Why do a bunch of hard-charging career women gather once a month to play a game that, by definition, is 100 percent luck and requires no skill whatsoever?
Beats me. But we started doing it a year ago and we love it. It’s Bunko, of course. We rotate hostess duties so each person has it at her house about once a year. We chow down on food and libations. And then we let the good times roll. Literally.
Bunko (also spelled “Bunco”) is a dice game. It originated in England and was imported to the American West as a gambling activity. After the Civil War, it became popularized as a parlor game. In 2006, according to Wikipedia, 29 million people played the game regularly. There is, believe it or not, a World Bunco Association.
Over the year, we’ve figured out some tips, which I’ll share shortly, on how to have a great Bunko group. But first, join me for a photographic journey through a typical night of Bunko in Knoxville , Tennessee.
Last night, our Bunko group met at Michelle Hardin’s home in West Hills. She and her dog, Lucy, greeted guests at the door.
Michelle made fabulous white chicken chili from a recipe in the cookbook her employer, First Tennessee Bank, published last year. The book is called “Recipes from the Vault,” (cute, huh?) and this was the richest chili I’ve ever put in my mouth! You wouldn’t believe the amount of cream it contains!
The evening usually starts rather sedately.
When the game starts, things pick up considerably. (It’s difficult to take photos of people playing Bunko when you are one of the players!)
Last night, we played two games of Bunko. Jeannie Dulaney won the final round, closing out the game portion of the evening.
Then comes the money portion. Because of her organizational and facilitating skills, Dawn Ford runs the part of the night when we give out prizes. Although some Bunko groups go out and purchase little gifts to use as prizes, we go straight for the cash.
Several months ago (it was Michelle’s idea), we started giving our prize money to the Young-Williams Animal Center. Kathy Darnell, who is the assistant director of the animal center, is one of our group and we just give the money to her. Last night, we gave $240 to our furry friends.
Then it’s time for more socializing.
At some point in every social occasion when a dog is present, Susan Brown will end up on the floor with the dog. We call her “the dog whisperer.”
Then it’s goodbye around 9 or 9:30. When Kathy Darnell and Jeannie Dulaney put on their jackets to leave, I just thought their black and white ensembles were fab!
OK. Here are the tips for a great Bunko group:
- Agree on the rules. Bunko is very simple, but the rules do vary from group to group. Either look them up or, better yet, have as one of your group members someone who has been in another Bunko group.
- Have a president. Ours is Susan Brown. Pick someone who is super organized. We have charged Susan with putting together a “Bunko bag” that contains all the “hardware” we need: dice, score pads, pens, place cards with numbers for the tables (she is super-organized, as I said), a bell to ring at the beginning of each round. She also sends out the meeting notices by e-mail and ensures that the Bunko bag gets to the next hostess. She doesn’t realize it, but she is our permanent president. (We voted behind her back.)
- Assemble a convivial group of people. Although you will need 12 players (three tables of four) it’s imperative that your group have a few more because all 12 people won’t be able to attend each month.
- Encourage the hostesses to keep the meals simple. You don’t want to raise the bar each month and make the emphasis on the food rather than on the camaraderie.
- Get someone with a loud voice and a commanding presence (like Dawn) to make everyone shut up at the end so the prizes can be distributed in an orderly fashion. We give prizes for most Bunkos, most winning rounds, lowest number of winning rounds, and a door prize (names on slips of paper in a bowl). Everyone has a chance. We each bring $20. Last night I was the big winner: $90. But all of us gave all our winnings to charity, anyway.
That’s it. Fun, fun, fun. Now, back to the stressful jobs!
P.S. If you want to purchase a “Recipes from the Vault” cookbook, there are still some available and proceeds benefit the United Way. They cost only $10 and make great hostess gifts for the holiday season. Just send a check for $10 made out to First Tennessee Bank to: Jennifer Holder, First Tennessee Bank, 800 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, TN 37929. Let her know where to send the book.