Monday, April 27, 2009

Shut the Box


Shut the Box (also known as Canogo, Plug the Leaks, Tric-Trac, Batten Down the Hatches, and many others) is an old dice game for any number of players. It’s a common “pub game” and is often played for money, although this of course isn’t necessary to enjoy it. There are many variations on the game, but I will be presenting the most common rules.


The game is typically played with some sort of contraption -- the titular “box” -- with the numbers 1-9 presented in such a way that they can be covered up. There are many mechanisms for doing this, some quite elaborate, and all completely unnecessary. You can print a free board here and simply cover the numbers up with tiny animal skins and tree bark (or whatever else you have handy). Or you could just make one yourself. It’s really not that hard.

Add two standard dice to that and you’ve got yourself a game. Maybe a dice cup if you want to get fancy, and a dice tray if you’re really up there. Or not.


The game can be played with any number of players, who will take turns rolling dice and covering numbers (or plugging leaks or what have you). Players roll the dice until they cannot cover any more numbers, at which point they receive a score based on the number left uncovered and pass the dice to the next player, who starts the process over. The lower your score (that is, the more numbers covered) the better.

Now, how you decide which numbers can be covered depends on what you roll. You must cover numbers in such a way that the sum of all the numbers covered is equal to the sum of the two dice. That’s an ugly rule, so let’s try an example: say the dice showed 4 and 1. The sum of that is 5, so you would have to cover a set of numbers that add up to 5. Any of the following would be valid:

  • 5
  • 4 + 1
  • 3 + 2

If you rolled a 6 and a 4, you’d have a slightly wider range of choices:

  • 9 + 1
  • 8 + 2
  • 7 + 3
  • 7 + 2 + 1
  • 6 + 4
  • 6 + 3 + 1
  • 5 + 4 + 1
  • 5 + 3 + 2
  • 4 + 3 + 2 + 1

Note that there’s no partial covering -- you either cover numbers to add up perfectly to the value of your roll or you don’t cover any numbers at all. If you can’t cover enough numbers to make the proper sum, you’re out of luck, and your turn is over. Whatever numbers you were unable to cover are summed and added to your score.

Choices The only available choices are 8 and 3 + 5

If you’ve already covered up the 7, 8, and 9, you can choose to only roll one die instead of two. You don’t have to, but it might be useful depending on your situation. Note that if any of those haven’t been covered, you must roll two dice.

The game is played for a certain number of rounds, and at the end of all the rounds the player with the lowest score is the winner. For a group of people this could be as few as one round; for two players you could do as many as ten -- it just depends on how long you want the game to last.

The game can also be played as a solitaire game -- just see how low you can get the score after a certain number of rounds, or see how quickly you can shut the box.