What is Bunco?
Bunco is a fast-moving, social dice game that is played by tens of millions of people every year. It’s usually played with large groups of 12 players, divided into groups of four. Each group of four sits at separate tables and is divided into 2 teams. Teams alternate turns rolling 3 dice to score points and win rounds by outsourcing their opponents. Players rotate tables and teammates every round.
Object of bunco
The object of bunco is to win more rounds than all other players. Players win rounds when their team scores more points in a round than the opposing team at their table. The individual who wins the most rounds out of all the players is the winner.
Why bunco is good for families and groups
- Easy to play: The game is comparable to bingo in that it is entirely based on luck. No skill means easy for all!
- Fun: The game moves quickly, is social with constantly rotating tables, and is noisy (dice rolling, talking, and people yelling “BUNCO” and fun!.
- Minimal skills required: math (counting and simple math), taking turns
- Wide age range: 4 and up.
Bunco game length
A game of 3-set bunco lasts about 2 hours. That’s 1.5 hours of playing and 30 minutes of setup and breakdown.
1: Divide 12 players into groups of 4 who sit at 3 separate tables
Provide one scoresheet (or piece of paper) for each player and mark a star on the back of four of them. Pass out the score sheets randomly. The four people who get the marked sheets form the “head table.” Everyone else should form groups of four at the other tables. Don’t worry about picking teammates strategically. Teams switch every few minutes and there it’s also based on luck. If playing with 12 people, the three tables are called the “head” “middle” and “end” tables. With more than 12 players, just number them: Head Table (1), Table 2, Table 3, Table 4, etc.
2: Divide each table of 4 players into teams of 2
The player sitting opposite you is your teammate. The two players on either side of you are your opponents. No need to stress about who is on what team. There is no skill involved in bunco so there are no good or bad players! Plus, teams change often throughout the game.
3: Start and play the first “round” where each player takes “turns” rolling 3 dice to earn “points”
One person per table will be the scorekeeper and that player goes first. Order has almost no strategic advantage, so don’t stress!
The first person rolls with the object to score points. Points are only scored in 2 ways:
- The player has one or more dice that match the round number (e.g. rolling 1 in round 1, 2 in round 2, etc). A single match of the round is worth 1 point, a matching pair of the round is worth 2 points, and a triple match of the round is called a “bunco” and has a special bonus value of 21 points.
- The player rolls a matching set of 3 dice of any number other than the round number and earns 5 points. This is also called a “mini bunco.” Example: player rolls three 4s in round 2.
If the roller scores points, their turn continues and they roll again. If they score no points on any roll, their turn is over and it’s the next person’s turn.
At the end of each turn, the scorekeeper will add the player’s points to their team’s score.
The round ends for all tables when a team at the head table scores 21 points. The team at the head table will signal the end of the round by making a noise, such as ringing a bell.
At the end or each round, the scorekeeper totals the points for each team. The team with the highest points gets the win and each player will mark a “W” on their scoresheet for that round. Each member of the losing team will mark an “L” on their scoresheet.
Also, any individual who rolls a “bunco” during the round will mark that on their individual scoresheet.
Example in round 1:
- A single die rolled is a 1 = 1 point
- A pair of dice rolled is a 1 = 2 points
- All three dice rolled are 1s = 21 and are called a “bunco”
- All three dice are any other same number (e.g 2, 2, 2) = 5 points
4: Rotate tables and teammates at the end of each round
It’s social time! At the end of each round, teams switch tables as follows:
- Head table: Winners stay; losers go to the end table.
- Middle tables: Winners move up a table. Losers stay.
- End table: Winners move up a table; losers stay.
Additionally players switch teams every round and it’s really easy to do! Any team that stays at their table moves to sit next to each other to be opponents in the next round. Then the 2 new people to the table just fill the empty seats.
5: Move to the next round and repeat for rounds 2-6 to complete a “set”
Rounds 2-6 are just like round 1, except that the scoring number changes. For example, players must roll 2s in round 2, 3s in round 3, etc. Like in round 1, 1 round-matching die earns 1 point, 2 round-matching dice earn 2 points, 3 round-matching dice earn 21 points, and 3 matching dice of any other number earn 5 points. When round 6 ends, you have completed a “set.”
6: Play the next “set” (usually 2-4 total)
Each round of 6 is considered a “set.” Most bunco nights play 2-4 “sets,” but that can be adjusted up or down depending on the timing.
The rules and for the additional sets are the same. Just do another rotation ( table and team) to mix up the teams, then repeat steps 3-5 until you’ve played as many sets as you’d like.
7: Determine the winners of the bunco “game”
The primary winner of a bunco game is the individual player who wins the most rounds.
Additional common types of winners can include: most buncos scored, last bunco scored (traveling bunco), as well as highest score, and booby prizes (fewest wins, lowest point score).
8: Award the prizes (optional)
You don’t have to have prizes, but it sure does make it fun!
Some groups have every player ante cash (e.g. $5) into a prize pot that’s split across winners. Others provide physical prizes for the various categories above.
If there is a tie score for a prize, the tied players can either do a 1 round roll-off to determine the winner, or split the prize (if it’s cash).