Korean Games: Gonggi

Written by on February 5, 2013 in Lifestyle

“Shall we play a game?” is a memorable line from one of my favorite school hood movies. It’s a line I often use with my friends and family when I want to relax and gather around a table to play board or card games. Over the years, I’ve played many games introduced to me by my parents and other friends, but I find the ones I play most frequently these days are Korea. Perhaps that’s because I call the peninsula home and they’re new to me? Whatever the reason, the games are exciting and challenging, which is what I love about them. This month on The Korea Blog, we’ll take a look at four Korean games loved by many. To start things off, we’ll start with Gongi (공기), also called Jack Stones or Korean Jacks.

Jacks is an ancient game, whose origin isn’t exactly known, but presumed to be Asiatic. The original game used knucklebones from sheep. The bones were thrown into the air and caught in various ways. Gonggi (pronounced gong-gee) is the modern Korean version of the game. In Gonggi, five colorful, weighted plastic pieces are used (although traditionally, grape-sized pebbles were the game piece of choice).


Game Play

The rules and play of the game are quite simple: throw a stone into the air and catch it. Okay, maybe it’s a little more complicated than that, but not much. There are five levels of play and each player begins on level one and progresses through each level until they miss or foul. To determine who goes first, the five stones are tossed into the air and caught on the back of the hand. The player with the most stones, leads. From Wikipedia:

  • Level 1: The stones are thrown on the playing surface and the player picks a stone to throw up in the air. While airborne, the player picks up one stone on the playing surface. Then, the player catches the stone. These steps are repeated until all the stones have been caught.
  • Level 2: The stones are thrown on the playing surface again. However, at this level, the player picks up the stones two at a time.
  • Level 3: The stones are thrown on the playing surface. The stones are picked up once in a cluster of three, and the other in the amount of one.
  • Level 4: The player throws one stone in the air, places the others on the surface, and catches the airborne stone. The stone is thrown into the air again and the player picks up the four clustered stones on the playing surface.
  • Level 5: The player tosses the stones from the palm of their hand in to the air. While airborne, the player switches his hand backside up. The stones are then caught on the back of the hand. Then, the player throws the stones in the air and catches them. The number of stones caught amount to the score.

A player’s turn is over when they commit a foul. These include not catching the stones, not picking up the designated number of stones, or allowing stones to touch on the playing surface. Distracting another player is also a no-no.

Scoring is also simple. Nothing is scored until you reach Level 5. The number of stones caught in the player’s hand at the end the round is scored. Once Level 5 has been reached, play begins anew at Level 1 and continues until the player misses or fouls.

Gonggi is a great game that’s continued into the 21st Century and played by many children. Gonggi stones can be purchased at many stationary stores around the nation and in local markets. A set usually contains six stones (one extra) and costs about W2000-3000.

Have you played Gonggi or another Jacks game? How did you do? Next week The Korea Blog will introduce another great family Korean game.


About the Author

Steve Miller

Steve Miller, the QiRanger, is Korea’s best-known travel video blogger-journalist. His videos have been viewed by millions and seen on media outlets in throughout the word. In addition to sharing his entertaining and informative videos, he writes about life abroad and releases a popular podcast. Steve appears regularly on international radio stations, talking about travel, Korean culture and East Asian news. He’s also appeared on Arirang Television sharing unique aspects of Korean life. You can follow Steve on Twitter @QiRanger or visit his site QiRanger.com.