

house rules dudo liar's dice drinking game

It’s only fitting that a game powered by our innate ability to lie has an origin story that sounds like bullshit.

According to legend, dudo, a dice game that combines counting, chance and chicanery, dates back to 16th-century Peru, when Francisco Pizarro captured Atahualpa in a 1532 ambush. In an effort to win his freedom (or simply save his life), the last Incan emperor offered to fill the small room in which he was confined with silver and gold reaching up to the ceiling. The conquistador happily accepted the deal, but then went ahead and killed his prisoner anyway, convicting him in a sham trial, and then forcibly converting him to Christianity before strangling him to death.

At some point between his violent capture and grisly assassination, as this tale would have you believe, Atahualpa carved out a couple minutes to sidebar with his armor-plated oppressor, teaching him the super-fun dudo—which would make its way back to Europe to be enjoyed by kids of all ages.

Shoehorning cultural traditions into convenient historical narratives is far from uncommon practice, but it’s almost too perfect that dudo is derived from such apocryphal muck. Typically grouped under the larger umbrella of liar’s dice games, its roguish reputation precedes it. To excel, you must fabricate on the fly.

Combining the lightning pace of a childhood card game with a fluid group dynamic and the bluffing mechanisms of poker, it’s a diversion all its own—and it pairs especially well with drink.

Though the Spanish used dice in Europe prior to colonizing the New World, there is pre-Hispanic evidence of dice activity in what is now the Andean states. Anthropologists cite huayru or pichca, an ancient spiritual ritual that involved the rolling of carved animal bones, making it at least possible that the game has legitimate origins in South America. But no one really knows when dudo, in its current format, stuck. Combining the lightning pace of a childhood card game with a fluid group dynamic and the bluffing mechanisms of poker, it’s a diversion all its own—and it pairs especially well with drink.

Each player starts with five six-sided dice and a Yahtzee-style receptacle with which to roll them (these can be classy and leather-bound, though plastic is just as common). After each roll, players conceal the results with their cup, then proceed to make a series of verbal “bids,” trying to guess how many dice on the table read a certain number (“there are four 2s,” or “six 5s,” for example).

The term dudo (“I doubt,” en español) comes into play if you feel as though your friends are bluffing—and they definitely are. If someone slips into j’accuse mode and yells “¡dudo!” at you after you bid, everyone must lift their cups to reveal their rolls. If the dice on the table don’t support your bid, you must forfeit one die, then drink. (Same thing happens to the accuser if the dice read in your favor.) The last player left with active dice wins the game.

“A lot of the appeal [is] that the rules are simple and the tactics are simple, but it still isn’t easy,” says Craig Daniel, a dudo player and student of the game from North Carolina. It’s true—simple probability isn’t too hard to calculate in your head (at least when sober), but having the emotional intelligence to process and call out a friend’s bluff is the opposite of an empirical pursuit. This makes dudo an incredibly social game—even more so when everyone’s armed with pints, shots and/or cocktails.

“You’re more likely to get brash calls if everyone has been drinking and sensibility wanes,” says Ian Greener, whose U.K.-based Brimtoy games company sells a dudo set. “A little Dutch courage can lead to some more daring calls you wouldn’t normally make, and pulling them off is a real buzz.”

Dudo’s instant adaptability in a pub setting is a big reason why British entrepreneur Cosmo Fry, along with his Peruvian friend and partner, Alfredo Fernandini, decided to market dudo in London in the late 1980s. Promoting it under the name Perudo (Peru + dudo), Fry was able to make it the “it” game in the U.K. for a period in the early- to mid-90s, recruiting celebrity endorsements from the likes of Sting (Sting!), Richard Branson and his own distant cousin, the newly Twitterless Stephen, who described the game as “the second most addictive thing to come out of South America.”

Fry watched as tournaments turned into splashy nightlife events—complete with plentiful booze—granting him ample opportunity to vet dudo’s viability as a proper drinking game. “Countless people use shots as a forfeit,” he says. “I have even seen people try to drink from the leather cups themselves.”

HOW TO PLAY

There are countless variations of dudo’s rules, but it’s best to keep it simple when starting out. The game can be played with as few as two, but a minimum of four players is ideal.

As mentioned, each player starts with five six-sided dice and one cup, which is used to conceal rolls from all other players. Begin by rolling one die to determine who goes first; whoever gets the highest number starts off the action, which then moves clockwise.

After looking at the numbers they’ve rolled, the first player offers an opening bid to the group. For example, if you have two 2s under your cup, you could start there—or you could predict, with some mathematical certainty, that there are a total of “three 2s” among all the dice on the table, including your own. (Many players designate the “1” on each die as wild, meaning it can stand in for any number a player desires.) The next player must then bid either a higher total number of dice (“four 3s”), or a matching dice total featuring a higher number (“three 4s”), bluffing as needed.

If you think a competitor is offering up an unlikely bid, point and yell, “¡dudo!” in a loud, denunciatory manner. All players must then lift their cups to reveal their respective rolls. If the bid in question cannot be calculated with the dice displayed, the bidder must forfeit one die and drink. The same punishment applies to the accuser, however, if the bid in question can be made from the existing dice (including wilds).

The winner of the game is the last player with dice remaining. Fry is fond of a bonus rule here that ups the drinking ante even more: At the conclusion of each game, all players must take as many shots as the champion has remaining dice. “If the winner wins with four dice, all losers must drink four shots,” he explains. “This is quite canny, as it ties in the interest and trepidation of those who have gone out of the round until the conclusion of the game.”

Above all else, make sure you drink what you’re supposed to drink. Dudo, after all, is a game for liars, not cheats.

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