Play the MoonCake Festival Dice Game in Mid-Autumn Manila!

It's that time of the year again for a gathering of the Chinoys - that is, Chinese living in the Philippines. Every 15th of August in the Chinese calendar, they gather around for the annual Mid-Autumn Festival 中秋节 (ZhongQiuJie). It's also known as the Mooncake Festival because the pastries they give away called mooncakes are sold only at this time of the year. According to myth, the festival commemorates the story about an immortal husband (on earth) and his wife (on the moon) who were separated and are only reunited at this time of the year. The most popular story about the mooncake was when the rebels of the Mongol rule hid a note urging the non-Mongol Chinese to attack against the government and succeeded in overthrowing the enemy and established of the Ming Dynasty. The moon is also at its brightest, fullest and most beautiful form during this celebration.

I look forward to this celebration every year. The Chinese in the Philippines have a very unique tradition during the month of the festival - a Mid-Autumn Mooncake dice game (or Bua Diong Chiu in Hokkien) that has been passed from generation to generation. When I was young and still a student, I also took this as a learning opportunity. It's actually a dying tradition in a sense that not a lot of people are clear about the rules, how to go about it and how to organize a gathering for this dice game. It's pretty simple really and I want to show you how it's done to carry on this fun tradition. I believe even non-Chinoys will enjoy this game.

The Agreement

#The agreement is between a group of friends who want to take part in the dice game and would pay at least the full expense of the prizes equally (or else you will have a fixed cost once the prizes have been bought and nobody comes to the event). Of course, the more you are, the cheaper it will be or the higher the prize will be. Agree on this and accept that you're all in it more for the thrill of the game. 

An agreement regarding the rules must also be set before the game because the rules of the game have varied over time. There are at least two confirmed versions of this game and it will be explained in the rules section.

The Budget

Secure the attendance first. #On the average for this year 2010, P5000 for the prizes is still enough for a table of 10 to 12 people (more or less P500 per person). Bigger groups can be divided per table with the same number of people (just have the same prizes prepared). Add the budget for the food on top of this amount. The food is usually potluck (for friends) or buffet-style (for associations) or pizzas and doughnuts (for young-at-hearts so that you can start with the game quickly).


The Location

#It's normally done at a house (for friends) or at a hotel or party location (for big associations). I guess you could also do it in a restaurant (maybe rent a room and ask them to clear the table before the game, this could get a little noisy). Chinese restaurants might be more accommodating if you are occupying more than one table. Don't forget the essentials to bring wherever you are.

The Essentials

Six pieces of dice per table plus a big porcelain (preferable for that nice sound every time you throw the dice) bowl per table is a must. A rule guide is advisable too with a pen for the top prize listing. Plastic bags for the prizes would be handy too (big ones for big prizes, I suggest not to throw the original bags and boxes from the supermarkets). Lastly, don't forget all the prizes. Do a list of the prizes and group them together (Put some post-its if you want).

The Prizes

In the olden days of this dice game, the prize had evolved from mooncakes of different sizes to food for the small prizes and household appliances for the big prizes. #Nowadays, it's random food you don't like (based on experience from different associations) or cash (where people are all happy and you don't have to go to S&R to buy stuff). I like the income-generating one the most while I was growing up because my parents would always pay for the buffet and the associations would always subsidize the prizes with their event funds. Food is the next easiest target and gadgets that young people like (just make sure they are practical stuff and eatable luxury foods or of high-quality like Lays or Doritos). Note: Cash is King! We usually have mix in the cash for the higher prizes.

Starting the Game

#There is no set rule on who gets to dice first but some let the youngest ones roll the dice first. It can go clockwise or counterclockwise. In our case, we used the classic Kompyang Method and arranged ourselves based on our rank. Note: It's better to be one of the first ones though or the prizes might just run out before it gets to you. 

Basic Rules and Variation
  1. Do not let any of the six dices fall outside of the bowl (especially with children) or you will lose that turn. 
  2. #Only one throw of the dice per person per round.
  3. #There is no downgrading (getting of prizes from the lower combination) if there are no more prizes for a particular combination, even the grand prize. For example, you can't get the prize of One-4 if you diced Two-4 and there is no more Two-4 prize left.
  4. #Only one prize per person per turn.
  5. Only one person will win the grand prize, no sharing. #If no one dices a grand prize combination, it can be settled by highest diced number (six dices, yes start counting all the dots per person) in the table or you could just go on and on until somebody gets it.
  6. Once a person qualifies for the grand prize and dices another qualifier that is lower than the first, the last figure is taken and his ranking lowers.
  7. #After the last of the prizes had been taken, one round of dicing begins from the next person to determine the grand prize winner 状元 / translated as Champion (ZhongGuan in Hokkien) of the table.
  8. #Decide if ever somebody dices Six-4s, if he get all the prizes (including the ones which everybody got or just all the remaining prizes) or just the grand prize (downgrade if diced lower the second time can apply). It has been known to happen. That's why they probably reward these people for their super luck but all the people might not be happy about the winner taking all the stuff even those that they got already.
There are still a few things to be decided on but it would need the rule guide to demonstrate. The quantity of the prizes also have specific values, usually doubled or more depending on the budget. The combinations also have their own names which roughly translates to rankings in imperial exams in old China. This is a good and clear guide for the dice game.

From highest to lowest, the rankings and #prize quantity for this game are as follows:
1. 状元 - Champion in Imperial Exam - 1st Prize (ZhongGuan in Hokkien) - Dice Prize Quantity: 1
2. 榜眼 / 探花 - Top 2nd and 3rd Placer in Imperial Exam - 2nd Prize (TuiTeng/TamHue in Hokkien) - Dice Prize Quantity: 2 or 4
3. 进士 - Metropolitan Exam Passer - 3rd Prize (Si[4]Jin in Hokkien) - Dice Prize Quantity: 4 or 8
4. 会元 - 1st Placer in Provincial Exam - 4th Prize (Sam[3]Hong/Three Reds in Hokkien) - Dice Prize Quantity: 8 or 16
5. 举人 - Provincial Exam Passer - 5th Prize (Di[2]Ki in Hokkien) - Dice Prize Quantity: 16 or 32
6. 秀才 - Scholar - 6th Prize (Yit[1]Shu in Hokkien) - Dice Prize Quantity: 32 or 64
 #Sometimes if there are a lot of tables, all the Champions in the table dice again for a bigger prize. He who dices the highest champion combination wins.

The Prize Combinations

The word numbers refer to the quantity of the dice while the numeral ones refer to the dice number (1 to 6). The priority number are the red numbers in the dices, especially 4, since red is a lucky color for the Chinese.

1. 状元 - 1st Prize - Lowest to Highest - Four 4s, Five of a Kind, Six of a Kind, Six 4s - Grand Prize will be decided after the game so list down the qualifying combinations per person. Downgrading or upgrading applies if diced again (the last dice is the qualifier). #*Variations - There are different takes to the winning hierarchy. I suggest using the guide in this post for simplicity. It is all listed from 1 (highest) to 13 (lowest) in the 状元 portion. If there is a tie, they use the remaining dice as the breaker. For example, Four 4s with remaining 12 is higher than Four 4s with remaining 3. There are also some who argue that dicing Five-of-a-Kinds except 4 have equal value and the remaining dice is the qualifier. For example, Five 2s with remaining 5 is higher than Five 6s with remaining 2 because they statistically have the same difficulty level to dice. Again, it all depends on what was agreed upon before the game.

2. 榜眼 / 探花 - 2nd Prize - Straight 1 to 6 and/or Two Trios except if with 4 - #Some remove the Two Trios. It all depends on what was agreed upon before the game.

3. 进士 - 3rd Prize - Four of a Kind except 4s - #Some interchange the combinations for the 3rd Prize and 4th Prize depending on what was agreed upon before the game. They believe that four-of-a-kind is harder to get than three-4s.

4. 会元 - 4th Prize - Three-4s - #Some interchange the combinations for the 3rd Prize and 4th Prize depending on what was agreed upon before the game. They believe that three-4s is harder to get than four-of-a-kind.

5. 举人 - 5th Prize - Two-4s
6. 秀才 - 6th Prize - One-4

For simplicity, I have marked all the variations you have to decide and agree upon before you start the game with a pound sign (#) so just search through the post. 

I have just given you the task of deciphering the combinations for the whole dicing! You are now responsible for the claiming of prizes. Enjoy the game!

My luck will turn in the next years, my Friends!

Original Post: 10/5/10