"It's like a younger generation of bridge," said Ryann Davis of Sikeston about the latest Bunco craze.
Davis began playing the dice game -- typically played by women -- a few months ago when a friend invited her to play in a Bunco group, which meets the first Wednesday of each month.
"I had never heard of it until last year," Davis said. "Someone said, 'Oh, you'll really like it,' when they asked me to join. But I thought, 'How much fun can rolling a dice be?'"
But it is, Davis said.
"The whole night is just a blast," Davis said. "Young, old, man, woman -- anybody will like it."
Davis said the night is a good excuse to get together with the girls without worrying about other responsibilities.
"Guys can do anything, any time," Davis said. "They just say they're going to the bar or to play golf or softball, and girls don't have that. This is my girls' night."
Bunco -- Bunko, Bonco or Bonko, as it's also spelled -- dates back to the late 1800s when it was played by groups of women, children and couples, according to the World Bunco Association.
Bunco was played throughout Kansas and Missouri, in towns and cities along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers during the 1880s and mid-1890s. It became a traditional family or parlor game prior to World War I. During prohibition and the 1920s Bunco gambling parlors resurfaced. After prohibition, group activity declined, the World Bunco Association said.
But over the past few years, particularly in the last year, the old-fashioned game has resurfaced with Bunco groups forming all over. Kits to play the dice game are even popping up on the shelves at major retail stores and Bunco-
themed merchandise -- including T-shirts, wine glasses and bracelets -- is also available.
Leslie Freeman of Sikeston is one of the area's more experienced players. She's been playing for about five years.
"There's no skill involved," Freeman said.
"It's all about the luck of the roll," Davis said. "And it's easy to learn." To play, a group needs 12 people, three tables, a bell, index cards for score sheets, ink pens and prizes, Freeman said. Each table gets three dice and has four players. One table is designated as the "head table."
The bell signals the beginning and the end of each round. There are six rounds in each set. Players earn points by rolling three dice. In each round players are trying to roll the same number as the number of the round to earn points. If players roll "three of a kind" of the current round, it's called a "Bunco" and worth 21 points.
When the "head table" reaches 21 points or rolls a Bunco, the round is over, and players switch partners. Players also change tables based on their wins and losses after each round. The game ends when four sets of Bunco have been completed. Prizes are awarded for most wins, most losses, most buncos, etc.
A typical Bunco night begins around 6:30 or 7 p.m. Women may chat and have a few cocktails or appetizers before starting the game. And then the fun begins.
Each player taking turns hosting the event, Davis said.
"Everyone pays $10 at the beginning of the night and that money goes to next month's host to buy gifts and food," Davis said.
Recently Davis' group held a couple's Bunco party.
"It was different having the guys play," Davis admitted. "With the guys, it was like another world but with a fun twist to it."
Freeman said the game migrated to the Sikeston area from a friend who lived in St. Louis and played Bunco there.
"She mentioned it to us an introduced it to us, and more people and more groups began playing," Freeman recalled.
Bunco groups soon began forming by school teachers, church groups and between friends.
The game has garnered so much attention, other clubs even inquired about the game. "There's a bridge club in town, and three of us taught them how to play," Freeman said.
In addition to being a lot of fun, Bunco is a great time to meet a bunch of people, Freeman said.
"We all don't hang out together in our normal lives, and when we get in Bunco, we're like our own little family," Freeman said.
Freeman's group meets the third Wednesday of each month, and they each pay $5 to play each session for prizes. Although 12 players are recommended, Freeman noted it's a good idea to have 13 in a group because a substitute is almost always needed.
"It's just so much fun," Freeman said. "We can get away from kids and families of our own. It's a time to laugh and cut up and do whatever you want -- to let loose and have a good time and not worry about other things."