It was commonplace for Koreans to play a card game called hwatu화투 when mourners stayed overnight at a funeral or when families got together on a holiday. During the Joseon Dynasty when there was no hwatu game, people played tujeonnori투전놀이. It was played with a set of long cards made stiff by applying soybean oil. The cards featured numbers or paintings of birds, fish or people. Players each get five cards, three of which are added up to make 10, 20, or 30 in total. The player who gets the highest sum with the remaining two cards wins the game. The best hand is two tens called ‘jangttaeng장땡,’ the term still used today to indicate the best.
When throwing a tujeon card, a player sings a song matching the number shown on the card. For instance, if the number is one, the song would go, “One thing is for sure. You are an idiot who doesn’t know a single thing.” If the number is two, “Two of bad things don’t make them good.” The popularity of tujeonnori has been overtaken by hwatu in recent decades, but the song still exists. Here’s YeGyul Band singing “Tujeonpuri.”
Tujeonpuri/ Sung by YeGyul Band
A game similar to tujeonnori is sasiraengi사시랭이. If tujeon was more like gambling which caused many people to go broke, sasiraengi was more of a simple game. While tujeonnori became popular nationwide, sasiraengi was usually played in local areas, such as Jindo in Jeollanam-do Province or Taebaek and Samcheok in Gangwon-do Province.
Sasiraengi is played with numbered coins. Each player gets three coins and places a coin that other players are not likely to have on the table while singing a song that indicates which number the coin features. This game is similar to tujeon in a way. If the numbered coin is two, the song goes, “Two plum blossoms bloomed.” If the number is five, “Five siblings bought the fields for farming.” The player who put down the coin with the number others don’t have wins the game. If another player has the coin with the same number, he sings a song that goes something like “Don’t fool me. Here’s the real thing.” The lyrics were not fixed and generally made up by the players on the spot, but they largely reflected the social atmosphere of the time. Let’s listen to SingSing’s version of “Sasiraengi Sori.”
Sasiraengi Sori/ Sung by SingSing
Let’s now talk about a game more gentlemanly than tujeon or sasiraengji. It’s janggi장기, or Korean chess. Even today, elderly men are often seen playing janggi under the shade of a big oak tree or in a village gazebo. It wouldn’t be that fun if there wasn’t some kibitzing going on for the players. Koreans like to place a bet on who is going to win, so a game of janggi could get as competitive and fierce as war. Such serious intensity doesn’t have to do with the bet, which usually is a small amount of money or a bottle of makegeolli막걸리. It is a matter of pride.
This strategy board game has two sides – Blue, representing the State of Chu, one of the warring states of ancient China, and red, symbolizing the Han Dynasty. The pieces are comprised of the generals, equivalent to the kings in western chess, guards, horses, elephants, chariots, cannons, and soldiers. The game is played pretty much like western chess and won by checkmating the opposing general. “Janggi Taryeong” of Gyeonggi-do Province features Liu Bei and Cao Cao from “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” as the generals of Han and Chu. “Janggi Taryeong” starts with a narrative completely unrelated to the game but moves onto janggi toward the end. Here are traditional folk singers Ko Geum-seong and Kim Bo-yeon singing “Janggi Taryeong.”
Janggi Taryeong/ Sung by Ko Geum-seong and Kim Bo-yeon