Gonggi is an old, perhap ancient, Korean version of the game of Fivestones or Jacks. You can see by the photo above that there are many versions of this game. While we in the West tend to associate it with children it historically was also played by adults, as it still is in many parts of the world. Modern gonggitdol, or stones, are made out of brightly colored plastic and are slightly weighted. The modern set I bought came with two extra gonggitdol. Historically five small pebbles would have been used, or even the knucklebones of sheep.
There is no evidence to suggest when people first started playing this family of games, but there are ancient Greek and Roman records of the game, and even statues and paintings that show girls in the process of playing. While I am sure the game originated with five stones or pebbles, people in ancient Greece and Rome started using the knucklebones of sheep as their prefered stones. In the ancient Middle East 5 small cubes of metal or wood were used. Later even the Vikings played games with knucklebones.
Unfortunately I can’t find any evidence of people in ancient Korea or China playing Gonggi/Fivestones, but I would not be surprised to hear that the game has been played for thousands of years in those countries. I do know that knucklebones are still used in parts of China to play Fivestones as a Chinese lady challenged me to a game one time. She was really good and easily beat me.
Most of us who follow K dramas or K variety shows will have seen Gonggi played from time to time and seen how challenging it can be for those who have not played before.
The basic goals and method of play are similar, but different cultures have different rules of play. As far as I can tell Gonggi is very similar to how I played as a child except I used 10 jacks and a ball. Using a ball is easier in some ways, but also allows for different variations.
Usually you sit on the ground in a circle with the playing area in the middle. To start the game you have to decide who goes first. The first player gently tosses the 5 gonggitdol on the ground and then picks up one. That one is tossed into the air and one of the other gonggitdol must be plucked from the ground and held before catching the one tossed into the air. You are not allowed to move any of the other gonggitdol while doing this so you must make sure your first toss at the beginning doesn’t bunch them all too close together. If you fail or move one you lose your turn and play passes to the next player. If you succeed then you may continue picking the gonggitdol up one by one.
In the next stage of the game after you have tossed out the gonggitdol you must pick up 2 at the same time.
The next stage would be three and then the remaining one.
And then you would try to pick up all four.
Lastly you place all five in the palm of your hand, toss them up and try to catch them on the back of your hand. You only score those that you catch on the back of your hand. The first person to a predetermined score, wins. Sometimes the score is called years, so you might find someone might say to play to 5 years or 20 years etc.
As I’ve mentioned before there’s lots of slight rule variations so check first with whoever you’re playing with. Even as an adult this is a fun game to play and I find the Korean playing gonggitdol or stones are nice to play with and easier than the big knucklebones I’ve tried using. I bought mine from Amazon.com but I’m sure there are many places online to get them.
Edited (Sept.2016) to add that I found this really nice set on Jeju island, made by 2 ‘halmoni’ with whom we had a charades type conversation to show that I knew how to play, and that I had grown up playing the English version.
If you have any further information on the game please feel free to share it in the comments.
You also may be interested in kai-bai-bo, jegi chagi, ssireum, alkkegi, yut, tuho, and ddakji.
Have a great day everyone.
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We play with metal looking knucklebones and thats what we call the name also… knucklebones
In Malaysia, we called it as ‘batu seremban’. We play with that pyramid looking stones like in the picture above.
That’s cool, thanks.