During our walks in the hills of Busan, we frequently see groups of hikers taking a break in a pavilion, drinking soju and playing Go-Stop, a betting game which uses small plastic flower cards. Once, we hovered around and watched for a bit — the players were too engrossed in the action to even notice our presence. The game looked fun, and later that day we bought our own deck.
Go-Stop is a Korean game which uses Japanese flower cards (called Hwatu in Korean), which are made of hard plastic and represent the seasons of the year. Four cards for each month, for 48 cards total. You can pick up a deck of flower cards at any convenience store for a couple bucks; they’re just as ubiquitous here as western-style decks are in the US or Europe.
The game is easy to learn, and we quickly became addicted to it (if you’re interested, a set of rules can be found on Pagat.com). Go-Stop is a fishing and matching game played between two or three people — you slap down a January card on another January card and collect the points. And I do mean “slap down”. It’s standard practice to hold the card you’re playing high above your head, then slam it down onto the table, to produce a satisfying smacking sound.
We’ve become pretty adept at the game — once you learn which cards belong to which month, it’s easy. Recently, we even dared to pull out the cards at a bar. Within minutes, we had attracted a set of on-lookers: our waiter and the couple at the neighboring table, apparently amused by the waeguks playing Go-Stop. All were very generous with advice, and though the waiter didn’t approve of my slapping style (apparently, not forceful enough) I think we acquitted ourselves rather well.