Liubo: The Ancient Game of Strategy and Chance, Rules, and Winning Instructions


Liubo is an ancient Chinese board game that dates back to the Warring States period (475-221 BC) of Chinese History. The game was noted as popular during the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD), but its rules and gameplay have been mostly lost to history. Despite this, historians and game enthusiasts have made educated guesses about how the game was played based on ancient texts, artwork, and surviving game boards and pieces. This article will provide an overview of what we know about Liubo, including its history, equipment, and possible rules and strategies. I find the history of board games, especially lost ancient board games a fascinating subject, so let’s dive in.

Rules for playing Liubo

As I said already, the exact rules of Liubo are unknown, it is generally agreed that the game was played by two players on a square board with a distinctive, symmetrical pattern. Each player had six game pieces, which were moved around the board according to the roll of two six-sided dice. The objective of the game was to be the first to move all of your pieces to the center of the board.

It’s also believed that there were ‘house rules’ or variations of the game, much like modern board games. These could have included different starting positions, movement rules, or win conditions. We can only guess what those may have been.

How do you play Liubo

  1. Setup: Each player places their six pieces on their side of the board. The exact starting positions are unknown, but they were are likely on the outer edge of the board.
  2. Gameplay: Players take turns rolling the dice and moving their pieces towards the center of the board. The exact movement rules are unknown, but it’s likely that pieces could move in any direction along the lines on the board.
  3. End of the Game: The game ends when one player has moved all of their pieces to the center of the board.

How to Win at Liubo

Winning at Liubo likely required a combination of strategy and luck. The roll of the dice would have introduced an element of chance, but players could also make strategic decisions about which pieces to move and when. For example, it might have been advantageous to move pieces in a group, or to try to block the other player’s pieces.

Advanced strategies could have included trying to predict the other player’s moves, or setting up ‘traps’ by positioning your pieces in certain ways. However, without knowing the exact rules of the game, it’s impossible to say for sure what these strategies might have been.

Best Strategies for playing Liubo game

As with any game, the best strategies for Liubo would have depended on the specific rules and the situation on the board. However, some general strategies that might have been effective include:

  1. Controlling the center of the board. This is a common strategy I write about in most other grid-based board games. The center could give you more options for movement and make it harder for your opponent to reach the center.
  2. Keeping your pieces together. This could make it harder for your opponent to ‘pick off’ your pieces one by one.
  3. Being flexible and adaptable. The roll of the dice could change the situation on the board quickly, so it would be important to be able to adjust your strategy on the fly.

Scenarios for Liubo

There are many possible scenarios that could arise in a game of Liubo, depending on the roll of the dice and the players’ strategies. Here are a few examples:

  1. Good scenario: You roll a high number and are able to move one of your pieces to the center of the board. This gives you a strong position and puts pressure on your opponent.
  2. Bad scenario: Your opponent rolls a high number and moves their pieces to block your path to the center. You’ll need to find a way around them or try to dislodge them.
  3. Neutral scenario: You and your opponent both roll average numbers and move your pieces towards the center. The game is evenly balanced and could go either way.

Frequently Asked Questions about playing Liubo game

Q: How many players can play Liubo?
A: Liubo is a two-player game.

Q: What do you need to play Liubo?
A: You need a Liubo board, twelve game pieces (six for each player), and two six-sided dice.

Q: How long does a game of Liubo last?
A: Without knowing the exact rules, it’s hard to say for sure. However, based on the size of the board and the number of pieces, it’s likely that a game could last anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours.

Q: Can I play Liubo online?
A: There are no official online versions of Liubo, but there are some fan-made versions and simulations available.

Q: Where can I learn more about Liubo?
A: There are many books and websites that discuss the history and possible rules of Liubo. You can also visit museums that have Liubo boards and pieces on display.

For more information about Liubo, visit the official game website here.

You can see some ancient Liubo boards on display here.