Traditional Korean Games that You Can Play, Too!

By Kalina Ewing

Growing up we all had our favorite games to play: hopscotch, tic-tac-toe, blind man's bluff, checkers—to name a few. Check out some favorite traditional Korean games that may bring back memories for some or be an introduction to others!

Yut Nori (윷놀이)

This very popular game is often played around the new year. The objective is to move all your team’s tokens (mal) back to where you began the fastest. Played with a board that was traditionally round but now can be square, it has an outer path and inner paths that can be used to speed up a win. Four sticks (yut) with round and flat parts are thrown, and depending on how they land, will determine the number of spaces you can move your token. There are two teams and no limit to the number of members allowed on each, which can lead to a very loud and raucous gathering of people, who might be shouting and yelling as they cheer and jeer. Watch the following video to find out how to play.

Chajeon Nori

In this traditional war game played mostly by men,  two teams—usually called "West" and "East"—pick leaders and then build triangle-shaped structures from wooden logs that cross at the top, called dongchae. Charging each other with the dongchae, they attempt to bring the other team's commander down. It almost appears to be more of a beautifully-choreographed dance than a battle with the drums and circular movements done by the teams as they make their attempts to win.

Janggi (장기)

Often called Korean Chess, its origins come from the Chinese game, xianqui. The pieces are generally divided into two teams that represent warring factions, and the object of the game is to overthrow the opposing kingdom’s general (checkmate). The teams are designated by two different colors: one will always be red and the characters in it are written in traditional Hangul, and the other can be any other color, but is most often blue or green (and very rarely black) with its characters written in semi-cursive Hangul. 

Gonggi (공기)

Similar to jacks, this is a children’s game that improves eye-hand coordination, but instead of a rubber ball and small metal pieces, it has five or more small pebble-like pieces. Traditionally, children would search for similar-sized stones to use, but now the game is sold with plastic, colorful parts.  

The object of the game is quite simple: each round, a player tosses up a number of the stones, and tries to catch them without dropping any. Throughout the years, different adaptations have been added, like catching the stones on the back of the hand or from behind the back, to make the game more interesting and difficult. For a full set of rules, click here.

Tuho (투호) 

Tuho needs hand-eye coordination, but also a judge of distance. If you think of carnival games in which you must hit a target, this would be in the same area. Participants are given a bunch of arrows, and must get them into a pot or jar. The game was said to have originated in China where army troops played it to amuse themselves. From there, it spread into both Japan and Korea.

Jegichagi (제기차기)

Players must kick a jegi, traditionally a paper-covered coin made to resemble a shuttlecock, with the inside of one's foot repeatedly. They must keep it the air, and achieve the most amount of kicks possible. Switching legs is permitted, and it can be played alone or in a group. If playing in a group, the first person to let the jegi hit the ground is out, and gives it to the person with the highest number of kicks to keep going. This continues until only one person is left.

Kite Flying

Kite-flying is a favorite pastime of children around the world. In Korea, this is traditionally a wintertime sport. During Lunar New Year, kites take on a special meaning as they are flown with the owner's name, date of birth, and sometimes well wishes for the year to come on them. After Daeboreum (first full moon after the Lunar New Year), the string will be cut, releasing the kite along with the wishes and any bad energy from the year before into the cosmos.

Games like these are an important tool in teaching skills as well as a way to spend time with friends and family. We have named just a few of traditional Korean games that are still popular today; which ones are your favorite or are you looking forward to trying for the first time?

If we missed you favorite, tell us what is and why you love it!

Cover Image: Hong Jong-hyun (C-JeS Entertainment); Yura of Girl's Day (Dream T Entertainment)

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