# hist-games: Greetings and a question

Mon Sep 24 17:01:12 PDT 2007

```Hi Marti - hope this may help!

My translation from Jacopo Gelli, Giochi e Passatempi, 7th edition, 1989

Biribisso or Biribissi is above all a game of chance, played between a banker and as many players as you like.  It is analogous to roulette.

To play this game, certain special small balls are needed, each drilled through its length so as to introduce a number, from one upwards progressively.  Sometimes, however, instead of balls with a cavity they use solid balls with a flattened face on which the number is engraved.

The numbers, which may be more or less according to the usage of different parts of the country, correspond to another set of numbers indicated on a layout, in separate squares painted with human or animal figures.  The winner is the player who, having put a piece of money on a number, has the good luck to find that number drawn from the bag or vessel where the balls are placed and shaken up.

The winnings are in proportion to the stake.  For example, if there are 36 numbers, as we use in our region, the banker pays 32 stakes to the winner.  This rule is not constant but varies for other places, at pleasure.

In France, the game is played – though prohibited since 1837 – with a layout of 70 squares. 20 numbers are drawn and the banker pays 64 times the bet.

The game is ancient in Italy, and is recorded, for the purposes of prohibiting it very strictly, in old legal decrees and is still prohibited in modern times.  But it is permitted to play this ruinous pastime in one’s own house with friends and for small stakes.

Gelli illustrates in schematic form a layout with numbers from 1 to 36, arranged in a 6 by 6 square. Each square contains a number (half are red, half black) and an illustration, e.g. 1=Fortune, 2=Elephant, 3=Cherry etc.

Around the square are staking areas allowing one to bet on columns, rows or separate diagonals, or on other groups of six numbers according to the kind of illustration: women, fruit, men, flowers, quadrupeds, birds.  There are also staking areas for even chances:  odd, even, red, black, top half, bottom half, right half, left half.  Finally, there are staking areas for the outside and the inside of the square.

The odds of 32 to 1 given by the banker for a single number (compared with the theoretical odds of 35 to 1) are obviously ruinous for the players!  I do not know the odds given for the other staking modes.

I am happy to e-mail a photo of the layout given by Gelli if anyone is interested.  This is, of course, only one of an unknown number of variant layouts.

The use of illustrations as well as (or instead of ) numbers indicates that this game was played by people who were not able to read numbers, as well as others of course.

Obviously, you don’t need the special balls to play the game – the numbers can be on card, for example, and can be drawn from any convenient receptacle.  The idea of the special balls is to prevent fraud, though fraud was common!

Marti Livingstone <marti at neo.rr.com> wrote:
Greetings to all the gamesters,

I have become very interested in playing more period games at SCA events and at my group's revels. While the strategy games go over well with some, I am seeking games of chance that can be played by those not interested in the heavy thinking games. We had a great time last night playing Gluckhuas and Game of the Goose for chocolate. In fact, those doing the strategy games were a bit jealous over the whooping and cheers going on at our table when someone won the stake of M&M's.

But I digress. I have found a non gambling version of an Italian gambling lottery called Biribissi from "At Home in Renaissance Italy", the V&A Museum website. There was a description of play in Giacomo Casanova's book 'History of My Life', ppg 12-13. Any other reference to this game is in Italian which I do not read. Is anyone able to help me find the rules and instructions of how to play Biribissi?

If this has been answered previously, I apologize for taking up your time. I look forward to gleaning information from the archives.

Marti Livingstone

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