Discover ITALIAN CULTURE through the GAMES of The PAST

Everyone knows that nowadays we tend to spend a lot of time indoors, often in front of screens, and outdoors activities seem like just a childhood memory. Actually, I recently watched the Netflix series Squid Game – among other themes, it has that of children’s games. Of course, in the series these themes are taken to the extreme, but it’s the same starting point; so I thought I’d tell you about the most popular children’s games in Italy, or at least those played some time ago, when kids would play together, before the rise of technology and video games – in short, my generation’s childhood games…!


In this list you will find 9 games that are now considered great classics and that will probably never lose popularity… who knows, maybe you have similar ones in your countries!

“NASCONDINO”, Hide-and-seek

Nascondino is a great classic, a simple game with a few simple rules. Basically, you need at least two players, but the more there are, the more fun the game is! One of these players is chosen to fare la conta -counting for 10 to 30 seconds-, with their eyes closed, standing against a wall or a tree. This player has the aim is of seeking out the other players, who will have concealed themselves while the seeker was counting. Once the counting is over, he/she must find the others and, any time he/she finds any one, he/she has to go back to where he/she counted – once they get there, they have to say “Tana per … [name of the player who was found]”. The game ends when all the hidden players have been found or when one of them, when found, runs faster than -and reaches the starting point before- the seeker and says “Tana libera tutti!”. By doing so, this player “saves” every other player that was found, and the game starts from the beginning.

Now, there are a few things that have to be explained – let’s start with easiest thing: the name of the game, because the name “nascondino” derives from the verb “nascondere” (to hide), whereas the English/American game is called “Hide-and-seek”, referring both to the action of the seeker and the action of the other players.
Another thing that is important to define is what “tana” means in this context: in general, it means “burrow”, and it’s the starting point of the game – of course, because we are talking about a game, it can be translated as “home“. What about the two key expressions? “Tana per…” means that a player has been found – it basically either means that the seeker found them or that they reached it before the seeker, depending on who says it. “Tana libera tutti” means reaching home and “freeing” everybody who has been found by the seeker.

“MOSCA CIECA”, Blind man’s buff

This is another classic, with even simpler rules than the previous one: it usually requires just a small group of people and a blind fold. Obviously, one player (“it”, the seeker) is blindfolded and gropes around trying to grab the other players, who must avoid being grabbed. The player who gets grabbed first has to abandon the game and wait for the round to end; on the contrary, if somebody touches “it”, they become “it” in the following round. The game ends when all players have been grabbed.

A few clarifications: both nascondino and mosca cieca are a variant of the game “tag”. The name of the Italian version of this game literally means “blind fly“, because the one player who is “it” is blindfolded (“blind”) and has to roam around the room (like a fly, a “mosca”).

“STREGA COMANDA COLORE”, (“The witch commands the color”)

This is one of the most fun games of this list, and it requires a small group of players too. Basically, the game is divided into three phases:

  • First, one player must be chosen to lead the game – he or she will be “la strega“*.
  • The game starts when la strega says: “Strega comanda color… [a color of their choice]”.
  • After having chosen a specific color, all players must touch an object of that color as fast as possible, to save themselves from “it” and avoid getting caught. The strega‘s job is to catch the players when they are running to save themselves. Whoever gets caught first will become “it”/the “strega” in the following round.

 *Once again, this is a variant of the classic game, “tag” – in this version, the seeker -“it”- is called la strega, meaning “the witch“. The name of this game mentions this player, the most important one, while also explaining the basic rule of the game: strega comanda colore means “[the] witch commands [the] color”!

“LUPO MANGIA FRUTTA”, (“The fruit-eating wolf”)

This is the umpteenth variant of the same game. Like all previous games, this has a specific structure too:

  • In a group of players, one is chosen to be the lupo (the wolf), while the rest of the players line up in front of him/her and think of a fruit.
  • The wolf will have to start say the names of some fruits.
  • If the wolf says out loud the name of a fruit that one of the players thought, he/she/they will have to run toward a chosen point, a place where they’re technically “safe” from the wolf who wants to “eat” (grab) them. If the player gets caught, they become the next “it”/”wolf”.

The name of this game means “[the] wolf [who] eats fruit” or, in the case of the slightly different “LUPO MANGIA-FRUTTA”, it means “[the] fruit-eating wolf” – either way, the name on its own says everything you need to know about this game. There are a few other things about this game that you might like to know: usually, after all the kids have thought of a fruit, the wolf says “Sono il lupo mangia frutta!” (I’m the fruit-eating wolf!) and the kids reply with “Che frutta vuoi?” (What/which fruit do you want?) – these two sentences can also be implied, obviously.

“CAMPANA”, Hopscotch

This is definitely the most ancient and widespread game on this list. It is usually played outside: to play this game, a court must be drawn on pavement (usually with a chalk) – this court, the area where the game is played, is nothing but 10 numbered squares. These squares follow a specific order, which may vary depending on the country: in the Italian version, the first three squares are placed vertically on top of each other; the following two are placed one next to the other, horizontally; then there’s another one, which is placed vertically; then there is another couple of horizontal squares; lastly, there are two squares placed vertically. The rules of this game are very simple: taking turns, all players throw a pebble inside the first square and if it touches the lines or doesn’t fall inside the square, the turn is over; otherwise, the player must proceed on one feet, hopping, or jumping on both feet if there are two horizontal squares. This is how all players must complete the whole sequence, in both directions. If they stumble, fall or touch the lines, the turn switches to the following player. The winner is whoever completes the sequence in both directions without any incidents, by hopping on every single square.

“UN, DUE, TRE… STELLA!”, Green Light, Red Light

This is the most famous game on this list, thanks precisely to Squid Game, the TV series I mentioned earlier. The name in Italian is “un, due, tre…stella!” (“one, two, three… star!”) though the actual name is believed to be “un, due, tre… stai là!” (“one, two, three… stay there!”) – the version with “stella” is far more common.
To play this game, you’ll need a small group of at least four participants, divided like this: a player (the “curator”) who counts, all the other players. Basically, the curator must stand turning their back to the rest of the players and distance themselves from the group; then they must count one, two and three and then turn abruptly after having said “stella/stai là!“. In the meantime, the players standing behind them must move forward (as fast as they can) and freeze in position as soon as the curator turns around- if they get caught moving, they immediately get eliminated. To win, the players must reach the curator without being eliminated.

“BRACCIO DI FERRO”, Arm wrestling      

Braccio di ferro is definitely one of the most liked games, though it’s actually much more than a simple game of strength: it’s an actual sports discipline that is even practiced at a competitive level! The two opponents must face each other with their bent elbows placed on a table and hands firmly gripped – the aim is to then attempt to force the opponent’s hand down to the table top. Wins who can “pin” the opponent, meaning push the back of the opponent’s hand against the tabletop without lifting the elbow.


This is definitely one of the most well-known games… I mean, who hasn’t played it at least once? Also, despite being the cause of many arguments, it’s always among kids’ favorites. You won’t need much to play the game “sedie musicali”, quite the opposite: you’ll need a stereo and some music, a small number of players, and some chairs. The chairs must be arranged in a circle facing outwards and there must be one less chair than the number of players. The game starts when the music starts, but at one point it must be paused – when it pauses, all players must try and sit quickly on a chair. The player who fails to sit on a chair is eliminated, and a chair is removed. The game is repeated until there are only two players and one chair – obviously, the winner is whoever sits on the only chair left.

“GIOCO DELLA BOTTIGLIA”, Spin the bottle

This last game is much more popular among teenagers than children, since it allows them to experience the thrill of a kiss or a caress …! In this game, players must form a circle and put an empty bottle in the center. The first one who spins the bottle must declare, in advance, what is at stake (usually a kiss, a slap, a pinch or – in its variant – having to choose between truth or dare). Once the bottle has spun and has pointed someone, that person will have to do/say as decided; they will then spin the bottle in turn.

These were 9 of the games that once were particularly common, and that were played even by today’s adults. Let us know if you already knew them and if they exist in your countries too! Speaking of “the olden days”, Italy and amusement, we suggest you read our article on Boccaccio’s Decameron -or watch our video about it- to know more about the characters, the structure and some of the stories!

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