What comes to your mind instinctively when you think of South Korea?
K-pop -of course, dramas, high tech, kimchi, maybe soju, and funny Korean traditional games!
That’s right, folks.
South Korea has a bunch of friendly traditional games – something that’s becoming increasingly rare in our technology-driven society.
So if you’re looking for a unique cultural experience or simply want to try your hand at some traditional games from South Korea, read on!
In this article, we’ll introduce some popular traditional Korean games and their rules.
Let’s get started!
7 Popular Korean Traditional Games To Enjoy Group Activities
South Korean have some really nice recreational activities to play with simple rules that anyone can fancy!
Here are some South Korean group activities you can enjoy and how to play them.
Yut Nori (윷놀이) is traditionally a family Korean indoor game between two teams during the Lunar New Year’s Day and the Great Full Moon Festival.
Yut Nori is a Korean board game that usually comes with:
- 4 wooden sticks, also named yut. These sticks feature two sides, one rounded with patterns and the other one flat. They are made to roll on a flat surface, like when you play a classic board game with dice.
- 8 pieces or markers to split into 2 teams with different colors. 4 for each one.
- a rectangular or square shape board with 29 dots
However, an alternate version of the game also exists with larger-sized sticks that can be played both indoors and outdoors.
The rules are relatively simple: both teams must progress on the board following the different available paths and return all their pieces to the starting point.
The order to play is usually determined by playing other traditional games like Kai Bai Bo, the Korean version of rock paper scissors.
How To Play Yut
To play at Yut Nori, teams have to throw their wooden sticks through the air.
The way they land will determine the move number they’ll be able to do on the board.
There are then 5 possible combinations to determine how many movements are possible:
- do (도). It means that teams can move their piece from 1 place. It happens when only one wooden stick’s flat side is facing up.
- gae (개). It means that teams can move their piece from 2 places. It happens when 2 wooden sticks’ flat sides are facing up.
- geol (걸). It means that teams can move their piece from 3 places. It happens when 3 wooden sticks’ flat sides are facing up.
- yut (윷). It means that teams can move their piece from 4 places. It happens when 4 wooden sticks’ flat sides are facing up. This combination is particular as it also gives an extra move allowing teams to throw their stick one more time.
- mo (모). It means that teams can move their piece from 5 places. It happens when 4 wooden sticks’ flat sides are facing down. This combination also gives you a bonus as for yut.
And 2 possibles actions while moving their pieces:
- Both teams can kick out opponent pieces when their piece lands where the opponent team piece is. The opponent piece then goes back to the starting point.
- Each team that makes a move, landing on where another team piece is, can then carry the other piece for the next move.
That’s pretty much all you need to know to play Yut-Nori with your family and friends!
Jegichagi (제기차기) is a traditional Korean game for all ages but is especially appreciated by kids, even if teenagers and adults can still play from time to time.
This recreational activity has a form of hacky sack traditionally played by Korean boys during winter.
It remembers a lot of children juggling with a soccer ball.
However, instead of being a soccer ball, this game is about kicking an object named Jegi.
A Jegi has a round base like a sizeable old coin called yeopjeon, wrapped with clothes or hanji, and has a badminton shuttlecock alike form.
Jegichagi can be played alone or with teams.
The goal of this game is straightforward.
Players must juggle with the Jegi using their feet to reach as many points as possible.
While playing in a team, the participants’ order should be determined to know who starts first.
It can quickly be done with a simple hand game like Muk Jji Ppa (묵찌빠).
How To Play Jegichagi
There are multiple ways to play Jegichagi:
- Ttanggangaji. A version all about touching the ground with your kicking foot after every kick on the Jegi made.
- Eogichagi. A version all about using both feets so right and left feets can be used to kick the Jegi alternatively.
- Heollaengi. A version all about keeping the foot kicking the Jegi in the air, so it doesn’t touch the ground until the end of the round.
- Dwitbalchagi. A version all about using the lateral interior side of the kicking foot to kick the Jegi up in the air.
- Muljig. A version where players have to kick the Jegi then catch it in their mouths.
- Kijigi. A version all about kicking the Jegi as high as possible so it is higher than the active player’s size.
- Mureupchagi. A version all about kicking the Jegi with a knee.
- Eonjigi. A version all about kicking the Jegi to place it and maintain it on the head before dropping it to kicking it again. This one remembers a lot of South America’s soccer juggling alternately between foot and head.
Jegichagi is a funny Korean traditional game to play even solo or with 2 teams of 2 players each.
Gonggi Nori (공기놀이) is a Korean children’s game that can be played almost anywhere alone or with a group.
Most Korean adults know this recreational activity and play it with their family, remembering their childhood.
Gonggi Nori usually comes with 5 small pebbles or colored plastic stones.
The goal is to throw all the stones in the air and catch them all while still in the air.
A number of points to achieve should be set up by teams before playing this game.
The order to play is often determined by other Korean traditional games like Kai Bai Bo, but it can also be other ones.
How To Play Gonggi
To play at Gonggi Nori, there are some simple rules to follow:
- Round 1. Teams have to throw their stones on the ground first in turns with only one person per turn. Then teams have to pick up the first stone on the floor from their set and throw it in the air. While the stone is still flying in the air, another stone must be picked up on the ground before the first stone falls. With speed, the selected players have to attempt to grab also the stone still in the air to get both plastic balls in their hands. When stones have been caught, players have to keep them in their hands and use the same hand to pick up a stone on the ground and throw them in the air. Finally, this step should be repeated until all remaining stones have been thrown in the air and caught, 1 per 1. When completed, all stones should be put back on the floor to process to the next round.
- Round 2. This round process is the same as the first round, with the only difference being that participants still have to throw 1 stone in the air, but this time they must pick 2 stones from the ground. Then it should be repeated until all remaining stones have been thrown in the air and caught.
- Round 3. It’s the same process that round 2, with the difference that players should pick up 3 stones from the ground this time while 1 stone is still in the air. However, your hands will have 4 stones with only 1 remaining on the floor by doing so. It means that you should throw one stone already in your hands to pick up the last one on the ground.
- Round 4. This round is quite different. It usually starts with players having all stones in their hands. First, they have to throw 1 pebble in the air, put down all remaining stones on the ground and catch the flying pebble. Secondly, players have to throw in the air the only pebble in their hand then grab all 4 remaining stones on the floor while the first one is still in the air.
- Round 5, also named Kkeokgi. This round is a scoring round that gives you a maximum of 5 points if you succeed correctly. However, this round is different and especially tricky. First, players have to take all stones in their hands and throw them all in the air. Then players have to catch a maximum of pebbles with the back of their hands. Secondly, Players have to throw all stones in the air and grab a maximum of flying stones with a proper hand gesture. Pebbles have to be caught with a movement from top to bottom and with a clenched fist. The number of stones captured determines the score, with 1 point per pebble successfully acquired. With no rocks caught, no points are attributed.
There are now 5 possibilities to pass turns that add complexity to this game. All of them make an end to the active player’s turn:
- Players who fail to pick up all expected stones on the ground
- Players who have touched another pebble that the ones expected
- Players that have missed the flying stone in the air
- Players who have messed up getting points in round 4 have to give all pebbles to the other opponent team’s participant
- Players who have messed up with the proper catching hand gesture in round 5 Kkeokgi
Gonggi Nori is an excellent game to play with children and friends.
It is also a fun solo game with a reasonable number of points to achieve!
Biseokchigi (비석치기) is a traditional Korean game mostly played outdoors as it requires some available space, like in a schoolyard or a parc.
Though, it can also be played indoors.
It is a recreational activity famous among boys in South Korea.
The goal is simple as it’s an aiming game where players have to knock down stones placed on the ground with a flat rock called biseok, made of small pillar stones.
There are some similarities with bowls when you have to strike an opponent’s bowl to take it away from the jack.
It’s a game played between 2 teams.
How to Play Biseokchigi
To play Biseokchigi, both team players must face each other, draw a line in front of their feet with an appropriate interval (80 to 196 inches), then stand on the line.
As for most traditional games in South Korea, the participant’s order should be determined before starting the game.
An excellent way to do it is by using a simple hand game like Kai Bai Bo.
There are some simple rules to follow to process by stage:
- Stage 1. Teams have to place their stones on their line on the ground. The number of rocks to dispose of depends on the participant number per team. All team players have to knock down, one by one, the opposing team’s biseoks in this stage using their flat rock. When all opponent stones have been knocked down, teams can move to the next step. On the contrary, when teams fail to knock down these rocks, they have to shift their turn, and the opponent team takes the active turn. However, while each group participant attempts to knock down opposing biseoks, only those who have succeeded in hitting the opponent’s stones remain in the game. Others are disqualified. The last active players then attempt to complete the round by hitting the remaining biseoks. If they succeed, disqualified team players are back in the game and qualified to participate in the next stage.
- Stage 2. Basic rules are the same as stage 1 with an additional challenge. All team players with an active turn have to throw their biseok at a reasonable distance in front of them, like a 1 step distance. Then starting from their line, they have to jump on one leg with only 1 step as close as possible to the biseok, without touching it. Now, they have to pick up their stone on the ground, still on one leg, and have to aim at the opponent’s biseok. When the team’s participants succeed, they can move to the next stage.
- Stage 3. Basic rules are the same as in stage 1, with another challenge different from stage 2. This stage is all about hitting opponent’s stones with a foot instead of a hand. All team players with an active turn have to throw their biseok at a reasonable distance in front of them, like a 2 steps distance. Then starting from their line, they have to make 2 steps jumping on one leg as close as possible to the biseok, without touching it. Now, they must kick their stone on the ground, still on one leg, to strike the opponent’s biseok. When the team’s participants succeed, they can move to the next stage.
- Stage 4. Basic rules are the same as in stage 1, with another challenge different from stages 2 and 3. This time, the team’s participants must keep and hold their biseok on 1 foot while they move from their line to the opponent one, step by step. They should try to be as close as possible to the opponent’s biseok. Then they must strike the opponent’s stone with their biseok, using a small foot move.
From there, many game variations are possible involving feet, back, chest, shoulders, and even underarms!
Among them, some famous are:
- Tokkidduim, also known as Knee pee, where the team’s participants must move close to the opponent’s biseok with their own stone held between their ankles.
- Ojumssagae, also known as Ankle rabbit leap, where the team’s participants must move close to the opponent’s biseok with their own stone held between their knees.
- Shinmun Pari, also known as Newsletter vendor, where the team’s participants must move close to the opponent’s biseok with their own stone held under their underarms.
- Tteokjangsu, also known as rice cake seller, where the team’s participants must move close to the opponent’s biseok carrying their own stone on their head.
There are finally some disqualifications rules valid for all stages:
- Dropping a biseok while moving it results in disqualification
- Touching an opponent’s biseok with any body parts results in disqualification
- Fail to jump on 1 leg without touching your own biseok
Biseokchigi is an awesome game to play with a group of friends or colleagues, as funny moments are mostly guaranteed!
Ssireum is South Korea’s national sport, where its origins can be traced way back to the Three-Kingdom era.
The name was derived from the verb “ssireuda”, which means “holding out.”
In ssireum’s modern form, two contestants wearing a satba or belt around the waist and thigh get into the platform and attempt to bring their opponent’s knee down to the ground.
There are at least 55 techniques employed in playing the sport, including hand, leg, waist, and lifting approaches.
Tuho Nori is a traditional Korean game with a vibrant history and was used by royals during the Three-Kingdom era to the late Joseon dynasty to pass the time.
All you need to do is throwing an arrow inside a jar.
Whoever throws the most number of arrows wins tuho-nori.
In traditional times, women with upper-class families weren’t allowed to go outside the high walls of their family garden.
It is the inspiration behind this game’s conception.
Neolttwigi is a seesaw game played mainly by girls.
They would toss one another just to see the world outside the walls.
Nowadays, neolttwigi is often performed during South Korean holidays like Chuseok and Dano.
What Does Nori at the End of a Term Means?
The suffix -nori added at the end of some South Korean traditional game names means game in Korean (놀이).
You can see in some game names the addition of “nori”, even if not always added like for Yut and Gonggi.
What Are the Most Popular Korean Games to Play Outdoors?
The most popular Korean traditional games to play outdoor in South Korea are Jegichagi (제기차기), Neolttwigi (널뛰기), Biseokchigi (비석치기), Tuho (투호), and Ssireum (씨름).
What Are the Most Popular Korean Games to Play Indoors?
The most popular Korean traditional games to play indoors in South Korea are Yut Nori (윷놀이), Jegichagi (제기차기), which can be anywhere with enough space, Tujeon and Gonggi Nori (공기놀이).
What Are the Most Popular Korean Board Games?
The most popular traditional Korean board games in South Korea are Yut Nori (윷놀이), Gonggi Nori (공기놀이), and Gonu Nori.
What Are the Most Popular Card Games in South Korea?
The most popular traditional Korean card games in South Korea are Hwagatu (화가투) and Hwatu (화투).
And that’s pretty much it!
Whether you’re looking for a fun game to enjoy with friends or family, these traditional Korean games will keep you well entertained.
And if you would like to find about the Korean games in Netflix Squid Game, be sure to take a look at our article!
So what’s your favorite one?
Let us know on Discord, and don’t forget to challenge your friends to a round of Muk Jji Ppa!