In Korea, they say that someone who eats lunch alone will never get ahead. The same can be said for those who don’t drink socially.
South Korean drinking culture originates from the Goryeo Dynasty (936–943) and is a large part of adult life.
The Korean drinking age is 19, or 18 in international age (you are one year old at birth in Korea). Koreans usually begin drinking when they enter uni during a 3-day long OT(orientation), a large tented welcome event.
Needless to say, no one retains much from those three days, like their name or where their dorm is.
After graduation, things just pick up steam. It’s socially acceptable to show up to work hungover after a hweshik(회식) or office gathering, because your boss is doing the same.
After 10 years in Korea, I have never met an alcoholic, but I sure met a lot of “heavy drinkers”.
This focus on social imbibing coupled with the high-spirited nature of Koreans make their drinking games the most fun you can have while destroying your liver.
Koreans spend a good portion of their youth becoming human calculators, while most of us play Nintendo and watch Yo MTV Raps. I strongly advise against any game involving numbers.
Koreans also play rock paper scissors(가위, 바위, 보) as a sport from a young age and will most likely beat you.
If you’d like to simulate the experience, simply stay up late and play an online game against someone with Hangeul in their username. Except make sure to drink every time you lose.
Let’s just hope that they don’t turn e-sports into a drinking game because they would eventually conquer the world.
Vinyl Game(레코드판 게임)
Why wait for the Noraebang? Now you can embarrass yourself in a more socially awkward situation while the night is young.
One person starts by calling out a singer’s name.
Then, everyone takes turns singing one verse from any of their songs. The first person to mess up drinks!
A great way to break the ice by ramming into it head first.
Attendance Game(출석부 게임)
What’s more fun than taking attendance? Doing it with alcohol and some shenanigans, that’s what.
One person points at another but says someone else’s name. Whoever gets called has to call out “here” raise their hand. Then do the same thing next.
Whoever misses their cue, drinks.
Things get really fun when the speed increases until it’s hard to keep up.
This one’s for the dozens of people who wanted a vocabulary lesson while drinking. Think scrabble with alcohol consumption and awkward physical contact.
Hunminjeongeum is not just a ridiculously long word, it’s also the document that King Sejong created to introduce Hangeul to the masses.
In this game, one person calls out two random consonants while giving the thumbs up in the center of the group.
Then, players jump in calling out words that contain the two consonants, while grabbing the previous person’s thumb with theirs up, forming a chain.
One person says ㄱ ㅅ
Then calls out a word that contains both consonants like 고수, 감사, etc.
The last person to participate or anyone who messes up drinks.
This sounds easier than it is and we recommend a dumbed-down version in English using just one consonant.
This one is perfect for slower groups (you know who you are).
There are many variations of this game. The point of the game is to flip a spoon while ending up in the majority of flipped or non-flipped.
Everyone sits in a circle with a spoon in front of them.
Then, they either flip their spoon or leave it the way it is after counting down from 3. The person who is in the minority group has to drink.
Another way to play is with rock paper scissors for three rounds with the losers having to flip their spoons.
Needless to say, there will be a whole of drinking going on.
The Commie Game(공산당 게임)
This one’s perfect or those unsophisticated types who want less thinking and more drinking.
The rules couldn’t be simpler. One person chooses a comrade, and that person points to the person they want to drink.
Very un-PC but gets the night going quickly.
Babo (바보) is a friendly way to say “fool” in Korean. Children often refer to each other this way and it’s usually not intended to offend. It follows that a game based on this common slang word would emerge.
One player begins by saying a number from 1 to 5 while showing a different number with their hand. For example: The first player says 1 but has 3 fingers up in their hand making him/her safe. Then the next person has to say the number of fingers the previous player has up while having a different amount in their hand and so on.
You lose if you say the same number as fingers you have or you don’t say the number of the previous player hand. This may sound easy, but in the heat of the moment with alcohol involved, it’s not hard to mess up.
Noonchi (눈치) is a very useful term in Korean that means the subtle ability to listen and gauge others’ moods. An English equivalent would be emotional intelligence.
The point of this game is to not be the last person to shout a number. If there are five people players then each person must call out a number from 1 to 5. Whoever shouts doesn’t matter, but the numbers must be said in order. If two people shout the same number at the same time they both drink and the game restarts. Or the last person who shouts a number must drink and the game restarts.
This requires you to read body language and see if someone is about to speak.
As the games heat up and people get a few drinks in them, it’s not uncommon for the group to start chanting, “random game”, followed by someone’s name to let them choose the game they want. For example it would go:
“Random Game ♪ Random Game~ ______(이)가 좋아하는 랜덤 게임” (___’s favorite random game~)”
It’s possible to cheat a bit by calling out “noonchi game” followed by 1 quickly. This will save you from drinking, for a moment.
This game is simple to learn, but lots of fun.
The object is to say the numbers out loud starting from 1 but you must clap instead of saying a number that has a 3, 6, or 9. So if the person before you says 8, you would clap once for 9, but if it’s my turn and the number is 39 I would have to clap twice. Whoever ends up saying 3, 6, or 9 must drink! Then it goes back to 1 and starts over again. Don’t worry though, numbers rarely go that high given the amount of alcohol involved.
To make things more interesting, there is a version where even numbers divisible by 3, 6, or 9 cannot be said either. Drunk division is never a pretty sight, and I strongly recommend not trying this version with a group of Koreans.
Baskin Robbins 31
This game is pretty straightforward, and no, it wasn’t created by the brand. However, it often works on a subliminal level to make Koreans crave Baskin Robbins after playing, so chalk that up as a win for their marketing department.
Basically, all you have to do is take turns saying up to 3 numbers in succession until you get to 31, whoever says 31 has to do a shot. It requires a little forethought, especially the closer you get to 31. It’s also possible to coordinate with the group to choose who drinks. You can even form a secret alliance and take someone down.
The Black Knight
Not a game per se, but a special situation in the sophisticated art of Korean drinking.
After a few of these games, it becomes quite clear who can hang in terms of alcohol tolerance, i.e. who will get ahead in Korean society. If you are a team player (or like the person who just lost) you can take a bullet for someone with a lower tolerance by being the 흑기사 (black knight) and drinking for them. In return, the black knight gets a wish from the person. This is usually something light like, “let’s get Baskin Robbins together” or “go buy us some soft drinks”.
This one has less to do with the movie and more to do with physics. It’s kind of like a game of chicken with alcohol and gravity. Sit with your friends is a circle around a table. Fill a glass halfway with beer or soju in a glass. Carefully drop an empty soju glass in the beer, making sure it floats! Take turns pouring alcohol into the shot glass. The amount you pour depends on you, but whoever sinks the “Titanic” needs to drink the whole glass.
This one doesn’t involve math thankfully, and is great fun. Sit in a circle of friends with drinks in hand. The object of the game is simply not to laugh. Anyone who does has to drink. The first person turns to the person on the left and says “I love you” followed by any word they can think of. If they don’t laugh, you turn to the person on your right and try again. As you can imagine, this one can go from playful to dirty very quickly as the night goes on.
Napkin, Beer, Cigarette
This one involves pyrotechnics and might be frowned upon in some countries. You start by placing a napkin over a beer mug. Then put a 100 or 500 won coin(feel free to substitute with whatever currency is available) on top. Players take turns burning holes into the napkin with a lit cigarette. Whoever drops the coin into the mug must drink. I personally have never played this one, since it seems like it would get out of hand quickly.
The Bottle Cap(병뚜껑 게임)
My personal favorite, because it’s the one I had the best chance at winning. This is probably because it was the simplest one. It’s also a two-parter, which just adds to the drama.
Take a soju cap, stuff it with a napkin (more on this later) and twist the loose metal part until it’s straight (without pulling it off the cap). Then you flick the dangling piece with your finger. Pass the cap around until someone breaks it. Whoever breaks it makes everyone else drink.
Up and Down
After you finish flicking around the bottle cap, there is a brand-new game you can play with that same cap! Who knew that one bottle cap could be so much fun?
Remember the napkin you stuffed into the cap? This is where it comes into play.
The sequel is started by the person who won the first game (the one who didn’t have to drink). They remove the napkin in the bottle cap and look at the number inside. He/she tells the other players two numbers, where the number in the bottle cap lies. For example, if the number is 35, they would say 1-50.
The other players start guessing what the number is and the one with cap hints if it’s higher or lower. Whoever guesses right is safe (so no shots for them), but the players to the left and right have to drink!
Gyeongma Game(경마게임)/ Horse track game
This one involves some sound effects and intense concentration.
The entire game is played with everyone drumming on the table with their hands to simulate the sound of horses racing on a track. First, everyone around the table calls out their “horse number.” Horse number 1 (일번마), horse number 2 (이번마), horse number 3 (삼번마), etc. After each person gets a horse number, the game starts. You take turns calling out your number and then the number of the person you want to “attack”. Horse 1 starts it off and let’s say they attack 3 by saying, “일번에 삼번”, or 1 attacks 3.
Then number 3 would call out their number first and “attack” someone else by calling out their number. 삼번에 오번 3 attacks 5.
It’s important to really listen carefully for your number to be called. If you slip up and miss your turn, you drink.
Like most games in Korea, this game is meant to be played FAST. It gets really chaotic because everyone is banging on the table. It’s also not uncommon for the same two people to go back and forth attacking each other.
This one is a bit childish, but is fun at a certain age. It involves some cute hand gestures and a massive amount of coordination. You also need a minimum of 4 people to play.
Everyone puts both hands up like they are eating while one person chants “Bunny Bunny” once. Then without stopping, they “pass the bunny” to a random player by chanting “Bunny Bunny” and gesturing with both hands. At the same time the players to the left and right of the selected person chant “Dang-geun Dang-geun(당근)” (carrot in Korean), and the selected person immediately starts chanting “Bunny Bunny” and passes to another player to try disrupting the chant. Whoever messes up, drinks. This gets confusing real quick and probably should be played early in the night.
You can even pass the bunny to yourself as a wild card. This is all but guarantees victory.
The Image Game is a reverse “Never Have I” game with voting. Except in this case, if you get the most votes you lose (or win, if you enjoy taking shots!). The first player starts by saying something descriptive, like: “Had most girlfriends/boyfriends”. Everyone then points at the person they think best fits the description. The player who receives the most votes has to drink, then gets to ask the next question. This one can make you reevaluate your life choices by showing what people really think of you.
While sitting in a circle one person starts by asking a question that refers to someone in the group. The people playing must point their chopsticks to the person who they think best fits the answer. The person with the most chopsticks pointed at him or her must drink and then gets to ask the next question. So, basically the same as Image Game but with utensils.
This one is a simplified version of Simon with alcohol.
As the name implies, this game involves a lot of tapping with your drink on the table. The first player starts by tapping their drink on the table once, which passes the turn on to the player to their right. The next player must then decide whether to tap their drink once, twice, or three times. Tapping the drink once will pass the turn on to the person on the right, twice will pass the turn back to the sender to the left, and three times will pass the turn to the second person the right, skipping the one immediately adjacent. Whoever messes up the tapping order, by tapping when they are not supposed to, must drink. It may sound easy, but each player must pay close attention to how many times the last drink was tapped on the table.
This game seems like something one would play in prison, but with pruno instead of soju.
Most Korean males pick up smoking during their mandatory military service. A player passes around a lit cigarette with his head back and the cigarette up like a torch. He passes the “torch” to the next player who takes a drag while trying not to topple the ash. Whoever does must take a shot. Pretty simple compared to the other games, but most likely won’t be popular in western countries.