Date redacted: March 29, 1997
Redactor: Justin du Coeur
Sources: Willughby's Volume of Plaies, c. 1665. Also, Cotton's Complete Gamester, 1672. But the principal source is Willughby, since Cotton is (as usual) relatively cryptic. One detail taken from Randle Holme, Academy of Armory, London 1688.
This is a trivially simple little gambling game. Although it is played on the Tables (that is, a Backgammon board), the game-play is very little like most Tables games. It's more or less entirely luck, and probably would do best as a drinking game. Essentially, it's a race to see who bears his men off fastest.
According to Singman, the name dublets/doublets is seventeenth century, but references to an identical game called The Queen's Game can be found back to the mid-sixteenth century. It is therefore probably within SCA period. There is also reportedly a similar game in the Alfonso X book of games, much earlier in period.
I assume that the player is familiar with the terminology and play of Irish, or at least modern Backgammon.
This game is played on half of a standard Tables board -- that is, just the left or right half, with only six points apiece. This works, because there isn't actually any movement in this game. Each player has 15 men. Each player has a Box and two Dice, as in normal Backgammon.
Each player should place two men each on his ace, duce, and trea points, and three men on his kater, cinque, and sice. These men should be stacked, not laid out in a row as is normal in Backgammon.
There are two phases to this game: Playing Down and Bearing Off.
Playing Down -- Players take turns rolling two dice. With each roll, you "play down" the men on the points indicated by the dice. Playing down a point means unstacking the pieces. For example, you begin with three pieces stacked on the kater point, and two on the ace. If you throw a kater-ace (that is, a 4 and a 1), you unstack the man the is stacked on the ace, and one of the men stacked on the four. When you play down a man, place him in a row along the point, as you normally do in Backgammon. If you roll the number for a point that is already entirely Played Down, the roll is wasted. You are finished Playing Down the men when all of your pieces are unstacked.
Holme adds an interesting little twist: "... if one throws and hath it not, the other lays downe for him...". This sounds to me like, if you roll a number that you cannot use, your opponent uses it instead if he can. I see no evidence for this in Willughby, though, so consider it a variation in the rules.
Bearing Off -- Once you have Played Down all of your men, you begin to bear off. This is much as it is in Backgammon: you roll two dice, and take men off the corresponding points. Thus, if you roll a cinque-duce (a 5 and a 2), you take one man each from the cinque point and the duce point. Again, if you roll the number for a point which is now empty, the roll is wasted. You are finished bearing off when all your men are off the board; the first player to bear off wins.
Dublets -- There is one major tweak in this game, which is what happens when you throw dublets (aka doubles -- two dice with the same value). In this case, you play down or bear off as many men as there are pips showing. That is, if you are playing down, and you roll double fours, you may play down any eight men. Dublets are, obviously, very powerful, and hence the game is named after them. Neither Willughby nor Cotton is explicit about whether, when you are Playing Down and roll dublets of a value greater than the number of men left to Play Down, you can immediately begin to Bear Off with the remainder. I suspect not, but it is possible
A very silly little luck game, but worthwhile for certain times, when you just want to gamble without thinking about it a lot. This game has virtually no strategy, save in the choice of how you use what dublets you get. But it is easy and quick to learn, and probably quite nice for a rowdy and slightly drunk crowd...