Bones - Playing, Scoring, Hints, Tips




Playing Bones The Pussers Way


Bones is played by three or four players. Actually, you always play with four players, but if there's only three of you, one is a 'pretend' player that you ignore. There is no preferred number - both the three player game and the four player game have their advantages and disadvantages.


The Players


Each player is represented by a Breeze (or is it the other way around? Doesn't matter!). East, South, West and North, but we shall use the pussers bones terms Eddie, Sammy, Wally and Normie (OK, smart arse, Eat Me, Suck Me, Wank Me and Gnaw Me, but let's keep it civil).


Note: In the three player game, Normie sits out.


Keeping Score. Pussers bones is a game played for money (1c per point) or a facsimile of money (like matches or paper clips - yeah, sure). Each player starts of with a clean slate and, as the game progresses, points are deducted from losers and added to winners. When someone ties up (wins), the other players loose. So the first thing we need is a scoresheet. Simply take a sheet of A4 paper (lined is good) and draw three or four columns (for a three or four player game) labelled with each player's name. Give each player an initial score of Zero. Now add the scores up. Hopefully, the result is Zero. That's what it should be throughout the entire game!


Tip: Every now and then, add the scores up and make sure that it equals Zero. After necking your seventh can in your stack of gashies of warm, flat Tiger Beer from the beer issue, things can get a little fuzzy!














Starting score






Bear ties up with 6






Bull ties up with 8






Bull ties up with 6


Starting A Game


We can't play bones unless conditions are right. There's a certain amount of etiquette involved, too, which we shall examine later. The players should all be seated comfortably at a table, large enough to hold all four players with room for 'beverages' and 'smally eats' but with enough room to reach the bones. A blanket should cover the table to prevent the bones from sliding all over the place and to facilitate the gentle and rhythmic "click-click-click" that the bones make when they are being played, without the annoying "rattle-rattle-rattle" of bones bouncing on laminex. A blue blanket with a black stripe down the middle is perfect!


Player's bones must sit in a rack usually supplied with the game. (Similar to those supplied for that insipid game for psuedo academics, 'Scrabble'). The two sided rack should enable your 'working' bones to be viewed only by you and not by the rubberneck next to you! The other side of the rack is for displaying Open Bones, All-Ofs or Pretties. The wooden racks supplied with many Mah Jong sets are inadequate for Beaufort Scale Force 7's, so some sturdy steel racks are a good idea, although if your playing oppos are prone to violent outbusrts better you stick to light wooden ones.


Note: Some Mah Jongg sets are made for playing your bones by standing them on edge in front of you, therefore they have no racks. Pussers Bones must be played on racks because even the slightest swell will cause the bones to tip over.


All 144 bones are placed face down on the table. All players shuffle the bones around and make derogatory comments at each other.


There are now four steps that must take place:


Build the Wall
Pluck for Eddie
Break the Wall
Pluck Bones
Sort Bones


Play commences when Eddie discards his first bone.


Build The Wall


Once all the bones have been sufficiently shuffled, all players must build themselves a part of The Wall. The wall is a row of bones in front of each player that is two bones high, forming a square with one side of the square for Eddie, one for Sammy, one for Wally and one for Normie.


Note: In the three player version, everyone helps build Normie's wall. Also, Keep an eye out for "Wall Shirkers" who go to the heads or get a goffa every time they need erecting, this has been known to cause an imbalance in player harmony.


The area in the centre of the wall is for the discarded bones, so there should be plenty of room. In a perfect wall, there should be 18 stacks (a stack is 2 bones, one on top of the other) or 36 bones per wall, making 144 bones in 4 walls. It doesn't have to be perfectly symmetrical, in fact, a short and a long wall can be a good strategy to make Eddie break into his own wall. See Penalties.


Tip: There will always be players who show off and can build their wall faster than the anyone else. Ignore them.


Pluck for Eddie


To take a bone from the wall is to Pluck a Bone. Once the wall is finished, the next step is to determine who will be Eddie by plucking a bone from the wall. The procedure is as follows:


Each player plucks a bone at random. You cannot pluck from your own wall.

Note: When you Pluck for Eddie, you only need to see the bone and then replace it.

The highest plucked bone is Eddie.
If you pluck a major bone, you must pluck again until you get a numbered (minor) bone
If two players pluck the same number, they pluck again until Eddie is determined.


To Eddie's direct left is Sammy. Then Wally, and, finally, Normie. This is the direction of play.


Break the Wall


All players must fill their racks with thirteen bones. The sequence begins with Eddie Breaking the Wall. Eddie does this by plucking two stacks from the wall (four bones).

Eddie cannot pluck from his own wall! In fact, Eddie must not break into his wall during this first bones-gathering process. Should he do so, he must pay the penalty at the end of the game.


Pluck Bones


Sammy then plucks four bones clockwise from where Eddie plucked, ie, to the right of the break in the wall. Then Wally and Normie do the same. Eddie, Sammy, Wally and Normie then repeat the sequence twice more, so that twelve bones in all have been plucked by each player. Then Eddie plucks 'Eddie's One'. Then Sammy, Wally, Normie do the same.


The break in the wall is significant. The game play requires that bones are plucked in a clockwise direction around the wall, however, bones are also plucked off 'The Loose', which are the bones directly counter-clockwise of the break.


Sort Bones


Experience players have their own way of sorting their bones. The basic (and common sense) procedure is to sort your bones into suits of ricks, sticks and balls. Major bones at one end, breezes at the other. It's up to the individual.


Pretties. If you pluck a pretty bone, it must be declared. Place the pretty face out on the outside of your tray for everyone to see. Then pluck a bone from the loose.


All-Of. As you sort the bones in front of you, you may find that you have several pairs. This is a misnomer, as a 'pair' in bones is three of the same tile. If, however, you have all four of the same tile, you have All-Of. Having four of the same tile means that you could never tie up, the pre-requisite being that you tie up with 14 bones, 4 pairs and a double-up being the minimum. This would be impossible with one 'pair' of four bones. Therefore you must declare your All-Of but it must REMAIN CONCEALED until the end of the game. Place your All-Of FACE DOWN at the front of the tray and pluck a bone off the loose.


First Pretty. If, at this point, there are NO PRETTIES declared, all players are eligible for a bonus if they pluck the First Pretty. See Bonus Points under Scoring.




The bones have been sorted, pretties are showing, All-Ofs concealed, plucks off The Loose have ceased and everyone has thirteen bones (All-Of counts as three).


Tip: Count your bones NOW!


Eddie then plucks his Working Bone and play commences as follows:


Eddie discards a bone by placing it in the centre and calling out its name.

Note: From this point, all discarded bones are fair game and all players must attempt to get their turn over and done with as quickly as possible.

Sammy plucks a bone and discards a bone, calling its name.
Wally does the same, then Normie, if he's playing.


Tip: You may pluck your working bone first, then discard, or vice versa.

The aim now is to pluck bones from the wall or the discard pile and build up your hand.


Big Tip! Make your decision early in the game, like now, as to the kind of hand you are aiming for. Be disciplined, and try not to change your mind halfway through.


The Game


Several things will happen during the course of this plucking and discarding.


You pluck a pretty bone. Place it face out on the outer side of your tray for everyone to see and pluck a replacement off The Loose.
You pluck the First Pretty. If no Pretty has been plucked from the wall by any player, a bonus of 10 a bit (see Bonuses) applies to the first player to pluck a Pretty, including Eddie's first working bone.
You pluck a fourth bone in a pair and get All-Of. Place all four bones FACE DOWN on the outer tray and pluck a replacement off The Loose.




To avoid abuse, and keep the game moving, discard your discard bone before you pluck from The Loose. While the others are playing, declare your pretty or All-Of and sort your bones.

It is acceptable play to pluck from the loose when it is not your turn, provided that you do not interfere with the player who is having their turn.

Someone discards a bone and you want it. Immediately you hear the name of your bone, call out "YES! (name of bone)". This will invariably interrupt the direction of play.
After declaring that you want the bone, pick it up from the pile of discarded bones and place it, face out on the outer tray, with the other two bones.
If you have three bones and the discarded bone makes four, pluck one off The Loose.
"In other words, if you pounced on a Jimmy Rick ("yes Jimmy!") and you have no use for the Box of Shit in front of you, discard the box of shit ("Box of Shit for it!").
Pluck a bone if you haven't already done so.
Discarding your bone indicates that you turn is over and play re-commences from the breeze to the left.


Tip: During the course of the game, count your bones. You must have thirteen. All-Of counts as three bones.


Open and Concealed Pairs


As you play, you build your hand in front of you, making sure that no-one can see your bones. If you call for a bone that another breeze discards, you obviously can't keep it a secret that you have a pair, so you place your pair face out for everyone to see. These are Open pairs.


If you pluck from the wall or The Loose to make a pair, it is a Concealed pair, because no-one knows what you have plucked. Concealed bones are worth more than Open bones.


There is a bonus for a winning hand that is concealed. See Scoring.


Winning Hands and the Do Bone


To declare a winning hand is to have 14 bones in front of you that make up a legitimate Pussers Bones hand. The 14th bone (the Do bone, because it'll 'do') can be plucked from the wall, picked up from the discards or plucked off The Loose.


Note: If you pluck the Do bone off the loose, it's worth an extra double. If the Do bone is the last bone in the wall, it's an extra double (but not both).


The following hands are legitimate Pussers Bones hands:


Pairs, or Minors. The 3 suits - Sticks, Ricks, Balls. A winning combination will be four pairs (three or four of the same bone) and a double-up (two of the same bone) on the same suit (known as a Pure Hand). Any combination of Winds and Dragons can be included, but care must be taken to ensure the score adds up to a minimum of 50 with AT LEAST one double (aside from the double for tying up). A Pure Hand is safe because it three doubles. See Scoring.


Tip: Eddie can tie up on shit (minors and a double-up of winds or dragons which scores under 50 points) because he gets an automatic double for being Eddie and an automatic double for tying up.


Majors. Pairs of Major bones and a double-up on a Major bone to make the 14th bone. This includes Winds, Dragons, 1s and 9s.


Moon. One of each Major bone and a double-up on any Major bone to make up the 14th bone.


1's and 9's. Four pairs of 1s and 9s of any suit. Double up on any 1 or 9 of any suit to make up the 14th Bone.


Winds and Dragons. Four pairs of Winds (Breezes) and/or Dragons. Double-up on any Wind or Dragon


Big Lizard. One of each tile of Sticks, Ricks or Balls, and one of each Breeze with a double-up of your own Breeze. For example, a 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 Rick, a Normie, Eddie, Sammy and a Wally and another of your own breeze to make 14 bones.


Little Lizard. The same as a Big Lizard but a double-up on one of the other breezes.


Note: Don't confuse a Double-up with a Double. A Double-up is simply two of the same bone, used for the purposes of tying up. A Double is what happens to your score should you have the right bones, such as Dragons. See Doubles under Scoring.


Bonus Bones


Squints - A set of 4 Pretties.


Double Squints - All-Of the Pretties.


Tying Up


In Pussers Bones, you must score 50 or more and have at least one double to tie up on a winning hand. To Tie Up means that you either plucked the Do bone from the wall, picked up from the discards or plucked off The Loose to get the 14th bone to make a winning hand.


Note: You must call "Do Bone!" before the next player discards, otherwise you are too late.


On hearing the call "Do Bone!", all other players toss their bones into the centre. This signifies that there is no turning back from the declaration, because there's no way the other players can reclaim their bones to continue playing for a legitimate winner.


Next Game


When Do Bone is called, the game ends. If Eddie wins the game, he stays Eddie. If another breeze wins, Eddie rotates clockwise for the next game. The game is also over when the last bone leaves the wall. In this case, Eddie stays Eddie. A Round is completed when Eddie goes full circle.




A declaration of Do means that the winning hand is a legitimate hand. In addition, the score adds up to more than 50 and there is at least one double. The winner deducts the points from the other players (each losing player gives 'a bit' to the winner) and adds the total to their column.


Tip: Elect one player to be the scorer. This is usually the loudest and most obnoxious player. There is no explanation for this trend, it just is.


Using the tables below, calculate the score for a winning hand as follows:

Add up your points.
Your Score = Your Points x 2, plus
Determine how many doubles you have in your hand
Then double your score as many times as you have doubles in your Tied Up Hand.
Round off your score to the nearest 100.
Divide your score by 100. The result is the number of cents payable by each losing player.
Deduct the amount from the other players and add it to your own.
Deduct any Bonus points from the other players and add them to your own.


Note: First Pretty should be awarded at the time it is plucked.


Fixed Scores


There are many winning combinations that don't need to be added up as they have a fixed score. These hands are as follows:




50 a bit

1's and 9's

50 a bit

Winds and Dragons

50 a bit

Big Lizard

30 a bit

Little Lizard

20 a bit






Shit Tie up (score less than 50 or mistakenly call Do Bone)

50 a bit

Eddie breaks into his own wall. Apply this penalty at the time of the offence.

50 a bit.



Bonus Points




20 a bit

Double Squints

50 a bit

First Pretty. Awarded when it is plucked.

10 a bit. To be eligible for the First Pretty bonus, it must be plucked from the wall (from the break or from the loose) ON OR AFTER EDDIE's ONE.






Tie up


3 Minor Open


3 Major Open


3 Minor Concealed


3 Major Concealed


4 Minor Open


4 Major Open


4 Minor Concealed


4 Major Concealed


Each Pretty


Pair of own wind


Pair of Dragons


Pluck the last bone to tie up







Tie up

1 double

Eddie Tie up

1 double

Your have your own breeze

1 double


1 double

You have your own Seasons Pretty

1 double

You have your own Flower Pretty 1 double

Do bone is plucked off The Loose or it is the Last Bone (one or the other you cant have both)

1 double

Pure hand

3 doubles (but you don't get the double for tying up)

Concealed Hand

3 doubles (but you don't get the double for tying up)


Game Playing Hints and Techniques


"A fast game is a quick game"
(Bear Linton, circa 1975, HMAS Ibis)

As the bones are flying around, it is difficult to keep count of how many have been thrown out. This may be critical for your game play, particularly if you are going for a Moon or a Lizard. Also important is whether there are enough of a particular minor bone left to make it worth hanging on to the one in your hand. One technique is to lay the bone on its side if one gets thrown out by another player, and turn it upside down if two get discarded. At least you can see from a glance that this bone may not be worth keeping.
If someone gets All-Of, it may not have ruined your chance of a Moon or a Lizard. However, if that same player has a pair of sticks out front and you are shooting for a stick Lizard, you may as well Bone Hold.
Eddie can tie up on shit. It may be worth just one or two a bit, but if you are Eddie, you have a better chance of staying Eddie and waiting for a good first pluck by employing this advantage.
If you are shooting for a Moon and someone ditches all the red bones, now's the time to Bone Hold. But be careful! Towards the end of the game, almost all of your bones will be HOT BONES! It may have been a good idea earlier in the game to get rid of potential Hot Bones.
Make your gameplay decision as early in the game as possible. If you pluck substantially more Ricks than any other bone, go for a hand of Ricks or a Rick Lizard. If you have a handful of Major Bones on their own, go for a moon. A hand with a couple of Dragons, a couple of Breezes and a couple of 1s and 9s is a Major Bones tie-up in the making!
Discard Major bones as early in the game as possible if there's no chance that you need them. This will make the opposition's chances of a Moon or Major Bones a little more difficult to obtain, but isn't that why they are the opposition?
Every now and then, add the scores up and make sure that it equals Zero.
Periodically, count you bones. You must have thirteen in front of you (All-Of counts as three).

Bones Etiquette

Pussers Bones is played fast. The faster the better. It is good etiquette to avoid holding up play as you pluck from the loose after scoring a pretty. Discard a bone first, then pluck from the loose.
Take turns at building someone else's wall while they go to the heads.
After building your part of the wall, help the other players by stacking the bones.
Organise a time to rule off the score sheet. For example, on the completion of the first full round after midnight, call the score and see if everyone wants to continue.
If you find yourself short a bone, pluck one from off the loose as well as your working bone when it is your turn. If you have one too many, discard on your turn but don't pluck. Etiquette requires that you mumble some form of excuse when you find your bones count is awry.
It is POOR ETIQUETTE to tell everyone to "hang on" while you fix your bone count upon discovering that you have one too many/too few bones. It is also suicide to make good your bone count halfway through the last wall. Better just shut up and wait until the end of the game.