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A DICEY SITUATION
by (Bvt. Sgt.) Pvt. Mike Palada
It is just another day in camp with nothing to do. The Big Bugs have already put you through the drills from every conceivable manual. You and your chums are not scheduled for any fatigues. All of your brass, uniform, and kitting has been cleaned and polished over and over again in the endless battle against the Army's timeless enemies- Boredom and Monotony. Then what pray tell will save you and your fellow pie-eaters from that most grievous assailant, Tedium?
The sutlers? Nope. The regiment's sutler hasn't been seen nor heard from after skinning you and your bubs for watered down beverages, moth-eaten blankets, and moldy cakes. "Refreshments" then? Not for a long while. Ms. Tula just found religion and has converted her establishment into a traveling church revival. A game of poker or pharaoh? You could if you hadn't thrown away your playing cards, to keep them from being mailed home to Mother in the event of your untimely demise.
How about a period dice game then? Authentic dice can be fashioned out of lead minie' balls by hammering them into cubes and scoring in the dots(soldiers often fashioned minie' balls into dice and other trinkets). Some sutlers carry pewter dice, which will also suffice. If you are lucky you may find bone dice. Try Joe Hofmann at www.skilletlicker.com for future runs on hand-carved bone dice. For those interested, I have some available for inspection. Wood dice are also acceptable, as are ivory ones for all you dandies. Plastic Monopoly dice are not an option.[Caution, never point dice at others; they may be loaded.]
One of the most popular games of chance was Chuck-a-luck.. The following treatment of this 3 dice game is reprinted from the article "Period Games of Chance", by John Wedeward, http://www2.inxpress.net/jwedeward which is archived on the top-rail site, Authentic Campaigner, www.authentic-campaigner.com.
"Chuck-a-luck, also called "Sweat" and, sometimes, "Hazard", "Sweet Cloth" or "Bird-Cage", was probably the most popular dice game of the Civil War soldier. This game kept more men on their knees than did the Chaplains. Numbered squares, 1-2-3-4-5-6, called "Set ups" or "Layouts" were often painted on ponchos or gum blankets.
Three dice are tumbled in a cup and are thrown to rest face up. Players bet on the layout by placing their money on the numbered squares on the poncho corresponding to their bet. Bets may be made that any particular number or total will show on the 3 dice. The principal bets are:
Single numbers-1 to 6. If the selected number shows on one dice [sic], the house pays even money; on 2 dice, double; on all 3 dice, triple.(The odds are 216 to 199 in favor of the house, or about 7.9%.)
Triples-(also called a raffle) A bet that the throw will be any triple(all dice the same). The house pays 30-1 (actual odds are 35-1).
A particular total-from 4 to 17. (In each case the house pays less than the full odds, its advantage ranging from about 10% to 20%.)
High or Low-11 to 17(high) or 4 to 10(low). Or Odd or Even-odd or even totals from the 3 dice.
On the above two bets [high/low, odd/even] the house pays even money, but wins [player loses] whenever a triple shows. (These, however, are the best bets for the player, the house percentage being only 2.78%.)"
So, the next time you have nothing to do, gather 'round your comrades and give it a whirl. The game it exciting, fast-paced, and the more players, the more fun it is. But remember, if you play with me, bring your money! [Obligatory statement of denial: The Barleycorn Boys are not responsible for any individual Jonah's gambling addictions or losses do to Chuck-a-luck.]
Questions, comments, concerns? Fan-mail, hate-mail, something you want to see in a future article? E-mail it to me at TheBarleycornBoys@military.com, bend my ear at an event, or see if you can catch me at home. Bully!
This article was originally published in the January-February 2002 issue of The Shrapnel, the newsletter of the Turner Brigade. For information about The Shrapnel, contact Capt. Randy Baehr, Editor.