Play Journal Cycle 4

The board game that I played for Cycle 4 is a traditional Korean board game called Yut Nori. Nori is actually the Romanized Korean word for game, therefore, this game is usually just referred to as Yut, which is pronounced yoot. My wife, Hye-Jin, purchased our copy of the game approximately ten years ago and was very pleased when I finally expressed an interest in playing it for this class. Yes, I’m just dripping with guilt as I write this, both marital and cultural. The origins of Yut are unclear although most agree that it dates back to the Korean Three Kingdoms period (75 BCE to 668 CE) and is similar to a game called Pachisi which originated in ancient India. Yut is most often played during the Korean Lunar New Year period at family gatherings and other social events. The game is normally played by two players or two teams and there is no prescribed limit to the number of players on a team. If the number of players grows larger more teams can be formed. The game pieces (mal), four per team, are moved on a stitched course (mal-pan) that is traditionally made from cloth, although the layout can be drawn on the earth if no actual mal-pan is available. The players cast Yut-sticks which serve as dice and move the pieces around the course in accordance with directional arrows. During play mal can be stacked, jumped and even sent back to start. The game is won when a team manages to complete the course moving back through home and off then the course with all their pieces.

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Images By Kokiri at the English language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, 

The game appears quite simple and yet when I began to play I soon realized that this is not the case as a great deal of strategy is required. Hye-Jin grew up in Korea and played this game quite often and is therefore very familiar with it. Since it was only the two of us playing she was able to patiently describe the moves as well as some the basic strategies. When larger teams play only one or two of the team’s players will cast the Yut-sticks while the other team members closely observe the play and strategize. The teams discuss their moves openly in front of the opposing team which speaks to how often the teams change strategy and how quickly the overall play changes course. The players often become quite loud and there is much banter between the opposing teams. Spectators also gather around encouraging the teams offering loud unsolicited advice, which leads to a very lively atmosphere.

The game design seems quite simple although the play is deceivingly complex. The designers obviously desired that the game be played as a social event, as there is no limit to the number of players and collaboration is strongly encouraged. Due to team play where opposing teams openly discuss strategies, and spectators offer advice, a player is exposed to many strategies and, therefore, the opportunity for learning and becoming more creative is a large part of the game.

10 Comments

  1. Sounds like a great learning experience to play Yut Nori and learn from your wife. After having played the game and learning a bit of strategy, do you think you will play again? If so, will it be out of obligation or for the joy of the game?

    • Robert Piper

      Yes, I will play again. And quite honestly most of my motivation for playing will come from obligation, which is grounded in showing respect for my wife and her culture. Although, this obligation does include some joy for the game, but most of the joy will be derived from her joy in sharing her culture with me. And no I’m not a politician (ha-ha) but my answer sure sounds like I’m running for something! Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

  2. Tedy

    This was a very interesting journal entry to me. I have never heard of the game so it was beneficial to read the story, the background, and the mechanics of playing Yut. It made me think how important the cultural aspect of playing a game is. You mentioned that your wife grew up with the game so she was fluent in the game mechanics as to you it was something new and it took some time to fully get into it. I think it would be interesting to compare how similar games developed in and from different cultures differ in mechanics and target goals. Do they encourage collaboration between players or not, how are the players involved. I cannot think of another game where players openly discuss strategies, or collaboration is leveraged in such a way. Do you think this is specific to this game because it was developed in a different cultural setting?

    • Robert

      Winning is, of course, important to the players and yet the socialization and the energy generated due to the open discussion of strategy is apparently more important. The gaming environment becomes quite charged with all the chatter and the gamers take a great deal of pleasure from this charged environment. It is often said of Koreans that they wear their emotions on their sleeves and that you “rarely” have to guess what a Korean is feeling. So, yes, I do believe that the game being developed in a culture where emotions are rarely hidden and where animated discussions, as well as open collaborative problem solving are the norm greatly influenced the development and play of Yut.

  3. Lainie

    Your description of the social aspects of play with a larger group sounds particularly intriguing. Do you know if this is more typical of board games/social play in Korea or a phenomenon that centers more specifically around Yut? When I think about it, I can remember a few rounds of board and card games where similar-sounding dynamics occurred, but we were playing in unusually open settings (for example, a game of Uno where the whole cast and crew of a play was present backstage). Otherwise, I would say that the nature of the social dynamic seems very different than most American board games. What’s your perspective on the matter?

    • Robert

      It depends on the game being played and yet Koreans, in general, are quite social people. They enjoy openly sharing their ideas and working through challenges collaboratively. The creative solution often becomes more important than the individual’s idea. And this manifests to a very high degree in Yut, as not all games are played so openly, especially two player games.

  4. Lisa Dise

    This is so great! I was thinking throughout the entire read how many new “literacies” you had to learn to play this game. Good thing your wife knows how!

    The game looks so interesting. I really like the team play aspect and this game can bring so much to learning! Imagine a group of children playing this, each person would have to have a role, and they would all have to work together.

    • Robert

      How wonderful as I never even considered the value of having children play it to help teach cooperation. Thanks!

  5. I can say I don’t entirely understand how the game is played since I have never seen this before. But a couple of interesting things you described are very different from the game sessions and readings we have studied before. The ability for the game to be played with possibly very large teams negotiating strategy and moves along with banter is not too common. I would love to see how this would play out with really large groups and the screaming that goes along with it, etc. It would be absolutely hilarious to watch. The fact that perhaps anyone who sees the game in progress can jump in and “help” by offering advice or joining a side is also interesting. It seems the game must be simple enough to allow this, but structured enough for strategy. Would mob mentality rule? What happens when it turns into an unruly mob? It probably plays well with drinks or outdoor gatherings as you mentioned “drawn on earth”, so a beach setting would be nice. Sounds like fun!

    • Robert

      Yes, indeed it does sound like fun. My wife described how the older fellows around town would play in teams and how “lively” the play would become. Koreans can be quite loud in this type of social environment and foreigners, like me, often mistakenly perceive it as anger. When I return to Korea I intend to watch and learn!

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