Q. So what is this game of Bunco?
Bunco has been around for a long, long time. It has been played in America at least since the 1800's. It's a game centered around three dice and usually three sets of four players, averaging a standard group of 12. It is a game of pure luck; no real skill is required other than rolling the dice. However, the game is played in upbeat and social settings involving a lot of eating, drinking, and talking, so there is always plenty to do! It's meant to be a dice game that provides a great reason for a group of people to gather and socialize.
There are lots of people who play this game in different groups each month. Many belong to multiple groups, which means they play Bunco weekly. It's amazing to think that this rather simple game of pure luck is so popular and has such an audience. But once you become a "Bunco gamer," it becomes easy to understand that it's the atmosphere, friendships, and the chance to have some genuine fun that makes it an enjoyable past-time that demands an encore!
Q. How can I start a Bunco group?
Essentially, you will need:
- Twelve people who are willing and generally available to play monthly, and able to "host" one month out of the year. (Keep in mind that if you cannot locate twelve people, then simply start your group with eight). Sets of four people work best in this game so if you find four more interested people once you're established, then add them. Or, once you get your group started, you can decide whether or not to grow larger.
- A set of people who are willing to be a substitute for the times when one (or more) of the regular members are unable to attend. It's good to have at least three to four substitutes, but more can be helpful. Also, when the opportunities arise for substitutes, it's a good idea to call on different substitutes so they're all given a chance to play sometime during the year.
- A copy of the playing rules, 9 dice, some score sheets, writing tablets or paper, pencils (one for each player), and a bell or ringer. Additionally, if you use money or surprise "traveling" prizes, you'll need a pouch. A box, bag, or container to store your items is helpful too. These are the basics.
- Someone in the group to create, distribute, and maintain a roster which contains names and phone numbers of all players and substitutes.
- Defined playing days and times, and who will host for each month. Many groups meet on a certain day of each month (e.g. second Thursday of each month). If possible, lay out all the playing dates for the upcoming month (set up as many in advance as is comfortable for your group.) This information can be added to your roster list so all game information is together.
Q. How is Bunco played?
This is a simplified outline to give you the idea of how to play:
- First, refer to the Rules page for some actual rules. Once you have a feel for the rules (and don't wait until you feel like an expert..it's really not hard), you're ready to play!
- In general, you have three tables of four people who are teamed up in sets of two. At a table, the two players facing each other are a teamed pair. The object is to roll for specific combinations of dice and accumulate points.
- To start, the head table rings the bell and you begin the first round by rolling for "ONEs" . A player is given a chance to roll once; if their roll contains a "ONE" they accumulate 1 point for each "ONE" rolled. Then, they roll again and only continue rolling as long as they roll a "ONE". If they roll and it doesn't contain a "ONE", then the next player is given the dice and rolls...and so on.
- During the round, points can be accumulated in some additional ways. If you roll three-of-a-kind of another number, say "FOURs" , you accumulate 5 points and allowed to continue rolling.
- To win, a person can (1) roll a "BUNCO", OR (2) accummulate 21 points before another table does. A BUNCO would be when a player rolls three of the number in that round, e.g. three "ONEs" . This lucky person would yell, "BUNCO" to signal to other players that the round is done, OR, if a pair has won because of reaching 21 points first, they would yell, "GAME" to signal the end of the round.
- At the end of a round, each table counts up the points according to the paired teams and the pair with the most points stay at the table. The team with the low points at each table gets up and moves to the next table (sometimes called "losers leave" rotation).
Q. What about Bunco prizes or winnings?
There are many versions used. Some groups play with prizes and some with money.
- A prize version of Bunco can consist of the hostess accumulating a set of silly prizes or nice items and then award winning levels of: most buncos, most wins, most losses, 50% wins & 50% losses, and sometimes a consolation prize for one or more other kinds. The "traveling" prize can be a special booby prize, or something nice. I've even heard of taking home a symbolic stuffed animal for the month as another funny version of a traveling award. If the hostess is using a special theme for the party (e.g. Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, etc.) the prize may be something that represents that theme.
- A money version can consist of $5.00 for each of the 12 people for the game fund, plus $1.00 for the traveling fund. When all the moneys are pooled together, the larger winning fund should be $5.00x12=$60.00, and the traveling fund should be $1.00x12=$12.00. Once the playing time is done for the evening, winnings are disbursed something like this: $20.00...most buncos, $15.00...most wins, $12.00...most losses, $8.00...50% wins & 50% losses, $5.00 from a name pulled from those left who didn't win anything else. The remaining traveling fund of $12.00 goes to the traveling winner.
Q. What is traveling?
The traveling fund or prize is often considered a separate prize that is won at the end of the game. Some groups set aside $1.00 each for a total of $12.00 combined, or the hostess purchases a small silly or nice (inexpensive) prize and places it in the "traveling pouch". To win this pouch a player has to roll three "TWOs" (or another trio of numbers that are not a BUNCO) and yell "TRAVELING"!. The pouch transfers (usually as a toss through the air!) to the player with this roll. The next player who rolls three "TWOs" repeats the yell and the person who had the pouch has to toss (or transfer) the pouch to the new winner. The process continues until the last round is played and playing time/evening comes to an end. The last person holding the pouch gets to keep the winnings or prize. (Note: remember the pouch is not a part of winnings; it needs to stay with the game supplies!)
Alternate versions of this are played too. I'm aware of one group that designated a different set of numbers. For example, instead of three "TWOs", they play for three "ONEs". But, most everyone who I've talked to usually follows the three "TWOs" pattern.
Q. What do some of these terms mean?...Definitions
Bunco - (1) Term for the fun dice game enjoyed by groups accross the globe. (2) Term for the occurance of rolling three-of-a-kind of a certain number in a round. (3) also, see Bunko.
Bunko - Means the same as "Bunco" and both terms are used interchangably. It is suggested that this is the true spelling of the game.
Ghost - When you are short a player, it's the name given to the absent player. Since you need four people playing at a table and you are missing one, you "pretend" there's a "ghost" playing as a substitute. The ghost's teammate across the table will do the rolling for their team, and can usually take credit for any of the ghost's buncos or winning rolls during the round. (Having a ghost as a partner can be very rewarding!)
Bunco Baby - Another name for a Ghost. Usually a stuffed animal or doll, the "baby," is placed in the chair of the absent player.
Round - When players start rolling for a given number, say "ONEs" and continue rolling until someone wins. A new round has said to begun after players have been reseated and are beginning to roll for a new number, say "TWOs"
Set - A set is when players play six rounds in which they have played for ONEs, TWOs, THREEs, FOURs, FIVES, and SIXs. It is common to play two-four sets during one night of play.
Traveling - Term used rolling three "TWOs" or any trio of non-Bunco numbers, regardless of what number you are rolling for in a round.
Q. What about hosting a Bunco party with a theme?
Bunco games can be centered around a theme: Valentine's Day, Mardi Gras, St. Patrick's Day, Cinco De Mayo, Octoberfest, and of course, Christmas themes. If you decide to add this additional "spice" to your party, just add some time to your calendar for preparation. It will be no fun if you exhaust yourself and cannot enjoy the fun too! Having a theme certainly can add to your gathering spirits but remember not to out-do yourself. The goal is to have fun! Here are some highlights of the party themes mentioned earlier:
- Valentine's Day - Serve food dyed in colors of pink or red. Chocolates, Valentine decorated cake. Pink punch. For table snacks, have conversation hearts, (Valentine colors) M&Ms, and some assortment of Valentine candies.
- Mardi Gras - Serve some New Orleans style snacks or meal; rice and beans with spicy sausage. Use fancy eye masks and have folks dress up in fancy attire. Lots of beads are a must! Serve a special "king" cake complete with luck baby inside. "Hurricane" punch I've heard is suited. For table snacks, have (multi-colored) M&Ms or Skittles, hot spicy peanuts, and type of "beaded" candy.
- St. Patrick's Day - Serve Corn Beef and cabbage, or perhaps an assortment of corn beef sandwiches. Irish beer or a green dyed punch. Green attire works perfectly and perhaps that luck-of-the-Irish will reflect in the game?! For table snacks, pistachios, and assorted green candies of course.
- Cinco De Mayo - Prepare and serve Mexican influenced dishes or snacks. Margaritas (virgin or the real kind), Mexican coffee or beer. For dessert, a flan is always the choice. For table snacks, have red hot Tamale candies, pistachios, and multi-colored M&Ms.
- Fourth of July - BBQ ribs or hamburgers, potato salad, and corn-on-the-cob. Apple pie with home-made vanilla ice cream. Any American brew will do. For table snacks, peanuts, popcorn, and Cracker Jacks!
- Octoberfest - Serve German kiboska, with sauerkraut, with German beer. Apple cider and apple pie is also a warm and wonderful treat. For table snacks, serve candy corns, popcorn and (the seasonal halloween colors) M&Ms.
- Christmas - A fancy assortment of holiday dishes: ham with gratin potato dish. Holiday red punch, spiked coffee, or hot apple cider. Have people come dressed fancy or in red/green. For table snacks, serve (Christmas colors) M&Ms and an assortment of your favorite holiday candies. Bring an ornament and have an ornament exchange at the end.