The Game of Five Stones or Knucklebones around the World


The game of Five Stones is also known as Knucklebones. It’s a time-honored game that was played in ancient Greece, Rome and even earlier. Nowadays, in the US it’s played with jacks. In some parts of the world it’s played with 5 flat stones or pebbles. In other places, it’s played with the ankle or knee bones of sheep or goats (see pic below). In Italy, it’s sometimes played with dried out peach pits.

The bones from the game have been found in ancient archaeological digs. You can also find images of people playing the game in ancient art. It’s interesting to note that the same bones were used like dice. In some places they’ve been used as good luck objects.


Knucklebones is a game of skill and coordination. You start by throwing the five stones or bones on a flat surface. Then you take one, toss it up in the air, and while that stone is in the air you grab another. The game continues like this with the feats becoming more and more complicated. We recently posted one set of rules to Five Stones and Knucklebones. That’s how it’s played in Italy and many other countries.

In some countries there are mysterious chants that are said while playing. Perhaps there’s a connection to the fact that the bones were collected and used for fortune-telling throughout Central Asia.

Here are some countries where it’s played, followed by the name it’s called there:


Netherlands – Bikkelspel
Italy – Il gioco delle 5 pietre (stones)
Poland – Hacele (pebbles)
England – Chucks or Snobs (played with wooden cubes)
Bulgaria – ашик (knucklebone)
German – Astragal
Spain – Matatenas
Ireland – Gobs (played in the 1950’s with pebbles)
Greece – ἀστράγαλοι (bones of sheep), now called πεντόβολο or πεντόβολα (5 little coins)
Russia – камушки (Pebbles)
Hungary – bikázás (called “Bullfight”, played with stones)
France – Osselet (played with lamb bones or metal “bones” – the red one is tossed in the air – see pic below.)



Azerbaijan – Beşdaş, (stones)
Turkey – beş taş (stones)
Nepal – Tsibato or gatti
Mongolia – Shagai
Iran – Besh dash (3 stones)
China –  抓石子 (pebble-grabbing)
South Korea – Gonggi (공기, pronounced gong-gee) used to be played with 5 stones, now with 5 plastic pieces that are still called gonggi. (See pic below.)


Israel – kugelach or Chamesh Avanim (חמש אבנים, “five rocks”) -Played with 5 die-sized metal cubes (pic below).



South America

Brazil – Jogo da bugalha (Bugle Game) – Played with 5 pebbles or small cloth bags filled with grains.
Cuba and Venezuela – Yaquis
Costa Rica , Honduras and Panama – Jackses
Ecuador – Macateta
Peru – Yax
Argentina – Pajana,” tinenti or dinenti (played with stones)

North America

Mexico (Name depends on region) – Matatena, paxaque, pinaco and pinyexes
USA – Jacks


South Africa – Klip-klip (played with stones or bones)

Some other countries where it’s played are India, Malaysia, Singapore Madagascar, Morocco, Macedonia, Australia, Hungary and throughout Africa.


It’s fascinating to me how old this game is and that it’s still played all over the world!

Please let us know in the comments below if it’s played in your country, what it’s called and what type of item you use to play it.

If anyone chants anything with the game, please share that too.

Thanks and enjoy!

-Mama Lisa

Image: Gonggi – By National Institute of Korean Language – , CC BY-SA 2.0.
Image: Osselets par Coyau – Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0.
Image: Kugelach – Amazon

This article was posted on Friday, January 12th, 2018 at 10:42 pm and is filed under Brazil, China, Countries & Cultures, Five Stones, Games Around the World, Italian Games, Jacks, Knucklebones, Mama Lisa, Russia, South Africa, USA, Venezuela, World Culture. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

One Response to “The Game of Five Stones or Knucklebones around the World”

  1. Jason Pomerantz Says:

    Excellent post! Love the illustrations.

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