One Arm Bandit box
One Arm Bandit box

One Arm Bandit is a game I enjoyed in my youth and now also with my grandchildren. It’s easy enough that younger children can learn to play quickly and yet, for them, it seems to have enough luck (even press your luck) to keep them coming back for more.

You may never have heard of One Arm Bandit before. In fact, apparently no one at Board Game Geek had heard of it either until I added it to the database for them. (That may be a bit of an overstatement, but I’m glad to have made the contribution to their site.)

How Do You Play One Arm Bandit?

The One Arm Bandit game board looks like the one shown below.

One Arm Bandit board
One Arm Bandit board

At the top left, the Cash Cage holds the supply of money, which is all (cardboard) silver dollars. At the top right is the Bonus Bar to which you must pay a coin each turn. Sometimes you’ll get to collect some money from this area too.

Down the center are orange, yellow, and blue columns that show all the tiles available in the game. Most younger children will only use this area to place their tile sets when cashing them in. They won’t think to use this to determine which tiles are left in the Draw and Discard piles (at left center) that are available for them to pick. Eventually, this will change as they learn more about the game.

At right center is a table showing the House Odds. The rows in this table show your in-game goals. When the tiles in your rack match one of the rows, you can cash them in for the number of coins shown. If your combination includes a Jackpot tile, you get some of your winnings from the Bonus Bar (as mentioned above).

You start the game with a stack of 10 coins and 3 tiles – one in each color. On your turn, you usually pick a new tile from the Draw pile or the Discard pile, replace the tile of the same color in your rack, and discard the old tile.

Your other option is to cash your tiles in for dollars according to the House Odds table. The tiles that are more scarce earn you more dollars.

Each turn (as noted earlier), you have to pay a dollar to the Bonus Bar. You try to cash in a combination before you run out of money. Normally this is not difficult to do. If you do go bankrupt, you get 1 free turn on which you do not have to pay the usual dollar. If you can’t cash in a set of tiles to get more coins, you are out of the game. (This rarely happens.)

There are a few more rules I won’t get into here, but that is the gist of the game. The game (normally) ends when both the money supplies are depleted. The winner is the player with the most money.

Thoughts about One Arm Bandit

This is a game my family played many times when I was young. Apparently we had lots of fun with it. I do recall wanting to play it fairly often.

As you have probably figured out, most adults should do better at this game than the children they play with – at least, until those children figure out how to work with the odds shown on the board.

There is a little press your luck in One Arm Bandit in that you can try for a higher valued combination hoping to get it before you run out of cash. Your other options are purposely trying for easier combinations or just going for whatever seems easiest based on the tiles you start with.

There is not a lot of deep thinking going on here, but most children don’t want or aren’t ready for that kind of game anyway. So if you want a good game to play with your children or grandchildren, see if you can find a copy of One Arm Bandit.

By the way, you may have to explain the name of the game and its relation to a slot machine, especially if your children have never heard of these machines (which I hope they haven’t).

One Arm Bandit Review: A Simple Game for Kids and Their Parents