A few years ago, the William Mason Elementary Home and School Association in Montville, N.J., went through a family night funk. According to former copresident Kim Passaretti, “Everyone felt bingo was old and tired, and the movie nights had not gone well—no one wanted to try another.”

Passaretti says the events were a nightmare for volunteers, too. “Kids who had lost interest would run around the lobby outside the gym or outside the front of the building, usually without parent supervision,” she recalls. Worse, she says, “many parents dropped their kids and ran.”

But that was before the dice game Bunco rolled onto the tables at William Mason. “It is definitely our most popular family event and our easiest to run,” Passaretti says. “The families love it because the game is fast-paced, easy to learn, and can be played and enjoyed by even the little ones.” She and copresident Anita Kahr spearheaded the first Bunco family night in fall 2006. The event has since become an annual tradition.

Although the boxed, living-room version of Bunco calls for 12 players, leaders modified it to accommodate 150 participants. Several days before the event, Kahr held a practice Bunco night for volunteers at her home so they could help players. On game night, admission was free, and the HSA provided free snacks and drinks. Volunteers, aided by an overhead projector and microphone, explained game rules then handed out copies of the rules along with score sheets. “Once we got started,” Passaretti remembers, “everyone caught on immediately.”

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At Mason Elementary, a head table of four players, two on each team, leads the play and ends each round. Players roll for specific “target numbers”; during the second round, for example, they might try to roll 2’s. When a player rolls three of a kind of the target number, it’s a 10-point “Bunco,” a feat worthy of a crown (to keep) and a pair of fuzzy dice (to pass around). Getting the target number on one or two of the dice nets one or two points, respectively. When the head table reaches 10 points, teams tally their scores and winning pairs rotate. “The nature of the game forces you to meet just about everyone in the room by the end of the night,” Passaretti says.

This fall, Passaretti left the HSA for the middle school. But as early as this summer, volunteers were coming forward to chair family events next year based on Bunco’s “fun yet simple” format. Passaretti’s advice: Set up a lot more tables.

The Group
William Mason Elementary Home and School Association, Montville, N.J.

School size: 350 students, grades K-5
Annual earnings: $50,000
Fundraisers: Wrapping paper, cookie dough, walkathon, book fair, T-shirts, membership drive, ice cream, and seasonal plant sales; a volunteer hot-lunch program raises $15,000 to $18,000.
Mission statement: We try to create a sense of community within the school to improve every child’s and parent’s experience at William Mason.

Bunco Family Night
Players take turns rolling three dice for that round’s ‘target number.’

Just add players: Mason Elementary HSA leaders love the Bunco night’s low maintenance and low cost. Supplies for the event, including dice, balloons for the head table, snacks and candy (sold for 5 cents), paper and pens, and prizes, run less than $150.

Dice to know ya: At the end of each round, the winning two-person team rotates to a new table, allowing families to mingle. Passaretti says the parent group “got a lot of great feedback about how nice it was to meet so many different people.”

Winning is only half the fun: Players who rolled the target three of a kind anytime during the night yelled “Bunco!” and raised their hands. “We then gave them a crown and the big fuzzy dice. The last person holding the dice at the end of the night got a prize,” Passaretti explains. “We also gave prizes for the most wins, the most losses, and the most Buncos.”

Ready to roll: With a typical running time of less than two hours, this event is short and sweet, something much appreciated by parents. Cleanup was a breeze, too: Every adult helped put away the tables. “The whole room was in great condition in five minutes,” Passaretti says, “and no one had to stay for hours cleaning up.”