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.
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.