With a rich history that involves gambling halls as well as family gaming parlors, Bunco has actually changed very little since its inception over a century ago. This lively dice game traditionally involves a large group of players and makes it much easier for players to socialize and team up with a wider range of their fellow partygoers. The high-energy atmosphere and spirited competition that are typically part of a Bunco party have made this game a modern family favorite and the focus of many Bunco groups.
The History of Bunco
The game was developed in Great Britain during the 1800’s and was known then by the name Eight Dice Cloth. When it first made its way to the U.S., it was primarily played in the northeast, but didn’t see any real success until the mid-1800’s, when it was finally introduced to players in San Francisco in the days of the California Gold Rush. The few modifications to the original form of the game that have taken place were made around this time and the name was eventually changed to Bunco. It took off in gambling parlors, and the halls that featured the game became known as Bunco parlors.
During Prohibition, Bunco parlors were as notorious as the infamous speakeasies that could be found in all of the nation’s major cities. A “Bunco Squad” was even formed in Chicago in order to deal with those who would flout the law by promoting or playing the illicit game. These days, Bunco has taken on a much more family-friendly image and groups can be found in suburbs across the country that gather on a regular basis in order to socialize and play.
The Bunco Setup
A game of Bunco is based on a group of twelve players, though it can conceivably be played by any number that is divisible by four, with eight as the minimum. There is a three table setup, with one table noted as the Head table, another as the Middle table, and the third as the Losing table. Each table should be set with three dice, two notepads and writing utensils. The host should also have twelve score sheets, one for each player. Before the party, they can secretly mark four of the score sheets with a star and put them out of the sight of the players. At the Head table, there will need to be a bell or other sounding device to signal the start and stop of play for everyone.
A blind selection of the score sheets will determine who is seated at the Head table, with all of those who pick a sheet with a star on it there for the first round. The rest of the players can choose to sit wherever they like between the Middle and the Losing table and should know that this initial placement has no bearing on their final odds of winning the game. Bunco is purely a game of chance, with no strategy involved whatsoever, and to start at the Head table is nothing more than a formality.
Each of the tables will then separate into two teams and each player from a team should sit facing their partner. A player at the Head table rings the bell, and a player at each table then begins to roll the dice, in an effort to collect as many points as possible.
How to Score in Bunco
Bunco is a progressive dice game, with the most desirable number for a player to roll changing throughout the game. There are six rounds in a full set of the game, one for each of the numbers on a standard set of dice. In the first round of the game, the target number to roll is a 1 in order to score. In the second round, that number becomes a 2, in the third round it’s a 3 and so on. If the person rolling the dice gets a single target number in their roll, it counts for one point and two target numbers on the same throw is worth two points. If a player throws the dice and none of the three turn up with the target number, that player’s turn is over and they should pass the dice to the player to their left.
When a player gets three of the target numbers in one roll, they’ve hit a Bunco and they’re awarded twenty-one points, as well as landing one Bunco point. Since the player with the highest number of Bunco’s wins at the end of the game, players will want to keep track of their own Bunco count at the bottom of their score sheet. When a player at the Head table scores a Bunco or hits a collected twenty-one points, they’ll ring the bell and bring that round of the game to an end.
The only time that a non-target number is worth points is when it appears as a three-of-a-kind combo. Rolling three of any number that isn’t the target is worth five points and the player is allowed to continue to roll and add to their points.
At the end of the round, the winning team at the Head table stays there, with one player switching seats so that they will have a different partner for the next run. The losing team from the Head table moves to the Middle table and the winning team from the Middle table moves up to sit at the Head table. Meanwhile, the losing team from the Middle table switches to the Losing table and the winners from the Losing table move to the Middle table. All of the players should switch partners with every table change. Players will also want to record if they were on a winning or losing team on their score sheet, as this is a determining factor in who is named the ultimate winner.
This pattern continues on through six rounds, which is considered a set in Bunco. Four sets makeup a complete game and winners are announced at the end based on the number of Bunco’s that they hit and how many times they were on the winning team throughout the play.
If there’s one thing that players can reliably expect from a rousing game of Bunco, it’s undoubtedly a good time. This classic dice game has entertained millions over the years and its reputation as a crowd-pleaser ensures that it will be around to entertain even more for many years to come.