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Jagdhausalmen Alpine Pastures, Defereggen, East Tirol, Austria, Europe

Game for a Game?

Updated on 05.02.2021 in Bits & Pieces

 Photo Credit: Roderick Aichinger

Game for Game?

Tiroleans are renowned for being a little reserved when you first get to know them, so there is no better way to break the ice than with a game of "Perlaggen", "Doz’nhacken" or "Tschongelen". Here are nine traditional games from the region ideal for long nights in mountain huts.

1. Bieten

What you need: 2 to 5 players; „Deutsches Blatt“ playing cards with 33 cards (ace to 7 plus „Schellen-6er“, aka „Weli“)

„Bieten“ is what you could call the little brother of „Perlaggen“ (see below) and is all about one thing: bluffing. As well as a bit of luck, players need a devil-may-care attitude and a good poker face. The game is played in rounds. Players can complete „Stiche“ and „Punkte“ by taking a close look at their cards and choosing a certain suit. Tactics are important. The winner is the first one to reach an agreed number of points („Punkte“) after several rounds. This game used to be particularly popular with the men who would transport tree trunks down rivers („Flößer“) and along trails („Säumer“) over the Alps using horses and donkeys. They were generally men of few words, which meant they came up with their own expressions specific to this game which have survived until today and can still be heard in the taverns and inns of Tirol where the game is often played.


2. Perlaggen

What you need: 2, 4 or 6 players, always in teams 2 vs. 2; „Deutsches Blatt“ playing cards with 33 cards (see „Bieten“)

Legend has it that this game was first played in the year 1833 by two office workers and two forestry workers at the Gasthaus Pfau in what is today Bolzano, the regional capital of Alto Adige, the northernmost province of Italy which until the First World War belonged to Austria and was known as South Tirol. It is impossible to know the prize at stake back then, but one thing is for sure: it must have been great fun! After all, the game quickly spread throughout the region as far as Innsbruck. The word „Perlaggen“ comes from the Italian word „berlicche“, meaning the „devil“. Maybe the game came to be known as such because of the wild emotions it can cause. One of the features of „Perlaggen“ is that the two players in a team can only communicate through signs. At the same time, players must try to distract their opponents by talking, joking and bluffing. For the last 150 years the best tricksters have taken part in the Perlagger Ball held every spring in Imst in a quest to crown themselves King of the Perlaggers. This game has such important status within Tirol’s cultural landscape that the Austrian UNESCO Commission added it to the country’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2016.

3. Schnapsen

What you need: 2 players; „Französisches Blatt“ playing cards with 20 cards (ace to 10)

In the Middle Ages the Church and the State once again attempted to stop the people from gambling and introduced draconian penalties for anyone caught doing so. However – once again – these measures were in vain. Instead of money, games would be played for alcohol, preferably schnapps. This, however, is actually not the origin of the name „Schnapsen“. Instead, the name comes from the term giving to playing the highest card in the pack, an action known as „Schnappen“ („trumping“). Each player gets five cards. The top card on the remaining pack is turned over. This will be the trump. The players must then make as many „Stiche“ as possible against each other and before taking another card. The game ends when one player reaches 66 points. This is a game of concentration, so we recommend saving the schnapps for later!

4. Strohmandeln

What you need: 2 players; in total 54 cards (32 „Französisches Blatt“ playing cards and 22 tarot cards)

Tarot is the most well-known of a whole family of card games. Following its invention in 1425 it spread quickly across Europe and established itself in many different forms – as „Tarocco“ in Italy, as „Tarot“ in France. In Austria it is commonly known as „Strohmandeln“ or „Strohmanntarock“. Each player has three stacks of four cards – and must hope that these are good cards with which he or she can make a „Stich“. Tarot is pretty tricky even with two players. Documents from the 19th century show that experiened players did not appreciate „arguing, the grabbing of cards, moaning and boasting“. However, the documents also stated that those who managed to keep a cool head and did not become „cocky“ when winning could hope to „get the Moon and garner fame“ or at least to „catch the eye of a few ladies“. Mozart, Brahms and Sigmund Freud were all passionate players of tarot.

5. Tschongelen

What you need: as many players as you want (12 years and over); 5 smooth stones (smaller than a walnut, larger than a hazelnut), a table

The name „Tschongelen“ sounds a little bit like „juggling“. Both have several things in common: concentration, coordination and fast fingers. Here’s an easy exercise to get you started. One player throws all the stones onto a table, making sure they are spread out. The player then picks up one of these stones, throws it in the air and, using the same hand, tries to pick up another stone from the table before catching the stone thrown into the air. The game becomes increasingly difficult as players have to pick up two, three and then four stones from the table before catching the stone thrown into the air. A second exercise is for a player to throw all the stones in the air – the higher they are thrown, the easier it is – and try to catch as many as possible on the back of the hand. If the player manages to catch, for example, three stones, then these three must be thrown from the back of the hand into the air once again and caught normally in the palm of the hand. Only those stones which are caught like this count as points. Then it’s the next person’s turn.


6. Guzimann

What you need: as many players as you want (14 years and older); 1 stone per player (as flat as possible), 1 tin can

The word „Guzimann“ is normally used in Tirol to refer to a „watchman“. This game starts by players marking out the throwing line and the „danger zone“ with a semi-circle. The tin can is then placed in this semi-circle. Then the game begins. The player who throws his or her stone the furthest away from the tin can is the „Guzimann“ and has to stand on the edge of the danger zone and keep watch. A stone (any stone) is then placed on the tin can. One after the other, the remaining players must try to hit the can and dislodge the stone. If a player does not manage to do this, he or she must stand next to his/her stone without touching it. If the player is standing in the danger zone and inadvertantly touches the stone, the „Guzimann“ can swap places with him/her. This player then becomes the new „Guzimann“ or „watchman“. If a player does hit the can, all those who are in the danger zone must try to run away before the „Guzimann“ picks up the stone that was on the can and puts it back on there. If nobody hits the can and all the players are therefore imprisoned in the danger zone, they must try to distract the „Guzimann“ and run away. This can be done, for example, by a player pretending to reach out for a stone in order to get the „Guzimann“ to move away from another stone. As soon as a player has been freed, he or she can try to hit the tin can again in order to release the remaining prisoners.

7. Kuhschwanzen

What you need: at least 3 players; 21 chips per player, 1 dice

This game is easy to understand. Each player sets out his or her 21 chips in six rows forming a triangle (see picture below). This is the „Kuhschwanz“ („cow’s tail“). Each player then throws the dice. If you throw a 1 then you can remove the first row of the cow’s tail, if you throw a 2 you can remove the second row, etc. If you throw the same number twice and you have already got rid of that row, you skip a turn. The winner is the person who manages to get rid of all the rows first. The winner gets all the chips still left on the table. The best part about this traditional game is choosing the chips. Plastic poker chips are boring, so why not try something different like Smarties, cookies or crisps? You can even play for money and use coins. Some people use this as a drinking game and form a triangle of shot glasses filled with schnapps. The only downside to this variety is that the game is normally over pretty quickly and the winner generally can’t remember much about the victory!


8. Doz’nhacken

What you need: as many players as you want; 1 spinning top

This game was traditionally played using a wooden cone with a nail hammered into the top. A piece of string was then wrapped around the nail. The skill is to pull on the string so that the spinning top lands on the ground and keeps spinning. These days the game is normally played with a slightly more advanced spinning top bought from a games shop. However, the principle is still the same. A circle of 40-60 centimetres is drawn on the ground. A coin is then placed in the middle. A player who manages to knock the coin out of the circle using the spinning top can keep the coin. „Doz’nhacken“ was traditionally played in carnival season, from the Saturday before Ash Wednesday until the Holy Week culminating in Palm Sunday.


9. Der Pfarrer von Inzing hat’s Kappl verlor’n

What you need: at least 3 players able to speak

Legend has it that in 1848 local residents in Inzing witnessed the eyes and mouth moving on a painting of Mary and Baby Jesus in the village church. It didn’t take long for the first pilgrims to arrive – and, as the evocative name of this game suggests, the „vicar of Inzing lost his cap“. Here’s how the game works. Each player is given a number. Player 1 says: „The vicar of Inzing has lost his cap and it was found by…“ – „Player 3“. This then starts a chain reaction:

Number 3: What I? Number 1: Yes you! Number 3: Not I! Number : Then who? Number : Player 2 (for example) Number : What I? Number : Yes you! Number : Not I! Number : Then who?

The game continues in this way. A player who makes a mistake or hesitates must pay 50 cents – for example into a piggy bank for the family’s next holiday in Tirol!

Pauline Krätzig likes nothing more than writing about people – their culture, their (hi)stories, their traditions. Tirol is home to plenty of each. And to some seriously good pine schnapps.

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