August 10-12, 2007
Programs & Activities: Traditional Games

Game Traditions

Traditional games are played throughout the world, by individuals and groups of all ages, with formal or informal rules, and at homes, schools, work, and a variety of community settings. Traditional games are most often learned by observing and participating in a game; teachers are most often a parent or other familiar adult, a sibling, or a friend.
young people playing cards at the 2002 festival

Games play a critical role in fostering and maintaining ethnic and group identity, acquiring physical and intellectual skills, learning cultural knowledge, and developing and negotiating social relationships. Traditional Games run Saturday and Sunday, 12 noon - 6 p.m. Bingo will have a different schedule, see information below. 

Games featured at the 2007 GLFF are:



Women playing Bingo

Today there is a proliferation of daily lotteries, full service casinos, virtual bingo and other games of chance and recreation readily available on the Internet. Despite these options, on any given day throughout America, one can find scores of individuals playing the simple game of Bingo at house parties, senior citizen centers, fraternal organizations, veterans' halls, churches, and other places of local gathering as well as on Native American reservations.

The legality of the game--with roots usually traced back to a sixteenth-century national lottery in Italy--and the regulation of its stakes vary from state to state. In Michigan, bingo for charitable gaming was legalized in 1972. The overwhelming number of games are staged by churches or charity organizations and tend to have modest stakes and draw from local neighborhoods. Bingo on Native American reservations is more commercial and played for higher stakes in order to draw players from distant places.

In this game of chance, a caller announces randomly selected numbers. Players match those numbers to those appearing on cards that contain a unique combination of numbers printed or electronically represented within a five column by five-column matrix. When players match and mark off-usually with an ink dauber--all the numbers in an agreed-upon pattern goal (i.e. five down, across, or diagonally; an inner square; a center cross; two lines, etc.) or all of the numbers (full house, blackout, or cover-all), they shout "bingo" and win prizes.

The Federated Polish Home, founded in 1929, is one of the first Lansing area organizations to offer Bingo. Ed Kowalski and Steve Zelski, along with 3 other co-chairmen, started the games in 1975 to provide entertainment to members and help raise funds for the organization. At one time and with no competition, the organization had up to 200 players at a time and provided dinners in the hall prior to the games.   Bill Matt and Marsha MacDowell, fieldworkers


Buck Euchre
Tom Donaldson, Lansing, Mich.
Beth Donaldson, Lansing, Mich.
Colleen Donaldson, Lansing, Mich.
(Saturday Only)

Buck Euchre is a fun, fast game, with lots of different possible plays, but not so complicated that one can't spend plenty of time socializing. The play of the cards is similar to Euchre but aspects such as bidding are similar to other games, like Hasenpfeffer. Other aspects specific to the game are: (1) each player starts with 36 points and must get down to 0 to win; (2) players must bid to get out of the game; (3) highest bid calls the trump suit; and (4) all cards (Ace to 9) are used in play.

The game is popular in several areas of the Great Lakes and it became a favorite of Lansing resident Tom Donaldson and his cousin Tom Hess who learned the game from John Burton, the resident advisor of the residence hall they lived in while undergraduate students at Michigan State University. Burton had learned the game himself while attending Southwest Minnesota State College (now Southwest State University) in the late 1960s. In this area of southwestern Minnesota, consisting primarily of rural families with German, Swedish, and Norwegian roots, everybody grew up playing this unique variant of Euchre. When John came to graduate school at MSU he was surprised to learn that no one knew the game and enthusiastically began teaching the game to the students in his residence hall. The two Toms have continued to play this game in reunions with John and other former Mayo Hall residents, with friends, and with their children and other family members. Tom Donaldson has heard of other groups and communities where the game has been popular, including among workers of the old Studebaker plant in South Bend, Indiana. -- Beth Donaldson and Marsha MacDowell, fieldworkers


Harlan MacDowell, Grand Ledge, Michigan
Douglas MacDowell, Caseville, Michigan
Paul MacDowell, East Lansing, Michigan
Ian MacDowell, East Lansing, Michigan
Joey Spring, East Lansing, Michigan
Frances Spring, East Lansing, Michigan
Chris Luz, East Lansing, Michigan
Bruce MacDowell, Grand Ledge, Michigan
Steve Campbell, Grand Ledge, Michigan

Cribbage is a card game for which you need a deck of poker cards, a cribbage board (to keep score), and at least two people. When two people play, each person is dealt six cards. From those six cards, each person discards two cards to the "crib." Points are awarded for pairs, runs held in hand, and combinations of cards that add up to fifteen resulting in the common counting chants "15-2, 15-4, 15-6....." When laying down cards points are also awarded but the total cannot exceed 31; the player who comes closest to 31 without going over gets one point. The 1st person to score 121 points wins.

Cribbage is the card game of choice whenever the extended family of patriarch Harlan MacDowell get together, whether at home or on fishing trips or reunions. Harlan recalls learning the game at an early age from his father, George MacDowell, and grandfather, Clarence MacDowell. George, a woodworker by trade, made several cribbage boards including one table-sized one inherited by his son Forrest. Harlan's son Doug recalls many times playing cribbage after dinner with his dad while listening to the Tiger baseball games on the radio; they played on one of George's boards and used toothpicks, matches, and nails for pegs, but never a properly carved cribbage peg. Today, Doug, his brothers Bruce and Paul and his brother-in-law, Chris Luz, each has several boards, all of them unique and some designed for three players. Together with some spouses, fishing friends, and their children-particularly the male cousins--Hugh MacDowell, Ian MacDowell, Conner Luz, and Joey Spring, they carry on this family "unplugged" game tradition. - Marsha MacDowell, fieldworker


New Sudanese residents of Lansing, Mich.

4 men playing dominos

The game of dominoes is a traditional favorite of the Sudanese. Using commercially made dominoes-often called "tiles"--purchased in stores or ones handmade of bamboo trees, boys play in the "cattle camps" in Sudan, in refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya, and now in Lansing, Michigan where they have resettled. Girls generally do not play, but are allowed if they know how. 

Four players gather with partners sitting across from one another. Twenty-eight dominoes are turned face down in the center of the playing surface (table, floor or ground) and each player selects seven. Whoever has the "double-six" begins play and lays that domino down face-up, often slapping the tile loudly on the playing surface. Play commences, moving counter-clockwise to the right, one person. Each player, in turn, places their domino, face-up, in line with the matching domino at one end of the sequence or the other. If the player doesn't have a matching domino, they "pass" to the next player by clicking their dominoes together or tapping a domino on the playing surface. Play ends when the play is blocked, i.e. when none of the participants can place the correct matching numbered domino in play, or when all of a players' dominoes are gone. The person who "goes-out" and his/her partner are the "winning" team of that match. The total points of all the remaining dominoes are awarded to the winning team with the "double zero" domino counting as either zero or 50. All 28 dominoes are then turned back over (face-down), each player selects seven and play continues with the last round's "winner" starting play again, beginning with any "double-faced" domino. Play continues until one team acquires 51 points (if the double-zero equals zero points) or until 101 points (if the double-zero domino is counted as 50). The winning team then plays another "team" of players. -- Sallie Campbell, fieldworker

New Sudanese residents in Lansing, Mich.

"Fourteen" is a card game played with two complete decks of regular playing cards. The game is played by individuals, not by teams and is best enjoyed with 4 players, but can be played with 2, 3, 4 or 5. When there are 6 interested players, two different sets of 3 players each participate in their own game.

One person is selected as the dealer. The person to the dealer's left chooses which suit is to be the "joker" for that round. The Ace of the "joker" suit is wild. The 2 decks of cards are shuffled and the dealer distributes 14 cards to each player. The remaining cards are placed to the side as a "draw-pile." Players take turns moving counter-clockwise, by taking a card from the "draw-pile," and discarding one card to a pile in the center of the playing area. A player is allowed to pick up the previous player's discard only if it is then used to "lay-down," or if it is used to "go-out." If it is used to "go out," the person who originally laid that card down is "shot" and assessed an automatic 10 extra points.
Each player tries to collect "runs" of at least three cards (of the same suit) until they have collected at least 75 points. This is when the "wild" (Ace of the joker suit) can be used to fill in a run. Each card is worth its face value, with Kings, Queens, Jacks and Aces all worth 10 points each. Once they have collected 75 or more points, they "lay-down." Then each successive player that wants to "lay-down" must also have 75 points. If the first player to "lay-down" has more points (like 80, 85, 90), then each successive player must also have that many points collected before they can "lay-down" their cards. Players may play on each other's cards, but must "lay-down" first. Play finishes when one player is out of cards. When that happens, all other players are assessed the number of cards they still have in their hand (with an extra 10 points to one who is "shot"). When one player reaches 46 points, if anyone has less than 15 points total, they are proclaimed "winner." If nobody has less than 15 points, the one who has 46 points, is out and another player takes his/her place. Points start again and play continues. During play, if the "draw pile" is gone, and nobody has "won" that round, all cards are turned in and nobody receives points. Cards are shuffled/re-dealt and play starts again.

Sudanese youth who have recently immigrated to Lansing learned how to play this game in refugee camps in Sudan. Here in the United States, they enjoy playing the game with other Sudanese as well as sharing the game with new friends. The game is played on a table, the floor, or ground. -- Sallie Campbell, fieldworker

(This game Sunday only)

Arlene Kessler, East Lansing, Michigan
Phyllis Cohen, East Lansing, Michigan
Roslyn Covey, East Lansing, Michigan
Carolyn Zohott, Haslett, Michigan
Carrol Kahn, East Lansing, Michigan
Royalyn Vert, Lansing, Michigan
Melody Glick
Marilyn Jones
Ruth Magen
Judy Robins
Winnie Rome

Mahjong is a game for four players that originated in China. It requires skill, calculation and a bit of luck, and in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Japan it is often associated with gambling. The goal of the game is to select and discard tiles to score points by forming groups or runs of similar units.

Several explanations of the origin of mahjong exist. One suggests the game was developed by Confucius in 500 BC, another that the game was developed around 1850 from existing Chinese card and domino games.

The game was imported from China in the 1920s and made a big sensation in the United States. The rules went through many revisions and in 1937 the National Mah Jongg League was established and an American mahjong rule book was published. While very popular in the United States, mahjong was banned in China during the Cultural Revolution, because of its association with gambling. Today, however, it is a favorite Chinese pastime.

Most players in the United States are women, and it is especially popular among Jews, so much so that mahjong in the United States is considered a Jewish game. The American game has diverged considerably from traditional mahjong, and purists claim that American mahjong is not a "true" mahjong. Minor variations of Chinese classical mahjong, however, do exist in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Vietnam, and the Philippines. Today mahjong is enjoyed all over the world and one can find many organizations and websites devoted to mahjong. -- Yvonne Lockwood, fieldworker

Spring Family, Ann Arbor and East Lansing, Michigan

Nearly all of my extended family loves playing card games, and all of us have played from an early age. But from my earliest memories, every family get-together, large or small involved playing pinochle. My maternal and paternal grandparents were all avid players, willing to play in marathon stretches. My Gramps and Nana often played with their oldest daughter's in-laws (who lived down the street) through a Saturday night, stopping the game only to change and attend church Sunday morning. One time, the women, who always played against the men, got so angry that the men kept winning that they tossed the cards into the nearby woodstove!
At family gatherings-be it a Sunday dinner at the grandparents, a visit to Grandma and Grandpa's cottage, or a holiday gathering with extended family-at least one game was always in progress. Four-handed games were usually played, with my Mom sometimes being forced to play if only three others were available. (Although a great player, my mother prefers board games to cards.) At larger gatherings, there would sometimes be two tables playing, or new partners would rotate in to take the place of a losing team.
When we were younger, the grandkids would vie for a seat on a player's lap-preferably with a grandparent, as they would point at the card they wanted to play and let us throw it out on the table. Few of us learned to play before we were teens, but once we did, we were all eager to play (much to the relief of my mother!). As we got older, we all knew that a visit to Grandma and Grandpa's house would always involve at least one game, either three-or four-handed. My Grandma always seemed to have unusually great luck, but after winning the first game, would throw ensuing games, as always, "to let someone else have a chance to win." To which my Grandpa's uttered his trademark response, "Yee gosh, Mother!"
As we got older, my Dad, sisters, and friends would play whenever we came to visit my folks'. As college students, my sister Laura, her now-husband Steve, and I dedicated large portions of Thanksgiving weekends to pinochle, playing three-handed games for stretches of five or six hours. Although we don't play as often as we used to, we still manage to play-at my grandparent's cottage (now my parents'), at my folks' house, or at one of ours-and have a great time. -- Frances Spring, East Lansing, Michigan

Rock Paper Scissors
Participants TBD

"Rock, Paper, Scissors" is a hand game that is often used as a selection method (similar to tossing a coin) but is also a centuries-old game in and of itself. Although the game is usually thought of as a children's game, young and old play it alike in many different variations around the world and is known by many names, including Ishiken, Shnik Shnak Shnuk, Ching Chong Chow, Farggling, and Roshambo. In 1842 a Scissors Paper Stone organization was founded in London and when it moved to Toronto, Canada in 1918, it changed its name to the Rock Paper Scissors Society and in 1995 began sponsoring a World Championship. The USA Rock, Paper, Scissors League started in 2005 and held its first U.S. national championship in April 2006 in Las Vegas.
The game is simple: players count together "1...2...3…Go!" while simultaneously bouncing their fists. On "Go," each player simultaneously changes their fist into one of three basic hand signs: Rock: a clenched fist; Paper: all fingers extended, palm facing downwards, upwards, or sideways; and Scissors: forefinger and middle finger extended and separated into a "V" shape. Rock beats scissors, scissors beat paper, and paper beats rock. Favorite strategies of serious R-P-S players include "The Avalanche" (throwing three rocks in a row), "Paper Dolls" (scissors, paper, scissors) and "The Bureaucrat" (paper, paper, paper). -- Marsha MacDowell, fieldworker,_Paper,_Scissors


Marsha J. Falco, Fountain Hills, AZ (formerly of East Lansing, Mich.)

SET® is a game invented in 1974 by former Michigan State University population geneticist, Marsha J. Falco while she was living and working in Cambridge, England on a study to try to determine if German Shepherds inherit epilepsy. To understand the research data she was looking at, Falco came up with a system of using symbols for blocks of data: different properties indicated different gene combinations. As she viewed the sets of symbols she realized that it might make a fun game and, with family and friends, worked out the rules for the game she called SET. Basically, the game consists of identifying a "set" of three cards from 12 cards laid out on a surface. Each card has a variation of four features. A "set" consists of three cards in which each feature is either the same on each card OR is different on each card. The game can be played by one person, a group, or teams and by players of almost any age from six on up.
It did not take long for the game to catch on with graduate students and colleagues and Falco made sets on tiny business-sized cards and gave them away. After her two children were born, it became a children's game and in East Lansing, the game of visual perception and mathematical reasoning quickly became a regional hit. Eventually Falco copyrighted the game, had it printed, and began to market and distribute SET nationally. Today SET is sold internationally and SET can even be played on the computer or on mobile phones. SET tournaments are held in different locations, including an annual one in Kent County, Michigan and the first national tournament will be held on July 1, 2006 in Columbus, Ohio.
-- Marsha MacDowell, fieldworker


Gregory Kozma, Novi, Michigan
Zonk, also known as Detroit Zonk and Farkle, is a dice game of chance played by all ages and in different types of settings. Several Internet sites contain the rules and a few sell Zonk board equipment. Zonk is a family game for the Kozma family, of Novi, Michigan. In 2005, when Greg Kozma was 14, he visited Japan as an international exchange student. He took with him sets of dice and Zonk instructions to give as gifts to new friends and, while there, he taught the game to his host family and dozens of children he met.
For a game of Zonk, any number of players can play together. Players take turns individually. To begin a turn, six dice are rolled at one time. With each roll of the dice, the player keeps at least one die aside as scoring dice if they are ones or fives, to reach a total of at least 350 points within one turn. Three of a kind counts as multiples of 100. Three twos score 200 points, three threes score 300 points, and so on; three ones scores 1,000 points. Greg says, "When we just get a five, we usually say 'five to stay alive.'" After keeping scoring dice, the player then rolls the remaining dice. If you do not get a one, five, or three of a kind during one roll of the dice, you "zonk" and your turn ends. You can stop at any point, but as you roll fewer dice, your chances of getting a one, five, or three of a kind diminish. If you roll successive rolls of scoring dice and do not Zonk and all six dice are used, you can "keep rolling." Daring to keep large scores, a player can keep on rolling. By taking lower scores, a more conservative player builds a running score more slowly. Points are banked after each turn. When a player "zonks," all points gained during that turn are lost and the player gets zero points. A game is usually played until a player reaches at least 10,000 points. -- LuAnne Kozma, fieldworker

Traditional Card Games
All festival visitors!

Traditional card games are important recreational activities that most players learn from friends or relatives. Children begin with easy games such as war, hearts, and go fish. Some games are popular within certain age or social groups, some are more popular in certain regions than others. Many are relatively easy to learn, all require minimal and easily portable equipment, and, except for solitaire, all have a social dimension.
A deck of cards and a 15-minute break is all workers at automotive plants, government and university offices, retail businesses, and other work settings need to find relief from their jobs and enjoy social time by playing euchre with their co-workers. At senior citizens centers, veterans' halls, recreation centers, and fraternal organizations, people gather to socialize while playing whist, canasta, or skip-bo. At cottages, cabins, fishing and deer camps, friends and relatives while away their leisure time playing Hearts, Gin Rummy, and Cribbage. In ethnic and immigrant communities, card games are a way to strengthen shared backgrounds and a way to reach out to make new friends.
At the 2007 Great Lakes Folk Festival, all visitors are invited to stop by the "Games Unplugged" tent and take a few minutes to demonstrate their game and to teach others.