Shut the box is just complicated enough that a pictorial display could do wonders for your understanding of it. Have a look at the image on the right. This is what a classic Shut the Box board game would look like (with tiles 2 and 7 closed). Refer back to this image as you read the following rules to get a better idea of how it works, because it’s actually a very fun and easy game, and one that can be just as easily played with nothing more than two dice, a pen, and a piece of paper – and a friendly amount of cash to wager on it, if you like.
This game goes by a lot of names. Depending where you grew up, you might know it as Batten Down the Hatches, Canoga, Klackers, Shut the Box, or Zoltan Box. Back in the 1970s, followed by a short-lived revival in the late 1980s, the game was featured as a television game show called High Rollers, hosted by none other than Alex Trebek.
Common Variants of Shut the Box
The tiles in a classic game box will be labeled 1 thru 9, wherein the object is to close all 9 tiles. This is the most popular version of the game (pictured above), and the one we’ll be describing the rules for below.
Another common variant is known as a “Full House” game, where tiles numbered 1 thru 12 are used. There are also a number of variants designed to shorten the length of the game. They include:
3 Down Extreme: The 1, 2 and 3 are closed, leaving only 4 thru 12 open for play.
Against All Odds: All even tiles are closed, leaving only the odd numbers (1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11) open for play.
Even Stevens: All odd tiles are closed, leaving only the even numbers (2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12) open for play.
Lucky #7: This quickest variant of all (and not too popular because of it), this variation of Shut the Box closes all tiles except the 7. The players take turns rolling the dice, and the first to roll a 7 wins.
No matter what variation you choose to play, here’s how you do it…
Shut the Box Rules
Decide who will go first by having each player roll both dice. The highest value goes first. Each player then takes turns rolling the dice in an attempt to close all of their tiles.
A player’s first turn begins with all tiles turned up. This player will roll the two dice into the box. They can then do one of the following:
Important: To make the game a little easier, once tiles 7, 8 and 9 are closed, a player can choose to roll just one die instead of two.
If neither of the above plays apply (not enough open tiles to complete the play), the player’s turn is over, unless they’ve rolled doubles. Rolling doubles grants an extra turn, and allows the player to use just one of the numbers rolled instead of both, if they so choose.*
Example 1 – Mixed Roll
Player 1 rolls a 6 – 3. Any of the following tiles or tile combinations may be closed.
Example 2 – Doubles
Player rolls 4 – 4. Any of the following tiles or tile combinations may be closed. An extra turn is granted if none of these plays are available.
*Normally, both dice would have to be used in a roll. When doubles are rolled, the player can use only one die, closing the 4. Their play is not over because the doubles grant an extra turn. This is not a universally accepted rule, so make sure you discuss its eligibility with your group before you begin playing.
A players turn ends when they are unable to use both dice to close one or more tiles. The score is tallied by adding up the total of all tiles that remain open. For example, if a player still has tiles 1, 5 and 7 open, they would have a score of 13. The lowest scoring player wins the game.
Betting on Shut the Box
There are multiple ways you can go about wagering on this game. For beginners, I would suggest placing a small, static wager per player, such as $2 each. The winner takes all. In case of a tie, the pot is split.
Advanced players may wish to accept variable bets, based on the difference in total scores. You could do this as quarter per point, where a loss of 14 to 6 would cost the loser $2. This is simple enough in a 2-player game.
Sample 4-Player Game & Payouts
With a larger group of players, everyone would compare their score against each player individually. For example:
Player-A scores 15
Player-B scores 4
Player-C score 12
Player-D score 22
The payouts would be as follows:
A pays B 9 quarters ($2.25)
…and pays C 3 quarters ($0.75)
C pays B 8 quarters ($2.00)
D pays A 7 quarters ($1.75)
…and pays B 18 quarters ($4.50)
…and pays C 10 quarters ($2.50)
So, the end results are…
B wins $8.75
C wins $1.25
A loses $1.25
D loses $8.75