The Chinese have a version of backgammon called coan ki (“the game of the vases”).  This game is played on a rectangular board divided laterally into eight parts along which small (and often beautifully carved ) ivory “vases” are moved in accordance with the throws of two dice, from one end to the other and backgammon again.  The first player to get home wins, provided he has a majority holding of vases.

Shing kun t’o, “The Game of the Promotion of Mandarins,” another Chinese game, is popular today almost everywhere in the world where there is an Oriental population.  It is played on a big rectangular paper or silt chart divided along one long edge into eight headings beneath which are listed various civil service appointments.  The players move colored counters, in accordance with the throws of four dice, upward or downward through the grades of promotion.

There are several Japanese versions of this poker game, which are known generally as sugoroku (a word meaning “double sixes” that is applied to any game in which a player’s success depends on his throwing a higher number than his opponent).  These versions are played variously on paper charts, wooden boards, or boxes with compartments; the stages of progress through which players move their pieces are sometimes symbolic (from night to day, across rivers of time, and through obstacles represented by black and white watching “eyes”), sometimes professional (as in the Chinese game), sometimes dynastic (with the players relying on the dice to get them attached to the dynastically “right” families), and sometimes topographical (in which the stages are the stages of a journey with all the hazards of precipices, whirlpools, and the like).

In the Far East, the One and Four (or sometimes the Three and Four) on the dice are spotted in red.  This practice is explained in a legendary story of a Ming emperor, who was playing sugoroku and needed one and Four (or Three and Four, depending on the version you hear) to win.  He called to the dice to fall as be wanted them (thereby, perhaps, originating the superstitious practice of whispering to the dice before throwing them).  They came up, and he commanded that from then on Ones and Fours on all dice used in his empire should be painted red.

In many Eastern games, dice are used on their own account rather than as motivators; and the dice are conventionally of different sizes for different games.  They can range from one range from one fifth of an inch to a full inch in cubic size.  (Also, in accordance with the Eastern principle of introducing as much beauty as possible into mundane things, dice are thrown into decorated porcelain bowls instead of onto any surface that happens to be around.)  The biggest dice are used in the popular texas holdem game sing luck (“four, five six”) and three of them are thrown at a time by each player.  The first player throws until he gets either of the following: three dice showing alike; a Four, Five, and Six; two alike with the third die ignored unless it’s a one; or one, Two and three.
The smaller dice are used in chak t’in kan (“throwing heaven and nine”), a game in which 21 different combinations of throws are divided into “civil” and “military” ranks.  Pairs of Sixes, Ones, Fours, and Fives, and a combination of one and Three are called (respectively ) Heaven, Earth, Man Plum Blossom and Harmony.

The somewhat harsher name of pat cha (“grasping eight”) is given to a dice game in which individual players bet against a banker has a facsimile plan of the six faces of a die on which the players put their stakes, as on a roulette table.  The player has only two chances of winning:  If among his eight thrown dice three, four, or five fall showing the number he has bet on, the banker pays him eight times his stake; if six or more duplicate his number, he gets paid 16 times his stake.  With any other throw he loses.  Games resembling pat cha are played in India, Manila and Portugal (in the last, the game is called pirinola) with a teetotum (or spinning top)  instead of a die.  But the six sides of the top are marked exactly as if it were a die, with the One and Four in red.

Versions of pat cha (all these Chinese games have countless variations and offshoots ) seem to be the most popular kind of dice game in settlements of emigré Chinese in other countries.  In modern China, the Communist regime has denounced gambling as a subversive activity.  Yet travelers in China have told me that groups of dice players can often be seen gambling in bars with apparently no attempt to hide their activity.

Dice were not always (and, indeed, still are not) exclusively cubical in form.  Several European museums show Egyptian polyhedral dice of golf-ball size with so many faces that there must have been some difficulty in deciding which had fallen uppermost.  The four-sided die-or astragal-was commonly used in the East well into the 10th century and games with natural and manufactured astragals are still almost as numerous as the games with cubes.  Korea, India, and Indonesia have dice in the form of rectangular prisms (some with conical or polyhedral ends and some oblongated).
The sequence of spots on the four sides of long rectangular dice is never consecutive.  Sometimes One, Three, Four, and Six and; rectangular dice sold in pairs will often have different sequences of numbers on each one of the pair.  (This custom may be intended to imitate the slight difference in pairs of natural astragals, which are usually the right and left ankle bones of the same animal.)  Even on Asian cubical dice the numbering scheme is not as rigidly adhered to as in Europe, where the Six and the One and Five and Two, and Four and Three are always on opposite sides.  Eastern dice occasionally have the two and Three, the Four and Six, and the One and Five on opposite sides.

Both European and Asian countries have in the past named the different sides of the dice to suit their numerical status.  In Europe the names have usually corresponded with social conditions (Slave, Peasant, Consul, Emperor, Viceroy, King); in Asia they have been linked with aesthetic or contemplative pleasures  (Harmony, Nature, Beauty, Heaven, Earth, Landscape).  Even today one sometimes hears the echo of such nomenclature.  In London recently a policewoman discovered some young girls entertaining (if that’s the right word) their boy friends in a women’s public lavatory.  The boys were throwing dice to decide which of them should pair off with which girl.  The policewoman heard one of the boys using the phrase “eye of God,” and the magistrate who tried the case was told that it was another name for the One on a dice.  Similarly, modern craps players use a fairly exotic slang for various combinations of two dice: “snake eyes” for Two, “boxcars” for Twelve, “little Joe” for Four, “ninety days” for Nine, and so on.

            One of the physical transformations dice have gone through is into the form of dominoes.  There are Chinese legends to account for the invention of dominoes as far backgammon as the 12th century b.c.,  but if they existed at that time they would probably have been used for divination rather than for gaming.  In both Korea and India dominoes developed are still used for fortune telling, and there is a possibility that dominoes developed as a form of dice suitable for use without danger in occult matters.  It was presumably though that to use the same implements for both play poker gambling and probing the mysteries of the unknown might have brought disaster.