hist-games: One-and-Twenty with Knucklebones

Susan and Michael McKay seaan at concentric.net
Sun Jan 28 21:51:26 PST 2001

```I thought some of you might be interested in a recent attempt at figuring
out the rules for One-and-twenty with knucklebones.

I was sitting surrounded by games at the West Kingdom celebration of Twelfth
night, as usual.  I brought a few extra games to supplement my small game
box, so there was a choice of about 20 games (not including the three decks
of cards).  I did not setup until after 8pm, but still had about 10 people
over the evening trying out various historical games.  Since I float around
and teach, I try to stay out of chess games and the like (takes too much
concentration for me to play, AND do a good job of teaching).

I have a set of the Rose & Pentagram knucklebones (I have been quite happy
with them, see the web link below).  I usually teach dexterity games with
them (kind of like Jacks), because this is quite different than most of the
other games I usually bring.  This year, I had someone who was very
interested in using them as dice, and asked me to teach them a game using
them.  Hmmm, I really did not know any game I could state for sure that was
played with knucklebones.  But the most likely game I could think of was
"21" or "31".

We played around with various sets of rules, but finally came up with the
description below.  I don't have any proof that these rules were played in
period, but the game was pretty fun.  I'd welcome any comments or feedback.

One and Twenty with Knucklebones
--------------------------------
Play with 5 sheep's knucklebones.  They are scored as follows (see
http://www.historicgames.com/RPdice.html for pictures):

1 - "flat" side
3 - "concave" side
4 - "convex" side
6 - "twisted" side

This is a banked game, where one player serves as the bank.  All the other
players place a stake before starting to roll.  The banker always rolls
last.

1) Each player will roll 5 knucklebones, and count the points.  If they are
over 21 (busted), they loose, and forfeit the stake to the banker.

2) Once they have counted the initial points, and assuming they have not
exceeded 21, they must decided how many more knucklebones they are going to
roll (0-5).

3) They roll the additional bones, and add the points.  Again, over 21 is
busted and they loose immediately.  If their total is 21 or under, they wait
for the banker.

4) After all other players have rolled, the banker will roll and reach a
total.  If the banker busts (over 21), he matches the stake of all
non-busted players.  If the banker did not bust, his total is compared to
all non-busted players.  The banker will match the stake of a player who has
a higher score, or take the stake if the player has a tied or lower score.
If the banker looses, the winner with the best score becomes the new banker
(in a tie, first player to roll wins).

--------
We considered a number of different rules, but arrived at this set by making
the following decisions.

1) We could have played to One-and-Thirty, but liked the idea that you might
go bust on the first role.  I guess we could have just added more
knucklebones instead.  Because of the way the knucklebones roll, "1" and "6"
seem to be somewhat less common, so going bust on the initial role was
fairly unusual (say around 1 in 10).

2) We know that this was a banked game, but had to decide upon a number of
issues:
* Does Banker win or push for a tie
* How does the "Bank" pass from player to player
* Is the Banker subject to certain restrictions (i.e. Blackjack requirement
that dealer must hit on 16, stand on 17).

3) We started off with the 5 bones first roll, but tried several methods of
adding additional bones.  At first, we let people roll a single bone, see
the result, and decide whether to roll another.  We eventually ended up with
a single decision on how many more bones to roll.  This was for the
following reasons:
* Added drama, made it more exciting
* Seemed to add a bit more intellectual challenge to the game
* Sped up the game play a bit, always a good thing for a gambling game!

-------------------

Regards,

Michael McKay  (known in the SCA as Seaan McAy)
seaan at concentric.net

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