Story originally appeared in BND’s Lipstik Magazine in 2009.

Melissa Schmidt doesn’t have much free time. Five days a week, she drives 50 miles from her home in Red Bud to work in Maryland Heights and back. Her evenings are spent fixing dinner, caring for her two children, and catching up with her husband in any spare moment she has. On weekends, she’s doing laundry, grocery shopping, or fitting in something fun for the family.

But one Friday night a month, Schmidt lets go of all her responsibilities and does something for herself.

“I look forward to my Bunco night all month long,” she said. “It’s the one time I get a break from everyday responsibilities, and just have fun with girlfriends.”

Schmidt’s Bunco group is made up of 12 ladies aged 21 to 40 who grew up in Cahokia. Some of them have moved to nearby cities including Red Bud, Waterloo, Columbia, Dupo, and Belleville, but reunite each third Friday of the month for a simple game of dice, food, and fun. They take turns hosting, which makes each month a little different than the last.

“It’s important for us to have that time so that we can relax, act goofy and just be us,” said Schmidt. “We need that to regroup. It’s almost like mental, group therapy!”

For years, men have had poker night reserved for getting together with the guys. But since early 2005, women have had a game of their own to mark on their calendars. Some spell it as Bunco, some say it’s Bunko, but no matter how it’s written, it means a good time. According to Wikipedia, “Bunco is a social dice game involving 100% luck and no skill (there are no decisions to be made),” which is why chatting with friends while playing doesn’t put one too far behind.

It’s fairly simple: Three tables are  comprised of four ladies each, and at each table there are three dice. Six rounds are played (one for each side on a die). Players take turns rolling the dice, trying to land the number of the particular round, and tallying their points. For example, in round one, a player tries to roll “1’s”. She picks up and rolls all three dice, hoping that they land on “1”. If two of the three dice land on “1”, she gets two points. Play continues around the table, and if someone gets three of a kind, she yells “BUNCO!” Then it’s on to the next round, in which the lowest scoring players from round one must get up and move to another table to play with new teammates. It may sound confusing, but after a few rounds it’s easy to pick up.

annmiss2-2Andrea Howard of Cahokia, Schmidt’s best friend since kindergarten, joined the group last year after some resistance and lots of coaxing from her friends.

“I used to think it was just a game that my grandma used to play and didn’t get why the younger generation was playing it, until I tried it,” said Howard. “Now I love it. It’s always a planned event so there’s no reason to back out at the last minute.”

Many Bunco groups plan themes nights. On  Pajama Night, everyone dresses in jammies and the hostess makes breakfast. On Fiesta Night, they eat Mexican food and drink margaritas. On 80’s Night, the girls wear neon and lace clothing and listen to the best music ever produced. In March, Schmidt’s crew was all decked out in Mardi Gras beads and hats.

Prizes for Bunco winners vary from group to group, but often the players with the highest and second highest scores get something. The girl with the lowest score usually gets a “boobie prize.” Prizes range from cash to Bunco T-shirts and fuzzy dice. Sometimes, players donate their winnings to a charity agreed upon by the group.

whole-groupLast December, Howard’s group donated cash winnings for the month to the 42 Foundation in Jesse Hacker’s name.

“He’s my step-mom’s little brother who died in a car accident in September 2006,” said Howard. “His foundation’s focus is for the needs of young children.”

With the Bunco group’s money and other donations, the Foundation raised $7000 for three-year-old Will Grady, born premature, to attend Ability Camp to help him learn to walk.

“Just by getting together for a fun night and good conversation, we were able to do something to help change a little boy’s life,” said Howard. “We look forward to doing it again this year.”

To learn how to play, visit www.buncorules.com.