Bunco: A Quick Introduction
On the off chance you’ve never experienced Bunco, here’s a quick introduction on how to play Bunco. Bunco is a dice game where players take turns trying to roll a specific set of numbers. It’s usually played with 12 players and is social by nature rather than intensely competitive. The 12 players are divided into three groups of four, and each group gets its own table and set of three dice.
Three groups of four is the traditional, official setup. But Bunco is a flexible game. You can play it with larger or smaller groups, and there are rule variants that will allow you to play with an irregular group size (one that’s not divisible by four).
We’ll dive deeper into how to play below, but first, we need to gather the proper supplies.
What You Need to Play
One of the great things about Bunco is that it doesn’t require much by way of supplies. Each table needs a set of three dice, a score sheet, and a table tally. You can buy score sheets and table tallies online, although experienced players can keep score on blank paper just as well. Each player will need a pencil, too, since scorekeeping duties shift as the game progresses.
Lastly, the head table (more on that below) needs a bell. If you don’t have a bell handy, any other noisemaker that can cut through the din of the group talking will work.
Additional (Optional) Equipment
If you’re hosting new players or your group is entirely new, you might want to make some table cards or directional signs that show people which direction to move at the end of each round. Many Bunco hosts also have a fuzzy die, on hand (or some similar soft object). Some groups use a crown instead of a fuzzy die. This object is called the Traveler.
And don’t forget, this is a social event. Food, drinks, and themes or decorations are always a good idea.
Basic Bunco Rules
Here are the basic Bunco rules.
- There are six rounds in a set of Bunco games. Most games involve two, three, or four sets (12, 18, or 24 rounds in total).
- When a round begins (signaled by the head table ringing the bell), one player at each table begins rolling three dice. Tables play at the same time.
- The goal of each round is to roll the round’s number: round one, people are trying to roll ones. Round six, they are trying to roll sixes.
- A player rolls all three dice each turn and continues rolling until a roll contains no points. Then they pass the dice to the left.
- All tables continue rolling and scoring until one of the head table teams scores 21 points. The bell rings, and the play ends for the round.
- Players change partners and sometimes tables after each round.
Starting the Game
To start, divide players up into groups of four and have players take their seats. Players sitting across from one another are partners for the round, but this will change shortly. Each table needs a designated scorekeeper, who tracks points for both teams at the table. If you have players still learning how to play Bunco, it’s smart to start them across from an experienced player.
Once you hear the bell, it’s time to start rolling. Keep rolling and scoring until the bell rings again. When the bell rings to signal the end of the round, the person at each table who is currently rolling (including the one who rang the bell) can continue to roll until they score no points on a roll. When all have finished rolling, the round is over and scoring commences.
Team scoring is simple in Bunco. The goal is to roll the same number as the current round. So in round 1 the goal is to roll 1s. Each 1 rolled is worth 1 point. Next round, each 2 is also worth 1 point, and so on.
The other way to score is to roll 3 of a kind. If the 3 of a kind matches the round number, the player shouts “Bunco!” and scores 21 points. If a player rolls 3 of any other number, she earns 5 points instead. This is called a “mini Bunco.”
The roller keeps track of points earned during her turn. Once she “rolls out” (doesn’t score any points in a roll), she passes the dice to the left, and the scorekeeper records the score. If the roller is on the scorekeeper’s team (or is the scorekeeper), she records the score under “us.” If not, she records it under “them.”
In addition to team scoring, each player keeps track of certain stats individually on their own scorecard. Each individual marks wins and losses by round and keeps a tally of any Buncos that he or she rolled. These individual stats are relevant at the end of the night when prizes are distributed.
Advancing to the Next Round
Bunco is a social game, so expect to move around a lot! After each round ends and scores are tallied, all players will change either tables or partners. Winners move up, and losers move down.
- Table #1 winners stay at the table, but one player moves seats (and thus switches partners).
- Table #1 losers move down to table #2.
- Table #2 winners move up to table #1. The open seats are not across from each other, though, so the table #2 winners will not be partners in the next round.
- Table #2 losers move down to table #3. They, too, won’t be partners in the next round (see below).
- Table #3 winners move up to table #2.
- Table #3 losers stay put, but one player moves seats (and thus switches partners).
The only partners that stick together, then, are table #1 losers and table #3 winners—but they all move to table #2.
Completing All 4 Sets
Play continues as described through the 6 rounds, which comprise a set. Traditionally, a Bunco night involves 4 sets. Play continues unchanged through those sets. Breaks between sets are a natural place to indulge in whatever food or beverage is available. Breaks are also a great time to socialize further with friends old and new.
Bunco is certainly more social than it is competitive, but there can still be winners. What constitutes winning is up to the hostess’s discretion. That said, winners are typically individuals, not teams since partners change so frequently. Here are a few options for prize categories.
- Most wins
- Most losses (booby prize)
- Most Buncos
- Most mini Buncos
- 50/50 (even split of wins and losses)
- Last Bunco
And that’s it. We’ve covered everything you need to know to get started with your own Bunco party. All that’s left is to invite your friends!