Traditional Board Games

Games Around the World: Korea

A shrine in Korea
A shrine in Korea

Saturday, 11th April 2015

For a few months now, I've been taking an armchair journey around the world, visiting various countries and looking at the games that they have invented. Last month I looked at China. This month I move on to Korea, a small country that has produced a number of interesting games.

One of the most well known games from Korea is Nyout, also called Yut or Yut Nori. This game is still played today, traditionally at New Year. It is quite versatile in that two, three or four can play, and the rules are adjusted slightly to suit the number of players. In this it has a very modern feel, but it is a game close to two thousand years old.

Another good little game is nei-pat-ko-no (four field kono). Two players start the game with eight pieces each completely filling the sixteen playing spaces of the board. When a space is available, a piece may move horizontally or vertically to an adjacent space. But capture is by a leapfrog method different to draughts: one of your pieces leaps over an adjacent friend to land on and capture the enemy immediately beyond. Pieces must therefore work together in groups.

O-pat-ko-no (five field kono) is, despite the name, very different to four field kono. Players face each other across a board of five rows of five points, on which each player has seven pieces laid out. Pieces move diagonally forwards or backwards one space, and the aim is to get one's pieces to the starting spaces of the opponent. The aim is very similar to Halma, the American game of the 1880s. Information on the relationship between these two games is scarce, and there may be no relationship at all.

There was a mysterious game called ryouk-pat-ko-no (six field kono), but information on how this game was played, or how it even looked, has now been lost.

More games were historically played in Korea, but most were derived or adopted from games elsewhere. Chess was adapted from the Chinese version xiang qi into the Korean janggi; the Koreans also played go under the name patok or baduk, and adopted nine men's morris too.

Next month we'll journey across the Pacific Ocean to look at some of the board games played by the civilisations of pre-Columbian America.


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