Full disclosure, Farkel is one of my all-time favourite group games. I love this game, and am very excited to share it with you.
And there’s a lot to share. So, to help you fully appreciate what you’re about to dive into, I’ll give it to you in two narrative formats – a quick summary and full-blown description (including a sample round.)
I promise you, the pure, unadulterated joy this game has brought me and many of my training groups over the years is worth the few extra minutes of reading. But first, absorb this very short summary…
Teams earn points by throwing one of five winning combinations of six dice. A team may ‘pass the dice’ after rolling a winning combination and ‘bank’ their accrued points. Or, they may continue to roll the dice to earn more points at the risk of losing the points they have earned in that round if they do not roll a winning combination. All teams start with twelve ‘lives.’ Whenever a team rolls a set of dice which do not result in one of the five winning combinations, they ‘Farkel Out’ and lose one ‘life,’ and on rare occasions, two lives. Teams may avoid a ‘Farkel Out’ by playing cautiously and banking small amounts of points at a time. However, risk-taking is encouraged because not only is this form of play a lot more fun and exciting, it builds large scores which may be ‘purchased’ by the next team.
OK. If you got through that and your interest remains piqued, then buckle up…
To set-up, form two to five teams of one or two people, and invite them to sit around a large playing table, or sit on the floor, with team members sitting together.
On a sheet of paper, draw a column to record the progressive scores of each team, and mark 12 ‘Farkel’ lives (little strokes of the pen) at the top of the column under the names of each team. It’s often easier if you look after the scoring, but feel free to pass it off to someone else.
To provide a general overview, announce that the team which is the first to score 100,000 points with at least one Farkel life left, will win. Of course, no one knows what any of this means yet, but it will build the excitement.
Having mentioned points, most people will now be focused on how to get 100,000 points, so this is where my explanation often starts.
At any time the dice are thrown, a team aims to roll any one of five winning combinations – a 1, a 5, any three of a kind, a full straight, or any three pairs – because this will keep their current round alive.
In other words, any roll which results in one of these five combinations is considered a ‘valid’ roll, and will also earn the following points:
To be clear, points can only be earned from throwing one of these five winning combinations in the one roll. For example, three 5s cannot be deemed to be three of a kind unless they were thrown together in the same roll.
Finally, it must be said that any time a team rolls the dice (no matter how many they throw) and one of the above five winning combinations do not occur within a single roll, a ‘Farkel Out’ penalty will apply.
A Farkel Out means that this team will lose all of the points they have accumulated in their current round (if any,) and lose one Farkel life (from their total of 12.) Ouch.
But wait, it gets worse. If a team should Farkel Out when they have thrown all six dice, this is a called a ‘Fanny Farkel’ (a bum roll) and this will cause them to lose two Farkel ‘lives.’ Double ouch!
As just one example, a Fanny Farkel could look like this – 2 – 6 – 2 – 4 – 3 – 6 – because this roll did not result in one of the five winning combinations – a 1, a 5, a three of a kind, a full straight or three pairs.
So far, so good, most people seem to grasp the scoring system pretty well. I then explain, above all else, remember these two rules:
In either case, the dice are passed to the next team on the left.
Clearly the incentive and desire to build a bigger score must be balanced with the probability that a team may Farkel Out (at any time.) This tension is exactly the reason playing in pairs is better than as an individual. Watching the interplay and banter between the risk-averse and high-rolling members of a team is hilarious.
Oh, and once a team banks their points, they can never be lost or taken away. Ever.
Ok, we’re getting close to starting play (hang in there, it’s worth it.)
Here are a few more important operational rules…
Any time a team chooses to play on, they must first remove (or set aside) one or more of the dice which formed at least one of the winning combinations of their last roll. In some cases, this may only be one dice, or possibly multiple dice in the case of three of a kind.
If more than one winning combination was rolled, a team may choose to remove one or all of the combinations before throwing again.
For example, if a team rolled – 4 – 3 – 4 – 4 – 1 – 6 – they may choose to remove the three 4s or the 1 or both before they continued to roll again. If they chose to stop and pass the dice on to the next team, they would bank 5,000 points (4,000 for three-of-a-kind and 1,000 for the 1.)
Otherwise, they will be required to remove one or more of the winning combinations (in this case, let’s say the three ‘4’s and the ‘1’) for the chance to build on their score with the remaining two dice.
As with all rolls of the dice, a team must produce one of the five winning combinations to keep their chances alive – no matter how many dice they are rolling.
On the occasion a team has used (that is, set aside) all six of the dice – to reflect a series of winning combinations that were rolled during the current round – they are rewarded with the opportunity to roll all six dice again to continue to build on their score.
In this case, the team may grab all six dice (and start rolling again,) and continue to accumulate points as if all of their winning combinations were still visibly put aside.
Generally, I like to tell groups that the best way to learn is to play, for real. So, let’s explore what a sample round could look like, and all of the possible options along the way.
In typical random fashion, the first team to throw a 6 with one of the dice starts the game.
Continuing with the six dice rolled above – 4 – 3 – 4 – 4 – 1 – 6 – this team decides to remove the three 4s, and keep rolling the remaining three dice. The 1 could have been set aside also, but adding it to the remaining dice to be rolled gives the team a chance for a three-of-a-kind winning combination.
To be clear, this team could have played safe, banked the 5,000 points and passed the dice, but they decided to roll again.
Their second roll (using only three remaining dice) produces – 1 – 6 – 5. Which is good, because it keeps their round alive.
The team may now decide to remove both the ‘1’ and the ‘5’ or just one of them, in order to roll again. They could also choose to stop here, bank 5,500 points (original 4,000 + 1,000 + 500 points) and pass the dice.
The team decides to remove the ‘1’ and ‘5’ to continue to roll the remaining one die. In this case, they must roll a ‘1’ or a ‘5’ to keep their chances alive and build on their score.
In the event that they Farkel Out (not roll a 1 or 5,) they will add zero points to their bank and lose one Farkel life, before passing the dice to the next team.
However, let’s imagine that they, in fact, rolled a ‘5’ with the last remaining dice. This roll will increase their accumulated score to 6,000 points, and as all six dice can all now be set aside as having formed a series of winning combinations, the team may continue to build their score and roll with all six dice again.
Note, on their next roll (with all six dice), they will be risking their accumulated 6,000 points.
In essence, a team will keep rolling the dice until either they choose to stop and bank their accumulated points, or they Farkel Out.
This is where things get interesting, and distinguishes this, the original game of Farkel, from all other later (in my opinion, poorer) imitations – buying points.
When receiving the dice from a team that has stopped and banked their points (and not a team that has Farkled Out,) the receiving team may choose to start their new round on zero with all six dice, or attempt to ‘buy’ the points belonging to the current round of the passing team.
To buy the points just earned by the passing team, the buying team must pay one Farkel life for every un-used dice from that last round they choose to roll.
And with each of these purchased dice, if they roll any one of the five winning combinations (typically, at least a 1 or a 5,) they immediately ‘earn’ all of the points accumulated by the passing team in their most recent round, plus the value of the dice they just rolled.
We need an example to illustrate…
Let’s say, the passing team offers two dice to the receiving team (on their left) having used and put aside the other four dice in their efforts to have banked an accumulated 17,000 points.
The receiving team may choose to start afresh and resume with all six dice, or they could purchase one or both of the unused dice in an effort to roll a winning combination (in this case, with only two dice available, only a 1 or a 5 will suffice.)
Let’s say the receiving team chooses to buy both dice, which costs them two farkel lives. Then, presume that they roll a 2 and a 5. Woo hoo! This is a valid roll, which immediately earns the receiving team 17,000 points plus 500 points for the 5 they just rolled.
As already described, the (receiving) team may now continue to roll the dice (they must put aside the 5, and roll the other one to do so,) or they may pass the dice to the next team (and bank their 17,500 points.) The next team may, of course, choose to buy the one remaining unused dice, and so on.
Note, the initial 17,000 points is not taken away from the passing team – they are effectively duplicated, provided the receiving team, throws a valid roll with one or more of the dice they buy.
Continuing with this example, let’s say that the receiving team chose only to purchase one of the two (unused) dice, and they were lucky enough to roll a 5. The scoring is identical to above, but in this event, this team must pass the dice to the next team because they are not entitled to roll the one dice they did not buy. But, this unused dice can be bought by the next receiving team. Or not, it’s up to them, and their assessment of the risk and rewards involved.
Regardless of how many dice are bought, if the receiving team fails to roll a winning combination, they will record a Farkel Out and lose a further Farkel life. That is, it will initially cost the receiving team one Farkel life for every unused passing dice they buy, and then an additional one Farkel life if they do not produce a winning combination with their roll.
Yep, kind of expensive, but big rewards if the risk pays off.
Winning the Game
To remind you, to win a team must bank 100,000 points or more and have at least one Farkel life remaining.
Note, it is possible for no teams to win the game, because every team managed to lose all of their Farkel lives before any of them reached 100,000 points. But, I promise you, everyone will have enjoyed this journey.
One final parameter to share with you, to govern fair play at the end of the game when only one team remains.
When you get to the point when only one team remains after all other teams have lost their Farkel lives, this team will be permitted a limited number of rounds to help them win. The rule is, the last team standing will be entitled to play one complete round for every 10,000 points, or part thereof, they are short of 100,000 points.
For example, if all other teams have been eliminated, and the one remaining team has banked 72,000 points so far, they will be entitled to no more than three complete rounds in an effort to win.
As with the rest of the game, a round is deemed to be complete when a team chooses to bank their points, or rolls a Farkel Out.
The last remaining team will continue to play their allocated rounds for as long as they have at least Farkel life remaining, or they bank more than 100,000 points.
And that’s it.
Phew. Thanks for sticking with it.
Honestly, this is nothing on what is experienced actually playing the game. But, you have everything you need to know to make Farkel one of the most memorable games your group has ever played.
If you’re having trouble getting your head around any of this – please contact Mark, and he’ll be more than happy to help you out.
Ask each team to make up a fun name for themselves, eg ‘The Rockers,’ ‘Beach Babies,’ etc. This makes it more fun when referring to certain groups when you update progressive scores.
If possible, use really large dice (at least 2cm cubes.) It helps people on the other side of the table to more-easily what has been rolled.
Individuals work fine, but teams of two people are best. When presented with larger groups, I have invited teams of three people, but it gets hard to get everyone to sit comfortably around a table.
Hoot and holler a lot on big rolls. The more excitement you inject into the game, the more everyone will enjoy it. Indeed, some of my most memorable games have been those when everyone audibly and demonstrably supported the rolls of other teams. Woo hoo!
Encourage high rolling. A team can win by rolling once or twice in a round and banking small amounts of points on a regular basis – but, there will be no excitement in the game, not to mention the absence of significant points to pass onto a receiving team. Booooo.
I first learned playing for only 10,000 points. Once, when I multiplied everything by 10, the excitement and desire factors jumped exponentially, so I’ve stuck with this ever since.
Encourage teams to develop their own special brand of rolls and good luck charms, such as scratching behind their right ears before they roll the dice. Adds to the enjoyment.
A few hints from an experienced Farkel pro:
You may have heard of a game called Zilch or Dice 10,000– these borrow many elements from the game of Farkel (sometimes spelt Farkle,) but typically do not involve the passing of points and buying of dice. In my opinion, this means Farkel wins.
Clearly, Farkel takes something to not only digest at first, but play. Two hour games are not uncommon. And because it’s such an amazing experience, I tend to save it up to reward my most favourite or deserving groups.
What does the name mean? It’s hard to know, but I often think of the name as capturing the frustration of a team that has just been eliminated because they are left with …er, um Farkel (pro Fark-All.)
You could integrate Farkel as part of a well-designed SEL program to promote and maintain healthy and supportive relationships in your group, not to mention enjoy an outrageously fun time.
Specifically, this activity offers opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
There is no specific health & wellness perspective to this activity other than promoting the benefits of playing a fun team-based game and enjoying a good laugh together.
In a small way, you could argue that the effort required to successfully play Farkel speaks to the benefits of having developed positive behavioural norms in advance. For example, it is not unusual for the competitive fervour of the game to sweep some people away to the point they say and/or do something which they later regret. To this end, much like any other group exercise, this fun dice game could provide a wonderful opportunity for your group to explore valuable social and interpersonal skills.
If you can think of more explicit ways in which Farkel could be purposefully integrated into a health and wellness program, please leave a comment at the base of this page.
Infectiously fun & competitive small group dice game.
Fast-paced, competitive group initiative that's fun too.
Innovative tool that inspires valuable sharing & fun.
The game we are about to play sits somewhere in my top sixty favourite games, so I think you’re in for a treat…
When played in the evening, most people often find it difficult to sleep straight after playing this next game. I for one, need at least an hour to allow the adrenalin to dissipate, lest my head will still be spinning on the pillow. So, apologies in advance…
Coupled with one or more reflection strategies, here are some sample questions you could use to process your group’s experience after playing this thoroughly entertaining and enthralling dice game:
The inspiration for Farkel was sourced from my friend, mentor and adventure programming guru Karl Rohnke, who first introduced me to the game. His enthusiasm and sheer joy in playing Farkel will forever drive my desire to keep the game’s spirit alive. As always, with my eternal gratitude.
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