Some years ago, I found myself in a club in Chengdu in the centre of China– a crowded, chaotic city. Or at least a boy from Norwich thought so. Generally bewildered, I remember being beckoned over to a table where, without a word of Chinese to my name, attempts at communication reduced me to oscillating between apologetic smiles and increasingly creative hand gestures. Defeated by the insurmountable language barrier, I turned to go… and then I heard it… Rattle.
Familiar. The sound was definitely familiar. Rattle. It tugged at a warm thread in the back of my mind. Rattle. Camping holidays. Rattle. Kitchen tables. Rattle. My brother hurling dice at my head. Turning back to the table, I was delighted to see exactly what I had hoped for – one of the men offering me a plastic cup with five dice in it. Rattle.
Perudo requires no translation. The communication required can be as easily achieved with your hands as with words. The task is simple – each player starts the game with a cup of 5 dice of the same colour and players bid, bluff and blunder as they try to avoid losing dice. The last player left with dice is the winner.
Each round, players simultaneously shake, rattle and upend their cups in front of them, using the cup to conceal their dice from the other players. Shooting furtive glances around the table (someone is frowning, someone is biting their lip and Nick has that look he gets when trying to figure out the probability of 12 fives and making it through this round before going to the toilet), the first player makes a call based on how many dice of a particular number they think there are under all the cups on the table. They will take into account the total number of dice on the table and what they have under their own cup.
All ones are wild and are counted as the value of whichever bid is made. So, if someone bids for 8 threes, it is based on the prediction that there will be at least 8 dice around the table with a value of either three or one. Once the first player has made their bid, the next player can choose to make a higher bid or, if they do not want to raise it further, call ‘DUDO’ (‘I doubt’ in Spanish), or whatever colourful alternative you prefer to indicate scepticism and halt the bidding. At this point, the round ends and all players uncover their dice. If the bid is met, then the player who called ‘DUDO’ loses a die. If the bid is not met, then the bidding player loses a die.
Simple but addictive
While there are a handful of other rules that apply when bidding on the number of ones, when a player is reduced to one die, and when calling that the last bid made is exactly right, Perudo is a simple game to teach. However, like the best games, its simple rules are deceptive. Yes, probability is important, but it is in bluffing that the game comes to life. Under each cup, there is a world of secrets and considerations and misdirections. Each bid gives you more information and when your turn comes you have to ask yourself: What do I know? What do I think I know? Then what do I want them to know? What do I want them to know that I know?
It is the interaction with other players that makes Perudo so fun. Every round and every decision matters. Play it safe? Or put the next player under pressure? Challenge! Or wait? You can feel the tension build as the bidding moves around the table. With each bid, the group is pushed a little bit closer to the edge.
There is something immensely satisfying about Perudo. The cup feels too small to contain the dice, which feel like they are bursting with restless energy. They want to escape. As you wait for the next round to start, you cannot help swirling the cup round in your hand like Bond with a martini or Boris trying to get a point out. Once each round is underway, you cannot help sneaking another peek after each bid. Sounds like Claire also has fives… hmm she looks a little too pleased with herself… at least 2… if she has 2 and I have 2… I think I have 2… better check…
Perudo: Final Thoughts
Perudo is a simple but strategic game that has crossed continents and centuries. It derives from the family of games known as Liar’s Dice, with roots in South America. If you believe the rulebook, the Incan emperor Atahualpa taught conquistador Francisco Pizarro how to play and its enduring appeal is easy to understand. The game is better with 5 or 6 players, but you will be amazed at how often you find yourself pulling it out because it is quick to play. The box does not lie when it says it is a game ‘for ages 8 to 108’. Behaviour is important, so each game is different depending on the group and I have enjoyed games with young cousins as much as with cerebral graduates of Game Theory.
From Cusco to China, Perudo is worthy of a place in anyone’s game cupboard.
You never know where you might find it.