How to Host a Bunco Party or how do you Play Bunco or Starting a Bunco Group

You are new to a neighborhood and want to meet some ladies for socializing.  You are home all day with young kids and want some adult stimulation in the evening with a night with the ladies.  You have a stressful career and after a long day’s toil, you look forward to a carefree evening with the ladies, combined with good food, drink and conversation.  All of these occasions are perfect scenarios for a Bunco Party.

What the heck is “Bunco”?

Bunco is a simple dice game akin to Yahtzee.  You can build your own Bunco kit, you need not buy the board game/kit.  The kits are available for about $10-15 at most game and Big Box stores.  You play with a bell, whistle or noisemaker, three dice, a pad of paper, pens or pencils, and a group of ladies (in multiples of four).  Presumably men or couples can play, but this author has only experienced Bunco for females.  Also, because it is played at night usually, and involves alcohol for the refreshments often, children rarely, if ever, play in Bunco groups.  The supplies are simple.  

You can add on optional “extras” like prizes for the winners, prizes for the losers, appetizers, snacks, wine and beer, prizes for the most “Bunco” rolls (a roll of three of a kind except for all 1’s).  The game involves little skill and concentration, and as a result, is the perfect game for mixed groups of old and new friends because it facilitates mingling and conversation.  The ladies who play usually have plenty of time and concentration for play, gossip, and the enjoyment of food and drink. It is an easy game to play while multi-tasking which has contributed to its vast recent popularity. 

How exactly do you form a Bunco group and host a Bunco party? Let’s break it down. 

Invitations and Calendaring the Party:

To host a Bunco party, you start with paper invitation or Evite and invite a group of ideally at least 12-16 ladies, with the hopes of having 4-8 players show up for the party, at a minimum.  You can have as few as 4 and there is no maximum, although, you need sufficient room for play in the hostess’ house.  This writer has played with as few as 4 and as many as 16.

In this writer’s experience, week nights work the best for the least conflicts.  It is ideal to give at least two weeks’ notice to attendees, especially if the night for the party is not a predetermined day of the month each month and if attendees are being asked to bring food or drink items to share.  Most Bunco parties are held from 6-9 pm, 6-10 pm, 7-10 pm, or something similar.  If babysitters, early school or work mornings, or babysitting spouses are involved, it’s nice to set a stop time.  Also, the hostess is likely to have “banished” her husband and/or kids from their home or at least a part of the home for the party, so it’s nice to have a stop time to allow for clean-up and the family’s return to their home and its full usage and enjoyment. 

Food and Drink:

Bunco parties can be held in lieu of dinner (given the usual time window of 6-10 pm for play) with heavy appetizers and snacks or after dinner with dessert and snack items if you want food to be a part of your celebration.  A good way to introduce food and ease the burden on the hostess is to ask guests with names starting from A-L to bring food items (they can specify those in their Evite response to avoid duplication and to make sure there is a varied spread of offerings at the party), and M-Z to bring beer, wine, or a non-alcoholic beverage such as a juice or punch to share.  The hostess usually monitors the responses to make sure there will be enough players and whether alternates need to be invited to play and whether the food offerings are varied enough and where there may be some voids or gaps, such as no fruit or no veggies.  Bunco parties are a great way to share recipes, as well.  It’s a good idea to bring the recipe for the food item or beverage you bring to the party, particularly if it is a new, different, or creative item.  Another option is to email recipes to the group or interested people after the party.

Hostessing Duties and Splitting the Labor with Partners:

The hostess of the Bunco party can choose to host alone or select a partner.  A partner is a good idea if some food and beverage are supplied by the host.  Paper products, utensils, and some form of prizes are usually supplied by the host, as well.  To ease the time, energy, and financial burden on any one person, it’s good to rotate hostessing duties and to have partners sign up.  Remember, that a host must clean her house, set up for the party, shop and prepare some minimal food and drink offerings to round out what guests bring, send out and monitor the invitation responses, answer calls for directions, rsvps if Evite is not used, and about the party, and clean up.  The duties are not vast and onerous, but it is still nice to split them amongst two. 

Food and Drink Table:

In terms of game play and set up, the hostess usually creates a food and drink table where the guests can drop off their contributions as they arrive.  Remember that some guests may need potholders, serving pieces, utensils, or the like, especially if they bring their food or drink items directly from work or purchase something and it does not come with all of the necessary supplies and tools. The food and drink are usually consumed at the beginning and end of the party as times for mingling and socializing and between rounds of play.  The host usually supplies wine glasses, corkscrews, bottle openers, coasters, and ice, as well.

Prizes for Players:

The hostess also usually supplies the winner and loser prizes, if there is such a thing.  Or the prize for the most Bunco rolls, for example.  This writer is familiar with the scenario in which the hostess supplies two gifts- one for the person with the least wins in the rounds of play and one for the person with the most wins in the rounds of play (hence, the “winner” and “loser” prizes).  These prize bags are usually valued at $20 maximum a piece.  They may contain a mug and bag of coffee with a Starbuck’s gift certificate.  Or a flower pot and seeds, with a pair of garden gloves.  Or a cup towel and candle is a nice alternative.  You get the general idea.  Nice home-oriented presents that have wide appeal.  Often the hostess and her partner decide they will be ineligible for the winner and loser prizes because they have purchased same and are hosting the party.  Occasionally, the hosts may decide they are also ineligible for any other prizes, such as cash prizes too. 

Paper Products and Serving Pieces:

Some hostesses “go green” and supply everyday china and silverware, other make it more formal with china and silver, and others do plastic silverware and plates.  If a hostess wants to make her life easy at the end of the night, paper products can be used. Clean up is certainly faster that way.  It’s a good idea for the hostess to have foil, plastic wrap, and some plastic storage bags on hand at the end of the night for storage of left-overs and/or to divvy up some of the popular food items if the person who brought them does not want to take them all home.  A recycling bin for the glass and cans is a good idea too.

Cash Contributions and Prize “Pot”:

The guests usually bring cash for the Cash “pot” or prize bowl.  This writer is familiar with a minimal cash requirement for players of $5. The group with which this writer has played set the cash contribution low because there were winner and loser prizes provided and food and drink are also required to be brought to the parties. Perhaps if the hostess supplies all of the food and drink, a larger cash contribution may be required.  The cash is usually collected from each player upon arrival and put in a bowl or jar.  It’s a good idea to have some small bills on hand for making change. Usually, checks and “IOUs” are not accepted, but there may come a time when a player runs short on funds or forgets to hit the ATM on the way to play. The group can decide on its rules and the formality of enforcing same. The point of the game is fun afterall, don’t forget.  The Cash “pot” usually goes to the player with the most “Bunco rolls” at the end of the night.  

What Does It Mean When Somehow Yells, “Bunco!”?

“Bunco rolls” means that a player gets three of a kind, with the exception of 1s, and accordingly, is awarded with a “Bunco”. When this occurs, the player who made the roll, yells, “Bunco” similar to the way a Yahtzee player would yell, “Yahtzee”. In this writer’s experience, usually two or three “Bunco rolls” in an evening when two or three rounds of play have occurred is the average. 

Awarding the Prizes:

The prizes are usually awarded at the end of play.  The hostess usually awards the winner and loser prizes to the parties who receive the most rounds of play “won” and “lost” respectively.  The Cash “pot” is usually awarded to the party who rolls the most “Bunco rolls”.  It may be necessary for the winner and loser prizes, and even for the Cash “pot” to have a roll off in the event of a tie between two or more players. A roll off is usually done with one dice and you set a rule of the person with the highest or lowest number, depending on your preference, wins the respective prize.

Game Set-Up:

Play occurs at tables or coffee tables usually because the dice are best rolled on a hard service. An ottoman with a tray will suffice too.  It’s best to arrange chairs or pillows on the floor for seating.  Games are played at tables or seating areas in groups of four with two teams of partners.  Bunco can be played with as few as four players and the maximum number is endless, so long as the multiples are in groups of four.  If you have too many players, you can have folks sit out as alternates and rotate into play for different Rounds.  If you have too few players, you can use a doll or object as a “ghost player” and have the existing players take turns rolling for that imaginary player.

Each table needs two pens and four pieces of paper, with three dice. The “head” or “lead” table needs the noise maker.  At the start of play, the “head” table rings the bell or blows the whistle to start play.  Partners at a table sit across from one another.  One player on a team needs to keep score for the team. Each Bunco player needs to keep track of their wins, losses, and number of “Bunco rolls”. It is not necessary to have an official scoresheet or pad, although they may be purchased or templates downloaded from the Internet.  

Now that Set-Up is Complete, Play Begins How?

Play begins after the noisemaker sounds and the first player rolls the three dice at the same time.  This begins play for Round 1.  A Round consists of rolling for 2s first, then 3s, then 4s, then 5s, and lastly, for 6s.  1s are never part of a Round, as rolling three of a kind (three 1s) at the same time wipes out the team’s points and is called “Snake Eyes”.  Yucko!

At the beginning of Round 1, the first player seeks to roll as many 2s as possible. As long as she rolls 2s (one or two of them), she keeps her turn going.  Any one of the three dice can be a 2 to keep her turn alive.  The moment she stops rolling any 2s amongst any of the three dice, her turn ends. If she rolls three 2s in a row, that’s a “Bunco roll” and she does not go any further because she is awarded with 21 points and has won that roll.  After “Bunco” is rolled or 21 points are reached, play ceases with no more rolling for that particular number (2, 3, 4, 5, or 6).

How Do You Keep Score? 

Points are assigned with one point per 2 the player rolls in the first play of Round 1.  If a player rolls “Bunco”, 21 points are immediately assigned.  As long as a player rolls 2s, one point is assigned per 2 they roll. The play ends on rolling 2s when the lead table gets a “Bunco” roll of all 2s among any player, or any team first reaches 21 points for rolling 2s without a “Bunco roll”.  After the rolling of dice for 2s ends, the players move on to 3s. The play works the same way: so long as a player rolls any 3, her turn is still alive and she is awarded one point per 3 she rolls.  A “Bunco roll” of three 3s is worth 21 points immediately. Play continues in this same manner for 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 to complete a Round of play.  

If any player or their team mate at any time rolls three 1s at the same time, that is “Snake Eyes” and it wipes out all points acquired to date for the team to that point.  It does not remove just the roller’s points, but the points for the entire team.  Unfortunately, it usually happens a few times each party. 

One player for each team keeps the score for the team in terms of how many points have amassed with hatch marks until 21 points is reached.  It is not necessary for both members of the team to keep score.  The only thing each player needs to record is how many wins and losses for each number they roll in a Round and how many “Bunco rolls” they have. Therefore, each person’s score sheet should have a column for wins, a column for losses, and a column for number of “Bunco rolls”. Usually, the score sheet also has Round 1 listed with a blank next to 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. On that blank, the player puts W for win or L for loss of the rolling for that respective number. If more Rounds are played, the same scoring documentation is repeated. 

A Round consists of rolling 2s, 3s, 4s, 5s, and 6s. Once each number is rolled to the point of a team at the “Head” or “Lead” table acquiring a “Bunco roll” for that number or 21 points, the play for all tables moves to the next number.  Some groups play that any table may roll a “Bunco” or reach 21 points and play ceases for that number, rather than limit this to the “Head” or “Lead” table.  The point of the noise maker is to alert the tables when the “Bunco” or 21 points has been reached, so that all tables and players will cease play and add up their hatch marks for points to determine the team who is the winner and the team who is the loser at each table.  At the close of the rolling for each number (2s, 3s, etc.), the teams rotate.  The players who win usually stay seated at the same table and one player moves to the next seat to take another partner for the next play, so all of the players play with each other and ladies mingle to the maximum.  The losers (the team of players) of the rolling usually move to the next table in a clockwise direction and take the empty seats there. It’s important for parties to avoid playing consecutively with the same partners and rotate to meet the most people possible throughout the night.

Usually a Bunco party involves at least one Round of play, rolling for 2s through 6s one time, and may involve up to three Rounds if play is swift and there is minimal socializing, breaking for food and drink, breaks between Rounds, and/or the party is held over a longer time period. 

Awarding the Prizes:

At the end of the designated Rounds of play, the players gather with their individual score sheets.  The hostess asks how many people think they have the most wins? The players identify amongst themselves the high numbers for winners and if there are ties, a roll off occurs at that point.  Before awarding the prize, the same thing usually occurs for the losers because often the winner and loser prizes are similar, if not identical.  So, once the parties who have rolled the most wins and losses for the number rolls for each Round of play are awarded their winner and loser prizes, the hostess asks who rolled the most “Bunco rolls”? If there is a high number, usually three or more, that person most often wins the Cash “pot” of money comprised of each party’s five dollar contribution.  If there is a tie in the number of people with the highest number of “Bunco rolls”, there is a roll off.  Then, the Cash “pot” is awarded. 

Party Wind-Down and Clean-Up with Planning for Next Party:

Then, a party usually ends with socializing, more food and drink consumption (or alternative beverages if parties have to hit the road), mingling, clean-up, and designation of the next hostess or hostess team with the date for the party potentially being set at that time too. It is a good idea for planning purposes to assign the parties for a quarter in advance, so that folks know when and where the next several parties will be held.

Bunco can be played with fewer or more rules, more informally or less so.  It can be whatever the group decides. The point of the game is to have fun, mingle, play a simple game, and enjoy the fellowship and company of a diverse group of old and new friends.  Food, drink, and prizes may complement that, or might distract from it, depending on your group.  Some groups even add themes like costume parties, or special themes for food, or pool parties, etc.  The game is flexible and can be played in a myriad of ways.  It is easy to get carried away with elaborate prizes, food, and beverage, but when that happens, the future hostesses may be intimidated from volunteering to host and players may be dissuaded from future play because of the large amounts of creativity, effort, or cost involved.  Democracy should govern with the majority of the group establishing any rules and procedures and hostesses alternating for the hostess duties.  The roster of players should always be updated, as well, with alternates and new players, so the group is always growing and staying large enough for play even with folks dropping out, moving off, splintering off to form their own Bunco groups, or having scheduling conflicts. 

Now that you know all there is to know about the popular game of “Bunco”, it’s time to set up a party and get started with play.  Don’t delay- get rolling!