Fun traditional Korean games

By Honorary Reporter Cintia Mancilla

When my nephews come for a visit, sometimes it gets really hard to entertain them. My niece is always asking me about what game we could play. That question isn’t easy to answer because I don’t know a lot of games to play with them. We end up playing the same games again and again. Her favorite is hide and seek. Then I thought about traditional Korean games. They’re easy to play and fun at the same time. The list is huge, but I try to shorten it to games that I’ve already seen on variety TV shows like “Running Man,” or my favorite, “Two Days, One Night.” They’re ideal to play with the family. Here’s my list.

1. Traditional games

Yut (윷 / 윷놀이)

Yut or yunnori is a traditional Korean game played on or around Lunar New Year‘s. ( DB)
Yut or yutnori is a traditional game with a large history behind it. The game consists of a “stick dice,” four wooden sticks that are flat on one side and rounded on the other. Each player or team takes turns to throw the yut sticks.
You can find yut sets at any Korean supermarket, or even at stores out in the country. Sets include eight playing tokens, four for each team. Five combinations of the “throwing sticks” are possible: do, gae, geol, yut and mo. If a player obtains a yut or a mo, they’re allowed to throw the sticks again. When a board piece lands on a spot occupied by an opponent, it’s returned to the start position and there’s a new opportunity to throw a yut. If a piece lands on a spot occupied by a piece from your own team, the pieces can travel together as one on the next turn. The throwing stick combinations determine how many spots are moved each turn, and the team which moves all four pieces around the board first wins.
Ssireum (씨름)
Ssireum is a very popular sport in Korea. This type of wrestling is played in a sandy ring where two contestants, both large men, have a belt rolled around their waist and legs. They each try to grab the opponent´s belt using their strength and technique to knock down their rival. The first one to touch the floor with his knees or entire body is the loser.
Tuho (투호) Honorary Reporters play tuho during their visit to Tongyeong. ( DB)
A popular traditional game between royal family members originated in ancient China and can be seen on period-piece Korean TV soap operas. The purpose of the game is to aim and toss an arrow or stick into a narrow quiver or thin wooden jar from a certain distance. Players try to get their arrow into the quiver as many times as possible. This game is often played around Seollal Lunar New Year’s Day and the Chuseok Mid-Autumn Harvest Festival. The game is very easy to play and doesn’t require any complex equipment, just a simple quiver and some rubber-tipped arrows.
Neolttwigi (널뛰기)
This game is a form of seesaw, where a rolled-up straw mat under a long board, called a neol, is placed so that each player can stand on one end. One of the people jumps, launching the other player into the air. This is traditionally played by young women, especially on holidays and festivals like Dano (단오), the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, and the Chuseok Mid-Autumn Harvest Festival (추석).
In neolttwigi, participants stand on the ends of the neol board and jump up and down, propelling the person opposite into the air. ( DB)

Jegichagi (제기차기)
Jegichagi is a traditional Korean game where players kick a paper jegi shuttlecock into the air and attempt to keep it aloft. (Cintia Mancilla)
This game is similar to hacky sack, but instead of a crocheted footbag, a jegi is used, similar to a badminton shuttlecock, which is made from a small coin and then some strands of traditional Hanji mulberry paper or cloth. The players use the sides of their feet to kick the shuttlecock up in the air, never letting it fall to the ground. It can be played alone, or one-on-one. The player with the most consecutive kicks wins. In groups, people can form a circle and kick around the jegi. When a player misses the jegi, they’re out of the circle.
I’ll show you how to make a a jegi at home. My nephew loved it. He even plays jegichagi at school with his friends.
Colored tissue paper, about 25 or 30 cm
-a coin, or bottles cap, or washer
-string or rubber bands
-a ruler
-a pencil
-a small bell
-Stack together two or three pieces of tissue paper and fold the paper in half
-With a ruler, draw 1 cm lines that start at the folded edge and go outward to the loose edge of the paper, and which stop about 4 cm from the edge.
-Unfold the paper and stack the coin or other weighty object at one end of the crease and wrap the paper around it. Bring together the two ends and tie them together with a rubber band.
-If you want, you can add a small bell to make a tinkling sound when the jegi is kicked. The ideal weight for a jegi is 10 g. That’s light enough to kick it and prevent a sudden drop. Use a digital kitchen scale to show the weight.
Jegis can be made at home, a great rainy day activity. (Cintia Mancilla)

Gonggi (공기)
Gonggi or jacks is a popular children’s game that’s traditionally played using five or more small grape-sized pebbles. (National Institute of Korean Language)
An amusing childhood game played with small stones is called gonggi, kind of like knuckle-bones or jacks, and nowadays they stones are made of colored plastic with small weights inside.
There are many ways to play gonggi but the standard way is the five level game.
One player spreads out five stones on the ground, picking one up and throws it in the air to rapidly pick up another stone at the same time, catching the one that was thrown in the air. With two in hand, one of them is thrown up again and they have to pick up a third. The player repeats these steps until all the stones are together in one hand.
In the next round, the player has to pick up two stones every time one is thrown up, adding one every round until the fifth round. In the final step, the player has to toss all the stones into the air and catch them all on the back of their hand. Then, tossing them up again, they have to catch them all in their palm. The number of stones caught is the player´s score. When you fail to catch them all, it’s the next person’s turn.
Ddakji (딱지)
Ddakji is a traditional game played using folded paper squares. (Cintia Mancilla)
The objective of this game is to flip one item from side A to B using another similar piece. In Latin America, we play a similar game with stickers or pogs with famous sports stars or cartoon characters on them. However, you can make your own ddakji quite easily. You only need two squares of paper (30.5 cm by 22.86 cm, or 12 by 9 inches). Use a  type of paper of your liking, but make sure it’s strong enough to be folded, like cardboard.
You can make your own ddakji by following the instructions at (Cintia Mancilla)

Paper & pencil and table games 

Gonu (고누)

Gonu is an abstract strategy board game. (Cintia Mancilla)
A variation of pong hau k’i (裤裆棋), gonu is a two person board game that varies by region. The game is commonly played on a small four-by-four board. Based on the version of gonu, each player has an established quantity of pieces, black or white, and different diagram board .It could be easily played with a paper and pencil while using some coins or beans as pieces. The objective is to freeze the opponent’s counters. Players take turns moving their pieces to the closest free spot, trying to block their rival’s potential moves on the next turn. The first player to block all the opponent’s pieces is the winner.
Omok (오목)
This Korean game is played on a 19-by-19 board and does not include the rule of “three and three.” The goal is to form a line of five pieces in a row. It can be vertical, horizontal or diagonal, using the intersection points and not inside the squares.
Alkkagi (알까기)
This is the name of a table board game popular around the yearly Chuseok Mid-Autumn Harvest Festival. It’s often played on a go board, but can be played on any smooth surface with a grid pattern. It is a two-player game. They place white and black stones at the end of the board, spreading out at the two ends of the board again. Both players try to flick their pieces into the rival’s area, knocking them off the board. The winner is the person who keeps safe at least one piece of their own.
Outdoor games
Juldarigi (줄다리기)
Juldarigi bears a strong resemblance to a tug of war. Many agriculture communities have turned this traditional sport into a ritual and give it divinatory meaning. It’s played at festivals and public gatherings, such as at Daeboreum (대보름), the Great Full Moon Festival.
Villagers use two huge rice-straw ropes connected by a central peg that are pulled by teams representing the east and the west of the town.
Hoop-rolling (굴렁쇠)
This game has been played by generations and generations of children all around the world. The materials might vary according to the country, but the objective is the same: try to make a hoop, made of wood or metal, roll with the help of a stick for long periods of time, or attempt tricks. In the Opening Ceremony for the Seoul 1988 Olympics, a young child named Yoon Tae-woong rolled a hoop across the Olympic Stadium in front a huge crowd, touching people’s hearts.
There’s a video of the Opening Ceremony on YouTube.
Team and hand games
Di bi di bi dip or Cham cham cham (디비디비딮, 참참참)
This popular hand game can be seen on many TV shows. The main goal is to persuade your opponent to face the same direction you want them to face (cham cham cham) or do the same pose as the leader does (di bi di bi dip). First, a challenger will point either left or right with his finger or arm and say, “Di bi di bi dip,” or, “Cham cham cham.” Your aim is to turn your head to the opposite direction. Sometimes, people use these phrases with variations.
Muk jji ppa (묵찌빠)
Rock-paper-scissors is well known around the world. The Korean version adds an interesting change. The game begins with the regular rock-paper-scissors. The goal of the winner is to match what the loser will show on the next turn.
The rules for muk jji ppa are explained by Honorary Reporter Cintia Mancilla.
Human zero game (인간제로)
Similar to a thumb war, you can have two people play this game any amount you want. All the players put their fists together while one person will call out a number from zero to four. If the number of thumbs raised is the same that the number shouted, that person is the winner and gains one point. When the caller shouts, “Zero,” none of the players should raise their thumbs, making the caller the loser. A variation of this game is, instead of using thumbs, the players remain crouched down or standing up, depending on what the leader calls.
Sense games (눈치게임)
Nunchi (눈치) is a Korean word that means the ability to guess another person’s feelings or desired actions. If you don’t have nunchi (눈치가 없다), it means that you’re clueless. The “sense game” is perfect with more than three people. Everybody sits or crouches down in one place ready to go. First, one person will call out, “Start.” Each person will stand up and shout a number from one according to the number of people playing. Players lose if two people say the same number.
Perfect pitch (절대음감게임)
This tongue twister game consists of a five syllable phrase said five times only, although the numbers of syllables could be fewer or more than five, according to the difficulty desired. This is usually a relay game. At each repetition of the phrase, the intonation must begin from the first syllable to the last. It’s a good game to help improve one’s Korean pronunciation.
Here are some examples.
4 syllables
낙지볶음Nak-ji –bo-kkeum (spicy stir fried octopus)
법학박사Beop-hak-bak-sa (a Ph.D. in law)
5 syllables
샥스핀스프 shak-seu-pin-seu-peu (shark fin soup)
괄라룸푸르 kwal-la-lum-pu-reu (Kuala Lumpur)
6 syllables
막국수닭갈비 mak-guk-su-dak-kal-bi (buckwheat noodles with grilled chicken)
왕안흥팥찐빵wang-an-heung-pat-jjin-bbang (king-sized Anheung-styled red bean steamed bun)
Chicken fight (닭싸움)
In this popular game, you have to fight as a chicken would. The players are separated into two equal groups, where each player grabs the ankle of one of their feet letting your knee poke out .While standing on one leg you have to try to knock the other person over, making both their feet touch the ground. This game will go on until only one person is the survivor.
369 (삼육구)
The game 369 is perfect to play with a lot of people. The rules are easy to follow. One player begins counting from one, passing the turn to the next player. They must count that number plus one more, repeating this rules until one person fails. However, when a player encounters a number that includes the digits 3, 6 or 9, the person has to do a clap for that number.
1, 2, clap, 4, 5, clap, 7, 8, clap, 10, 11, 12, clap, 14, 15, clap, 17, 18, clap, 20, 21, 22, clap, 24, 25, clap, 27, 28, clap, and so on