How to Play the Italian Game of 5 Stones

Written by Emanuela Marsura, a schoolteacher from Italy. Emanuela is interested in reviving the old-time games of childhood. A time when all children would play outside together, regardless of age. A time when most games were played with objects that everyone can easily find.


There are games that we can easily play anywhere. Games of skill, coordination, strategy, and logic. Games where children and adults are evaluated and it’s not always the biggest that wins. There are some games that we can play with our children and grandchildren anywhere… on the edge of a stream, on the beach, in a grassy meadow or on the sidewalk. It takes little to organize these games and the items can be found right there on the ground or in the pockets of children which, as the Agazzi sisters (pedagogues of yore) often said, contain a real Museum. It is easy to find twisted sticks, soft feathers, corks with drawings and inscriptions, hazelnuts and berries, pebbles that by their brilliance attract attention like gemstones or because they contain the impression of other organisms.

Il gioco delle 5 pietre – The Game of Five Stones

The game we propose is an ancient game: the boys and girls of Ancient Rome and Ancient Greece carried a small bag with 5 stones that didn’t roll and were easy to catch. Five stones that, with the skill of a juggler, must be thrown in the air and caught one at a time or all together. Summer is a bounteous time for fruit. After having tasted peaches grown in the sun, we can dry the stones (pits), which, well-cleaned, can become “5 peach stones” to carry on us, ready for use.

The game requires attention and skill, along with speed and coordination, all of which increases with playing. It’s a game that can be played by two or more players. The rules are few: the stones caught are worth points and the winner is the one who reaches the amount of points decided in advance or who ends the game without ever having missed catching the stone. Once the rock is thrown in the air and falls to the ground without being caught, it’s the next player’s turn.

How to start?

Everyone sits on the ground near a flat surface. Draw lots to see who starts the game. The chosen player throws the 5 stones on the flat surface and the game begins. (Before each step below the stones should be tossed on the surface.)


Round 1: Using one hand, toss a stone in the air, with the same hand, pick up another stone and then catch the one that was thrown in the air before it falls to the ground. Put that stone aside and repeat the same steps with all the other stones until all the stones on the ground have been moved to the side. Always toss the same stone in the air.

Note: If by chance two stones on the ground are touching, you have to separate them, move one stone one nudge at a time, always tossing the other stone in the air first, without moving the stone it was touching.

Round 2: At each toss, pick up 2 stones at a time.

Round 3: Pick up 3 stones on the 1st toss and 1 stone on the 2nd toss.

Round 4: Toss the stone and pick up all 4 stones lying on the surface simultaneously.

Round 5: Toss the 5 stones in the air and then catch them with the back of the hand. Then toss them again and catch them in the palms of the hands.

Note: The goal is to succeed in taking all the stones, but it is not a “fail” as long as you catch at least one of the stones.

Round 6: Form a bridge with the thumb forming one side and on the other, the middle finger resting on the index finger (photo below). Keep this “bridge” in the same spot without moving it during the whole round. Toss the stone in the air and with the same hand, try to slide the other stones under the bridge, one at a time. Do all of this without letting the tossed stone fall to the ground.


Round 7: Put the hands together in the shape of a cup. Toss the rocks in the air and catch them on the backs of the hands which are placed together. Then throw them up again and catch them in your hands which should be back together making the shape of a cup.

Note: The goal is the same as above where  it’s not a “fail” as long as you catch at least one of the stones. If all the stones are caught in the cupped hands you gain 5 points. Then the game starts all over again.

Scoring the Game

Each stone collected is worth one point. Each player’s score is the total sum of all points obtained in each round. The winner is the first to reach the total decided at the beginning of the game.

There are other variations from different regions of Italy that are also interesting.

Read more: The Game of Five Stones or Knucklebones around the World

Many thanks to Emanuela Marsura for explaining how to play Il gioco delle 5 pietre (The Game of 5 Stones)!  A longer version of this article was first published in Italian in Emanuela Marsura’s section of QualBuonVento magazine.

This article was posted on Wednesday, January 10th, 2018 at 8:56 pm and is filed under Countries & Cultures, Games Around the World, Italian Games, Italy, Mama Lisa. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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