Zilch Dice Game

The Zilch dice game is truly one of my all time favorites. That's partly because of how simple it is to learn and play, and also because it actually requires a fair amount of skill and strategy. Knowing when to roll (and when not to!) is extremely important when playing this game.


Game Specifics

Ages: Any age that can read the scoring chart.
# of Players: 2 or more
Required: Six dice and a piece of paper for scoring.

The most important part of learning how to play the Zilch dice game is knowing how to tally up your scores. This is usually the largest stumbling block for new players. To hopefully make this easier, I've listed the different scores below. I've also listed them on a free, downloadable Zilch scoring sheet. You can print that off and use it to play.

Scoring in the Zilch Dice Game

The scoring for the dice is as follows:

  • Each 1 that you roll gives you 100 points
  • Each 5 that you roll gives you 50 points
  • A 3 of a kind give you 100 times the number, for example three 4s gives you 400 points, and three 2s give you 200 points.
  • Three 1s are special and they give you 1000 points.
  • A 4,5, and 6 of a kind double for each one. For example, if you roll four 4s you get 400*2 or 800 points. If you roll five 4s you get 400*2*2 or 1600. If you roll six 4s you get 400*2*2*2 or 3200.
  • If you roll nothing on your first roll, then you get 500 points and you also get to roll again.
  • If you roll three pairs, then you get 1500 points and you get to roll again.
  • If you roll 1,2,3,4,5,6 then you get 1500 points and get to roll again.
  • If you decide to use all the dice, then you can roll again.

I realize that some of this may be confusing if you've never played, but don't worry. I'll go over the Zilch dice game rules and then it will make sense for you.

How to Play

So you're sitting there with six dice in your hand.. What do you do? You roll them of course! The game starts off with the first person rolling all six dice.

Using the scoring chart above, you tally up your score. Now this is where it gets fun... You don't have to take your score. You can decide to re-roll part, or all of the dice. If you rolled three 1s for example, you get 1000 points. But there's another three dice that didn't do anything for you. What to do here is up to you. You can decide to roll those three dice, or maybe just two of them. You have to keep at least one die, but you can roll the other five if you like. The choice is yours to make.

Of course, choices have consequences and the Zilch dice game is no exception. If you decide to roll five of the dice, then you've given up that 1000 points that you just got. Let's say that you didn't do that though. Instead, you decided to roll the other three dice that didn't give you any points. Let's say out of those three dice, you get a 5 and two 3s. At this point you have a choice. You get 50 points for that 5, so you'd add that to your 1000 points for a total of 1050 points. But what about those two 3s?

This is where the strategy of the zilch dice game comes in. Those two 3s don't give you anything right now. If you roll them again and they come up with nothing again, then you lose ALL of your points! On the other hand, maybe they'll come up as two fives so you can get another 100 points. Hmm, possible loss of 1050 points for a possible gain of 100? I'd probably stay with my 1050 score.

That's where Zilch gets so diabolical. You can keep rolling for as long as you want, but you run the risk of ending your turn with zero points. The only real rules is that you must keep one die from every roll and that if your score is less than 300, then you must keep rolling until you've reached that number.

Let's use another example -

Let's say that you roll six dice and you get a 1 and a 5. They give you 150 points, but because you didn’t get 300 points, you have to continue with the other four dice to try to get 300 or higher.

You can also choose which ones to keep, For instance you can choose to keep the 1 only and roll the other 5, but you must keep something after each roll.


Zilch

In the Zilch dice game, rolling nothing is known as rolling "Zilch". Remember in our first example when we were thinking about rolling those 3s? If we had rolled them and they came up as nothing (adding no points to our score), that would be known as rolling "Zilch" and we'd have lost all of our points for that round.

It's important to note that zilches only count when you've already rolled. If you're on your first roll and you don't get any points, then you roll all six again and get 500 points (see special rules below). If you score nothing on that second roll, then you rolled a zilch and lose that 500 points.

Specials

As you probably already noticed from the scoring chart, there are special rolls in the Zilch dice game. Here's a few more that only apply to special circumstances.

  • If you roll three pairs or a 1,2,3,4,5,6 on your first roll, you get 1500 points and get to roll all six dice again. Whatever you roll on this second roll you would add these points to your 1500, but if you get a zilch you lose the 1500 too.
  • If you roll nothing your first roll you get 500 points and get to roll all 6 dice again. You add your points to the 500, but if you get a zilch you lose your 500 points too.
  • If you use all of your dice, for example if you have three 3s and three 5s, you get those points and you get to roll all six dice again. You add any additional points to your score, but if you get a zilch you lose all of your points.

Winning the Game

The Zilch dice game is a points game. In other words, you keep playing until someone reaches a certain point. The way that I usually like to play is to 10,000 points. When a player gets over 10,000 points, all the other players have one more chance to roll again and add that to their total points. Whoever has the highest total points after that is the winner!

A Tip

One of my biggest tips is to know when to stop rolling. I remember getting three pairs, three times. That got me over 4500 points in one turn; however I kept going and lost it all. Don't get greedy, but don't be afraid to gamble either. It all depends on how you're comfortable playing!


Conclusion

I really, really love the Zilch game. It's got all the right ingredients for a dice game - Strategy, randomness, and most of all, fun! Don't let the score-keeping scare you. Print out our free, downloadable Zilch scoring sheet and keep it nearby. You'll get the hang of it before you know it!

Remember to have fun!