If you are not a Star Wars fan you might well be wondering what on earth this Sabacc game you have never heard of is, and why it has such a curious name.
If you are a Star Wars fan, you will probably be bursting to answer that question.
That intro no doubt gives the game away somewhat, but nevertheless, Sabacc is the most popular game in the galaxy in the Star Wars world.
If you watch a movie set on earth that has anything to do with gambling, you can expect to see the characters playing poker or baccarat or roulette, but if you watch any of the Star Wars portfolio and gambling is involved, they will most likely be playing Sabacc.
It’s a game for between 2 to 8 players, which uses cards and dice with the ultimate aim of each player getting as close to zero as possible.
When a player manages to get zero, this is known as Sabacc, just like when a player is dealt Ace/10 in Blackjack, it is known as Blackjack.
The slightly tricky thing with this game is that it was invented for the movie franchise to give depth to the Star Wars universe and push the story along, so gameplay rules weren’t properly fleshed out as it was never meant to be played for real. It was invented as a storytelling device rather than as an entertaining game.
This means other people have done their own thing with it over the years, so finding an ‘official’ set of rules isn’t really possible.
Plenty of people have had a go though!
How Sabacc from Star Wars is Played
Rather confusingly, there are more than a few different versions of Sabacc out there, and given the game’s origins, none of them can claim to be the original because the film never went into detail about how it is supposed to be played.
That would have been a pretty boring scene in an epic space adventure, wouldn’t it?
There are a number of real-life variants of the game out there though, so yes, it is one that can be bought and played at home, and the one you buy will dictate the rules you end up playing.
What we have gone for here, is the most common version of the game which also happens to be the simplest, Corellian Spike, so here we go.
What Equipment do you Need to Play Sabacc?
A game of Sabacc is played using cards and dice.
The cards are specific but the dice can be anything really, so long as they are matching and each face on each dice shows something different.
These are only used for potentially rolling a double. That could be a double 6, a double 2, a double red spot, a double picture of your best friend’s face, it really doesn’t matter. So long as the dice have the ability to roll a double ‘something’, and there are no repeats on any single die, you are good to go.
As for the cards, these come in a deck of 62, made up of 30 red negative cards, and 30 green positive cards, as well as two grey cards. The card values will be 1 through 10, and there are 3 of each card value in negative and positive form.
This means there are 3 x -1s and 3 x +1s, 3 x -2s and 3x +2s and so on.
By using the positive and negative card values, players can try to create hands that bring their total down to zero. For example, if they ended up with -3, -2, +5, +1, their hand total would be +1, because -3 and -2 equal -5 which cancels out the +5, leaving only +1.
Don’t forget those two grey cards though. These are both worth zero, so are valuable cards to have in Sabacc.
There is no game board or official betting chips or anything like that, although you can buy Sabacc chips from independent retailers if you want to.
Sabacc: Game Breakdown Step by Step
One player is the dealer, and this player will shuffle the deck as well as taking ownership of the dice.
They deal two cards face down to each player, starting on their left and dealing one card at a time. These cards should be kept secret from the other players.
The remaining cards are placed in the centre of the playing area and become the draw pile, with the top card being placed face up next to the deck and becoming the discard pile.
The first player to the dealer’s left goes first, and they have four options:
- Draw – The player takes one card from the top of the draw pile. They can also discard one of their cards to the discard pile, but this is optional, so if they draw they will either end up with 2 card hand or a 3 card hand.
- Swap – The player swaps one of their cards for the top card in the discard pile. The advantage here is they known what card they are getting.
- Stand – Take no action at all and pass play onto the next player.
- Junk – This is the same as folding. You bow out of the game for that round and lose your stake. However, your cards go onto the discard pile so other players can make use of the card you place at the top.
Once each player has had their turn, the dealer rolls the dice. If both dice show the same pattern, this is known as doubles. In this situation, the dealer takes all of the hands from the players and junks them, then re-deals new hands equal to the number of cards the player was holding before. So everyone has the same number of cards, but those cards will have different values.
If the dice do not show doubles, the dice part of the round is over and nothing happens.
Each player then plays another round with the cards, and the dealer rolls the dice again at the end of their turn. The rules are exactly the same as they were before, it is just a second round of the same game. There is then a third and final round of cards followed by a dice roll, after which all players must turn over their cards.
Now everyone can see each other’s hand totals, and the player with zero or the hand closest to zero wins.
The person on the left of the dealer for that game round now becomes the dealer for the next game round, and on it goes.
What if it’s a Tie?
Ties are not uncommon in Sabacc, especially in games with more players, so there are some tie rules built in to establish an overall winner.
Firstly, if two players are tied with zero, the player with the most cards in their hand wins. Presumably because it’s harder to win with more cards in your hand.
If there are two players tied with the same hand value and the same number of cards, the player with the highest value of positive number cards wins. So two players holding a +4/-4 and +2/-2 respectively would both have a total of zero, but the player holding the 4s would win as their positive total is 4 over the other player’s positive total of 2.
If it is still a tie at this point, the player with the highest value single positive card wins.
If there is a tie for closest to zero (i.e nobody actually has Sabacc), the player with the positive value wins.
So if the situation was a player with -3 and a player with +3 were the closest to zero, the player with +3 would win.
In either situation, if you still have a tie after all of these elements have been considered (and the odds of this are astronomical), both players draw one new card each and the player with the lowest value new card wins.
Predictably, if they both draw a card and it is a tie (this is getting ridiculous now…), they draw again until a winner can be found.
Betting on Sabacc
If you were paying attention, you will have noticed that there was no mention of betting at any point in that last section.
This is because the games that have been released in the real world have been aimed at the board game market, not the gambling market.
However, as we know from the films, Sabacc is very much a gambling game, and not much of a game at all without stakes; it’s actually how Han Solo came into possession of the Millennium Falcon.
The films never explain exactly how betting is managed in Sabacc, we just see that it happens, so we have had to come up with our own idea on how to implement some friendly wagers.
That overstates our imagination somewhat, as what we actually suggest, is pretty much betting before each round like you do with poker.
So everyone puts in an ante before the first round, then at the start of each new round players can check or raise etc. just as in poker until everyone has either junked or checked and the game can move on.
To make things more interesting, you could also add a cost of 1 x the ante for a draw and 2x the ante for a swap.
Additionally, some people create a separate pot called the Sabacc pot, which is added to at the start of each new game. If anyone wins the game with Sabacc, they get the game pot as well as the Sabacc pot, but if no one wins with Sabacc then the Sabacc pot rolls over to the next game, and thus can build in value.
In the films, Sabacc is always a high stakes game, but it doesn’t need to be for us mere humans playing for fun.
There probably needs to be something to play for to make the game work, but it doesn’t need to be real money. You could use poker chips and just play for fun and bragging rights, but if you do play for money then keep the stakes small.
You can buy replica ‘credits’ like they use in the movies if you want to keep it on theme, like a home poker set but for Star Wars.
What Other Gambling Games Exist in the Star Wars Universe?
When a franchise has been running as long as Star Wars has, there is an awful lot of lore to go through, and that has resulted in more games and even ‘sports’ that those from any universe can bet on.
- Pazaak – Another game that is a little like blackjack, in that the objective is to get as close to 20 without going bust. Players are dealt one card each per turn, but can also use special randomly assigned cards which can add or subtract numbers from your total to help you reach the desired number 20. It’s a good tactical game with lot of depth, but it can also take a long time to win the required 3 sets to take the game. You can actually play Pazaak in the video game series Knight of the Old Republic, first released in 2003.
- Chance Cubes – These are basically dice, but instead of showing numbers, 3 sides are one colour and the other 3 sides are another colour – usually red and blue. There is no one set of rules but the cubes were often used to make decisions or settle disagreements, i.e letting fate decide. People (or those from any planet) could gamble on the roll of these dice too, but there is no set way in which this is supposed to be done.
- Dejarik – Also known as Holo-chess, this is chess with holograms and fewer pieces. That’s an over simplification but it’s the long and the short of it. Each player has four pieces with different moving and attacking capabilities, which play on a circular board consisting of an outer, middle, and inner ring. The pieces are animated in the films, so when they ‘take’ another piece they actually attack them, but the real-life replicas of the game don’t yet have that ability. It’s also known as Holo-chess.
- Pod Races – Effectively this is motor racing or horse racing, so the pod racers try and do laps of the course faster than everyone else in order to win, and the crowd can bet on them. Unlike motor racing and horse racing, however, the racers built their crafts themselves, and were able to bump into other races to try and throw them off course. An incredibly dangerous sport, pod racers would have a shorter life expectancy than most.
Pod Racing is the only one of these that you can’t replicate in real life somehow.
Dejarik boards and pieces are available, and chance cubes can be bought from several places including websites like Etsy.