Very few movie franchises can boast a fictional game that is almost as popular as the franchise itself.
Enter Sabacc from the Star Wars franchise, a name that even casual fans know well.
This single card game, shown on the big screen for the first time in Solo: A Star Wars Story, shaped the course of the original trilogy as we know it. It was while playing Sabacc that Han Solo won ownership of the Millennium Falcon from Lando Calrissian, sparking off a frenemy relationship that would eventually lead to Han’s cold fate in the Empire Strikes Back.
One of our favorite things about Star Wars is how deep and immersive the worldbuilding is. From both the movies and the tie-in books, you get the impression that Sabacc is a real game, not just a prop invented for a single scene.
That’s why it’s not surprising that you can, indeed, play Sabacc in real life. Like any good card game, there are different versions with different rules. You can purchase special cards, dice, and even replicas of the metal credits like the ones they use in the movies. A more kid friendly version of the game (removes the gambling aspects) is even available at Target and Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge.
The more screen-accurate the pieces, the more you’ll feel like you’re in a real Star Wars cantina, playing against friends and foes alike to become the best Sabacc player in the galaxy – or at least on your block.
What Is Sabacc?
Sabacc is a gambling game where the goal is to collect a sufficient number of cards whose values add up close to 23 or -23 – but no higher.
Below is a guide to the main components of the game.
There are two pots which players can win. The one called the hand pot is won by the top player at the end of each hand. The other is the Sabacc pot, which belongs to the player who can score a perfect 23 or -23, AKA a true Sabacc.
Technically, you can put anything into the pot. But for a truly authentic playing experience, you’ll want to use replicas of the credits used in the movies. The characters in the movies also gambled entire ships and cruisers, but we encourage you to refrain from putting your SUV into the Sabacc pot.
The one thing you never want to do is go above or below 23 or -23. If you do, you “bomb out” and must pay 10% of the hand pot into the Sabacc pot.
A typical Sabacc deck comes with 76 cards, 60 of which are divided into four suits of 15 cards each (similar to a real life card deck). The suits are Flasks, Sabers, Staves, and Coins. The cards in each suit are numbered 1-15, with 12 being a Commander, 13 a Mistress, 14 a Master, and 15 an Ace. Each of these cards increase the total number of points in your hand.
The remaining 16 cards consist of two sets of 8 cards. The 8 cards are special because, unlike the rest of the deck, they either take points away from your total instead of adding them, or don’t affect it at all. That’s why we refer to them as negative/neutral cards.
The negative/neutral cards are extremely useful if the overall points in your hand total more than 23. With just one or two cards, you can bring that total down below the threshold.
The 8 cards are: Balance with a value of -11, the Idiot with a 0, Endurance with a -8, Moderation with a -14, the Evil One with a -15, the Queen of Air and Darkness with a -2, Demise with a -13, and the Star, which may be either -17.
The Sabacc Shift
There is one last major element of the game that you need to know about. It’s called the Sabacc Shift, which is when a Randomizer changes the value of each card in the players’ hands.
The Sabacc Shift adds spice and excitement to the game, but also frustration. If you had a good hand, you can only say goodbye to it and hope your luck doesn’t change with the cards.
On the other hand, if there was a card you really, really didn’t want to get “shifted”, you could have put it in the interference field on the game table. This field would have prevented that card’s value from changing.
Back here on Earth, the Sabacc Shift can occur in the third round of a hand where the dealer rolls a pair of dice. If the dice each land on the same value and yield doubles, then that is considered a Sabacc Shift. The dealer must reshuffle everyone’s cards back into the deck and then deals new cards to each player based on the number of cards they had in their hand.
To save a card from the Shift, you can turn it face up on the table. This can be an advantage or a disadvantage, since now the other players can see what one of your cards is. You can try to bluff them, or you might just end up bombing out. You can do this anytime it is your turn—betting or trading rounds.
How Do You Play Sabacc?
Sabacc seems like it has a lot of elements, but after we break it down into easy steps, you’ll be betting and winning all the credits you could dream of in no time.
Before you can start, though, there are a few things you need to purchase.
What You Need:
- The Deck
To play traditional Sabacc, you’ll need a full set of 76 cards, including the 4 suits and the 16 negative/neutral cards. In our set, each type of card and its value are clearly marked so there’s no confusion. We even have each suit and the separate 16 cards sorted into colors so you can keep track of them more easily.
- The Dice
To make your Sabacc game feel real, it’s important to have a set of special metal sabacc dice that look and feel like the ones hanging inside the Millennium Falcon. We sell them separately or as part of our deck. Instead of pips, our dice feature the same symbols as the set from the movies.
- The Credits
Republic credits may not be any good to Watto, but you’re not bargaining for ship parts: you’re betting to become master of the Sabacc pot! To complete your quintessential Star Wars gaming experience, be sure to purchase our metal replicas of the credits they used in the movies and tv shows. You can choose from several different themes in our store, including Republic and Empire.
Here’s how the game of Sabacc works:
Step 1: Pay The Blind And Deal The Cards
First, you must choose a dealer. Then, the person to the right of the dealer pays a blind into the hand pot. The blind is a previously agreed upon amount (almost like a fee), and it must be paid at the beginning of each new hand. The dealer rotates through the players as the game goes on.
The purpose of the blind is to ensure that there will always be something to win in the hand pot, even if nobody bets.
Next, the dealer must deal two cards to each player.
Step 2: The Betting Round
After your cards are dealt, you can begin the first round of the hand, which is called the betting round. Here, each player takes a turn to bet, check, raise, or fold their hand, much like in poker.
The betting choices are why it’s important to have your cards dealt so that you can look at them, add the numbers up, and decide if it’s worth it to place a bet. Remember that you’re gauging your chances of winning the entire hand with your bet. You can always choose to “check” and not bet anything, or “fold” if you don’t see any chance of achieving a win with your current cards’ values. The betting always starts with the player to the right of the blind; in a two-player game, this would always be the dealer.
Step 3: The Trading Round
The next step is the trading round. Here, each player chooses one of three options:
- Draw a card from the deck
- Trade out one card (discard and then draw a card from the deck)
- Do anything (stand)
Which play you make should be based on the value in your hand and what you think will get you closer to your goal of staying close to 23 or -23. Of note, there is no option to just discard a card.
Step 4: The Dice Round
The final round is called the dice round. The dealer will roll the dice, and if it lands on the same two numbers or symbols, this signifies a Sabacc Shift.
At this point, all the players’ cards are reshuffled into the deck, they are dealt new hands. Play then resumes starting another betting round.
If the dice do not land on the same two symbols or numbers, then the players may continue the game with the betting round without switching out their cards.
These three rounds may be played over and over again until someone decides they are close enough to 23 or -23 to win.
How Do You Win Sabacc?
In order to win Sabacc, you must be fairly confident that you have the value closest to 23 or -23 among the players in the game. Then you must wait for the trading round.
When it is your turn in the trading round, all you have to do is say the word “Alderaan” out loud, this also forfeits your option of adding or trading a card. You are essentially calling the game. If there are any players who haven’t played in the trading round yet, they may complete their trade before turning over their own cards. Once again, whoever has the value closest to 23 or -23 is the winner. Negative values are better than positive values, so a -22 would beat a 22.
If there is a tie (called a “sudden demise”), then the dealer flips over a card for each player, and they must add or subtract the value of the drawn card to their total. It is common that one or both of the players will “bomb out” in that case they both pay the 10% penalty and the next highest player wins the hand pot. In a two player game, if both players “bomb out,” then the hand bot is just added to the sabacc pot. Other bomb out situations can occur if you have exactly 0 or if you call “Alderaan” without winning the hand.
The winner receives the hand pot, unless they are able to play an even 23 or -23. In this case, they also win the Sabacc pot, and all the riches and glory that come with it (unless all of the players have folded).
There are two special hands that are greater than any other in the game. The best hand in the game is an “Idiot’s Array,” a 0, 2, and a 3 (a literal 23). This hand will beat a 23 or -23 and can collect the sabacc pot. The second special hand is a “Fairy Empress,” a -2 and a -2 (a literal -22). This hand will beat a 22 or -22, but cannot collect the sabacc pot.
I’m So Excited To Play! Where Can I Get The Game?
Are you hyped and ready to become a Sabacc champion? You can buy all the components you need – the 76-card deck, the dice, and the credits – from our online shop here.
You better buckle up ‘cause once you start playing, you’ll never want to stop!