A man's hand holding two dice blocks

Bunco is a popular dice game often played in active adult communities. Here's how to play!

Although “bunco” usually refers to a swindling game of scheme, Bunco is also a social dice game, great for playing in large groups. According to the American Bunco Association, people in Europe started playing a similar progressive dice game in the 1700s, and a gambler brought the dice game across the country in the 1850s, traveling from the East to the West Coast.

This established the connection between the game and the word “bunco,” which came to be known as all forms of gambling. But by the late 1800s, families and friends played the game in parlors. The fact that the game is fun, easy to learn, and great for large groups has kept the game popular to this today.

Here’s what you need to know to play bunco.

What Is Bunco?

Bunco is a social dice game played with 12 people. Bunco is popular in active adult communities because it allows large groups of people to play together, and the rules are fairly easy to learn. The basics of the game are simple: Roll the dice and get as many “Buncos” or wins as possible during four rounds of play.

What Do You Need to Play Bunco?

In addition to 12 players and 12 scorecards, a game needs three tables with four chairs. Each table needs 3 dice, 2 pencils, and 2 scorepads. In addition, one table needs a bell and one fuzzy dice. This will be the head table.

How to Play Bunco

To seat all the players, randomly select who will be at the head table. This can be done by passing out cards with numbers on them or writing stars on four of the scorecards. The rest of the people should divide themselves among the remaining tables designated Table 2 and Table 3. Each table has two teams with partners sitting directly opposite each other. One person on each team should tally the team’s points.

To begin the game, the head table rings the bell. Then, one player at each table rolls all three dice at the same time to score points for their team. For the first round, if 1 dice shows the number 1, the team gets 1 point. If 2 dice show the number 1, the team gets 2 points. If all 3 dice have the same number or numbers 2 through 6, the team gets 5 points. If all 3 dice have the number 1, then the team receives 21 points, but only the player who rolled the dice receives a Bunco (or a win). When a team at the head table reaches 21 points, they ring the bell to signal the end of the round. The team with the highest number of points at each table wins the round. Write a W or L on the scorecard to designate a win or a loss.

The winning head table team remains at that table, while the losing team goes to Table 3. The winning team from Table 3 goes to Table 2, and the winning team from Table 2 goes to the head table. Moving one chair also allows players to change partners.

Continue with the rounds. The head table will ring the bell to signal the beginning of the round. During round 2, teams score points by rolling twos, during round 3 by rolling threes, and so on for six rounds of total play. The large fuzzy dice can begin with one player and be passed at each round, whereby the person holding the dice at the final round receives a prize. 

To make it more exciting (and get a little of the gambling spirit of historical bunco going), players can establish a $5 buy-in and give out prizes for the most buncos, the most wins, or the most losses.

How to Host a Bunco Party

Hosting a Bunco party is simple: just find 11 people who also want to play. Players can meet at a regular interval (once a week or once a month) with lunch served in-between rounds or dessert in-between the final rounds. A game can also grow to almost any size, simply by adding more tables and players four at a time. If an odd number of people attend, “ghost” players can be on a team, where another player rolls twice.