One of my students tries to do “Yut Nori” during their presentation activities for class every year. I made a “banned list” of activities and placed “Traditional Korean Games” on the list, not because I don’t enjoy them, but because all of my students have known how to play this game since they were very little. Since all of them knew how to play, their explanations for the rules of the game always sucked. They don’t need to try since the other people will be able to play regardless of their explanations in English. Despite seeing the students playing this (in a University class!) I never picked up how to play the game.

My parents are going to be here over the new year’s holiday, so we needed to do some shopping for the weekend. We went on a trip to Emart for my mother to do the cooking, but she wanted some particular items that I was unable to get there. I needed to make my own trip across town specifically for what she needed, and while I was in Emart, there was a set of Yut in the impulse aisle. The woman behind me in the line actually picked up my purchase and asked the lady at the counter, “It’s funny that the foreigner is buying this isn’t it? How would he know how to play? Why would he be getting this.”

All she got was a scowl from me. Mind your own business.

I brought it home, and challenged my dad to a game. He’s very competitive at card games and board games, so I thought he’d enjoy learning how to play. We got the rules sorted out, and they are very easy! All the complexity comes from house rules, which we didn’t know when we started. I think learning the game without house rules is far better for beginners. As we played, my wife would wait for a particular situation to pop up, and then we’d find out we were playing “easy mode”, so we’d add that additional house rule to the game for the next game.

The first few games I crushed my father. By the time there were three or four house rules layered onto the original game, the game was a lot more exciting and strategic. However, that’s the point I started to lose because of some bad rolls. The thing that hurt me most was needing to throw end over end and still keep everything on the blanket “target”. I lost several extra turns because one of my sticks went flying off that blanket. My father at one point also got five or six consecutive extra terms. Not much you can do when you never get to play, right?

For a game that looks somewhat complex, Yut Nori actually extremely simple to play. I like it a lot, and it’s a cheap game to find anywhere during the holidays. All the Koreans I know can play it too, and it’s not nearly as difficult to learn as GoStop where every house rule and every mistake costs money. Now that I can play Yut Nori, I’d like to see some of the more difficult variants I used to watch old guys playing in parks downtown. They had elaborate throwing restrictions, different shaped boards, and different house rules. It’s taken a long time, but that’s one more Korean cultural experience I’ve mastered.