Roll the Dice and Beat the Odds!

By Mary Lynne Spazok

Dice, dinner, prizes, and festive libation herald Bunco night for many USC moms’ groups. Bunco is a social dice game traditionally played with 12 players divided into three tables of four. It originated in 19th-century England, where it was known as “Eight Dice Cloth.” The game was brought from England to San Francisco in 1855 when gambling parlors were flourishing with the swindle scam Three Card Monte.

Let the good times roll! The combination of chatter, dining, and laughs are contagious. Bunco is characterized as “for amusement, played in teams with three dice.” Nationwide, one out of every 17 million women participates in this game, where conversation is eclectic—mostly fun, other times serious. The common threads include kind-heartedness, a zest for life, friendship, and socializing. Rivals take turns tossing the dice and tallying points. If you are lucky to repeat a three-of-a-kind roll of the number you first rolled, bellow “Bunco!”

Founder of one of the USC groups, Pam Dillie, evokes, “Years back at an annual Christmas party, a small group of neighbors were chatting, when someone mentioned the game of Bunco, a game that was unfamiliar to me. The group agreed that a ladies night out was a must. The first get-together was in January 1998. Besides lively banter, the conversations centered on our teenagers (at the time). We shared stories and offered advice to one another. And, as the saying goes, ‘It takes a village.’ My own children would lament, ‘Oh geez, it’s Bunco night. We’re all going to be in trouble tomorrow!’ ”

Members of a Bunco group that formed in 1998, left to right, front row: Natalie Iracki, Leanne Adamo, Ann Marie Tupi; back row: Beth Conboy, Janet Mossesso, Nina McGinnis, Diane Lewis, Marianne Trachok, Karen Woelfel, Randi McKibben, Jenn Kraskey, Pam Dillie, and Antoinette Shanahan; missing from the photo are Lynn Dempsey, Marcie Reese, and Peg Snavely

Each Bunco group can have its own complement of prizes, themes, and scoring. Playing for money? The hostess or treasurer collects a certain agreed upon amount of money from the players. For example, collect $5 from each of the 12 players for the game fund, plus $1 each for the “traveling” fund. At the end of game night, winnings are disbursed and can include amounts like $20 for most buncos, $15 for most wins, $12 for most losses, and $5 for the absolute underdog.

What is “traveling”? A player has to roll three “two’s” (or another trio of numbers that are not a Bunco) and exclaim “Traveling!” The “traveling pouch” transfers (usually as a toss through the air). This ritual continues until playing time ends. The lucky player holding the pouch merits the treasure until the next gathering. Rather than monetary, the prize for traveling could be whimsical, perhaps a tacky fuzzy die, for example.

Bunco basics:

• All tables of four play simultaneously.

• At the end of each round, players change partners and/or tables.

• A game of Bunco is played in two to four sets, with six rounds in each set.

• A player at the head table rings a bell to signal the beginning and end of each round.

• During the game, players at each table take turns rolling three dice in an attempt to earn points.

• During each round, players attempt to roll the same number as the number of the round (for example, rolling three 3’s in round #3 would earn a player points).

• For every number rolled that matches the round number, one point is awarded to that player.

• A player continues to roll until she scores no points. The scorekeeper then records the score earned onto the table tally as the temporary team score. Dice are then passed to the player to the left.

• When the head table earns 21 points, the bell is jingled and the round concludes.

Want to get to know your neighbors better before the leaves drop and the snow begins to fly? Host a Bunco fundraiser. Forego prizes. Donate the winnings! How about advocating for breast cancer awareness? Embrace this theme with pink embellishments, attire, food and beverages, and, of course, cancer support ribbons to symbolize the group’s solidarity. Mix it up by inviting significant others on occasions. During the holidays or at other special times, try Bunco family fun night. Celebratory, it’s the right amount of counting and amusement to intrigue all ages. The simple adding of numbers makes it a cool way of sneaking math into a night of kid fun.

One of the group’s founding players, Lynn Dempsey, affirms, “Through the years, some members have left the group and others have moved away; however, the intent of the original group endures. We all stay in touch and new members come into the group. Inclusive, it’s a wonderful opportunity to gather. Moms and grandmothers share memories and advice. Much has changed in our lives since this group first came together for a monthly night of fun, but the friendship and camaraderie remain. Bunco is the glue that binds our kindred spirits.” 

If you are new to Bunco or would like to learn more about this fun dice game, the Internet offers a plethora of retail destinations you can visit for supplies, as well as YouTube step-by-step game instructions and tips.

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