History of Zonk

Zonk was created in the Fall of 1978, in a freshman dorm at an upstate NY university. Zonk was created as a 6-dice game, with both the 6 dice and the use of 3 colored pairs factoring into certain scoring combinations. It clearly had Cosmic Wimpout (a slightly older game played with 5 custom dice) as a spiritual parent, but distinguished itself by having 6 dice and, of course, the all-important BH rules built into the game. Five-dice games are variations of Cosmic Wimpout, which was created even earlier and sold commercially.

The full set of basic rules were well-established by early 1979. There is a set of ‘official’ rules that was codified back in 1983, handwritten as many things were in those days. Official copies had a stamp on the first page (in a marked square in the upper-right corner) of Magic Bus Rue de Rivoli Paris in reddish/greenish ink. The whereabouts of the original handwritten rules and this stamp are known.

The game has grown, spread, and adopted many variations over the years (decades!). Alas, many of these variants are based on 5 dice, which is a very different game. Zonk was created as, and in its true form will always be, a 6-dice game. This makes possible certain rules like Royales and Colors combinations, and adds to the overall scoring and strategy balance of the game.

The game is played with 6 dice and 2-6 people. (OK, you can play a solo practice game too! But it’s much more fun in a group setting.) Players roll to see who goes first and then ‘sign in’ in a clockwise order at the top of the scoresheet columns.

Once a player begins a turn by rolling all six dice together, the turn can end in one of two ways. Players can either stop and keep points during a turn, or they may Zonk with no points. BH’s can be earned either way. On the scoresheet, a Zonk is scored simply as a “Z” with a slash through the diagonal, as it’s written in Europe (a zed).

Each time that all active dice are rolled (starting with all 6 to start a turn), at least one scoring die or multi-dice combo must be played. If no scoring dice are available from the rolled active dice, the player gets a Z, loses all pending points for that turn, and the turn is over.

Scoring is based on rolling 1’s, 5’s, and/or 3-of-a-kind’s (“trips”). A player can keep any or all of the available scoring dice. For example, if a roll of all 6 dice yields a 1-3-3-3-5-6, the player can opt to keep: trip 3s (300 points), the 1 (100 points), the 5 (50 points) or any combination. The kept dice are set aside, and the remaining dice are now the active dice. There is one exception to this optional choice of scoring dice: if all 6 dice can be scored at any time (from the rolled active dice and the previously set-aside dice, if any), the player must set aside all 6 scoring dice, add the 6-dice score total to the total score for the current turn, and then re-roll all 6 dice again. A player can stop their turn and keep accumulated points for a turn ONLY when there are exactly 4 or 5 scoring dice currently showing, even if they’ve already had one or more 6-dice continuations.

There are 2 types of BH’s in Zonk—Automatic and Conditional. Automatic BH’s are claimed even if a player Zonks on a turn and loses all points accumulated during that turn. Conditional BH’s are claimed if the player can stop their turn (with exactly 4 or 5 scoring dice showing) and keep the points, adding them to their previous total for the game. Conditional BH’s are lost if the player Zonks and loses points in a turn. Both types of BH’s can be earned in a turn. One informal courtesy rule states that a player must fully claim all BH’s earned in a turn before the next player rolls the dice.

A player must be able to stop and keep at least 500 points on their first scoring roll to ‘Get In The Game.’ Getting in the game earns one Automatic BH (ABH) when this first scoring turn ends. After getting in the game (having a non-zero total score), a player needs only 300 points or more in a turn to stop. (For example, a roll of triple 2’s and a 5, totaling only 250 points, means a player must keep rolling!) The finish line score for a game is 5000 points, or a multiple thereof.

A Zonk rolled with all 6 dice at once (no 1s, 5s or trips, such as 2-2-3-4-4-6) is a Train Wreck and earns an ABH. A 6-dice straight (1-2-3-4-5-6 rolled all at once, but not after having kept a 1 or a 5) is a Royale which earns 1500 points and a Conditional BH (CBH). Because all 6 dice are scoring dice in a Royale, the player must continue by rolling all 6 dice again and also adds the 1500 points to their pending score. Rolling over 1000 points in a single turn earns an ABH (even if you eventually lose the points by Zonking before you can stop). Every multiple of 1000 points scored in a single turn earns an additional ABH. An ABH is also earned when a Royale is rolled because the 1500 points passes the 1000-point threshold. At least 2 BH’s can be earned from a Royale (an ABH and a CBH) if the player can stop and keep the points from that turn. Rolling trips with 3 different colored dice (such as 4-4-4 with red, white and green dice) earns a CBH for Colors.

If all 6 dice are played one-at-a-time (starting with all 6 dice, just a single 1 or 5 is set aside for each roll until all 6 dice are 1s and/or 5s) its called a Nicely Done or Slim Pickins and the player gets a CBH. The player can ignore other scoring dice during a roll to go for this, but if all 6 dice can be scored simultaneously at any time during the roll, they must be set aside and the player must continue by rolling all 6 dice again.

A player also earns a BH if he Zonks for the third consecutive turn, but only if he did not earn a BH on either of the previous two Z’s. If a player Zonks with one or more ABH’s after 2 BH-less Z’s, he still earns the BH for 3 Z’s in a row in addition to any ABH’s. Thus, each player will get a B at least once every 3 turns.

BH rule summary:

ABH’s: Getting in the Game, each 1000 points reached during a single roll, 3rd consecutive Z.
CBHs: Royale, Colors, Nicely Done.

The game ends when any player first reaches 5000 points or more. However, every other player gets one final turn (the Last Round) to beat the high score. The first player who scores over 5000 gets an ABH for doing so, plus an ABH for each additional 1000 points beyond that goal (an extra ABH for 6000, two extra ABHs for reaching 7000, etc.). These ABHs are in addition to any ABHs earned during the roll. Other players must continue rolling on their last roll until they either Zonk or can safely stop with a total score that is higher than that of the current leader (exactly 4 or 5 scoring dice must be showing). If a player passes the leader in the Last Round, remaining players must attempt to pass the new leading score. ABH’s may be scored by anybody during the Last Round, but CBHs are lost unless the player keeps their points and becomes the new leader.

The leader at the end of the Last Round is the Winner and earns a winning BH. The person with the fewest BH’s during the game then receives a Consolation BH. In case of a tie in fewest BH’s, the player with both the fewest BH’s and the lowest score earns the Consolation BH.

These rules are more concisely laid out in the set of original rules transcribed on this site from the original 1983 rulesheets.