Traditional Portuguese Games and How to Play Them

Games for Old Dudes: Jogos de Concas

Concas doesn’t really have a translation into English, but basically, it means small objects you can throw. In some cases it’s metal plates, in others, it’s wooden balls. The point is, these games should be easy to play with found objects wherever you are.

malha-sketchJogo da Malha
This game is a lot like the American game of horseshoes and, not surprisingly, it has the same historical origins. When the ancient Romans began shoeing their horses, what was leftover was used for gaming.

In Portugal, actual horseshoes aren’t used anymore: the game is played with metal plates or discs on a long dirt court. The objective is to knock down the metal stake at the other end of the pitch (15 to 18m away) or to be the closest to the stake once all discs are thrown. There is a shuffleboard-like variation played in Brazil where the court is slick and the discs are slid, not thrown.

Where to play: Grupo de Amigos do Jogo da Malha (Telheiras)

Jogo da Laranjinha
This is the Portuguese name for bocce ball, and it’s especially popular in the Alentejo region. It is played on natural soil or sand courts 27.5m long and 2.5 to 4m wide. A small wooden ball known as the laranjinha (small orange) is tossed toward the opposite end of the court. Then, players or teams take turns tossing or rolling larger wooden balls toward the laranjinha until they’re out of them. The team with the closest ball to the target is the only team that can score points in any frame. The scoring team receives one point for each of their balls closer to the laranjinha than the closest ball of the other team. The length of a game varies by region but is typically from 7 to 13 points.

Where to play: Our sources tell us the old court in Alcântara has been closed for years, but you can still find families bringing their own sets to the beach or the park. There is a regular group that meets in Jardim da Estrela but it is by invitation only and is therefore not publicized. Our suggestion? Hang around and make friends.

Games for the Kids

hopscotchJogo da Macaca
The monkey game is the Portuguese version of hopscotch, only you begin in inferno (hell) and end in ciel (the sky). Looks like their stakes are a bit higher, no? A variation called jogo de caracol (snail game) has the squares set in a spiral pattern, and instead of throwing stones to eliminate a useable space, the space contains a player who has successfully hopped the whole way to the center and back out again. Getting around them gets more and more difficult as the game progresses.

pickupsticksJogo da Vara
This “pole” game is like musical chairs, but it’s played with long rods. The players line up with their back to rods that have been stuck into the ground (standing upright). There is one less rod than the number of players. Once someone says go, each player rushes to grab a stick and the one who does not is eliminated.

There are other variations of the game as well. One, mostly played by scout troops and used for team building, requires teams to climb up a large, thick pole using each other’s shoulders so that one team member can touch the top. The group that makes the fastest time wins. Another is basically identical to pick-up-sticks, which is widely played by youngsters in the U.S.

cabra-cegaCabra Cega
The Blind Goat game was once a game played among the upper-crust at parties. In English, it’s called blind man’s bluff. The game can be traced back to ancient Greece and has been played through the ages by adults (even Alfred, Lord Tennyson reportedly played it back in 1855) until recently. The game begins when one person wearing a blindfold is turned around and around until dizzy, while the others, called runners or captives, run away. The object of the game is for the blindfolded player to tag a runner who will then become the blind man. The Portugese variation calls for the blind player to guess the identity of the person they caught before they can trade places. The kids’ variation has a chant that goes with it, which must be said as the blind goat is spun around. The chant demands bread and wine (natch) from the blind goat, who must of course say no.
               – Cabra cega, de onde vens? (Blind goat, where are you from?)
               – Do Moinho! (From Moinho!)
               – O que trazes para comer? (What did you bring to eat?)
               – Pão e vinho. (Bread and wine.)
               – Dás-me um bocadinho? (Give me a little bit?)
               – Não! (No!)
               – Então levas um empurrão! (Then you’ll get pushed!)

barra-de-lenco1Barra do Lenço
Two teams stand on either side of a court with a neutral player in the center holding a handkerchief. Each player on each team is assigned a secret number in sequence and, when that number is called, that player must run to the center and grab the handkerchief before the other team’s player gets there. The team with the hankie gets a point up to whatever is decided in advance. A variation of this game exists when the person at the center decides how the player must run (like scissors, on one foot, backwards, like a drunk, etc.)

potato-sack-raceCorrida de Sacos
This is played exactly as the popular potato sack race, only the Portuguese aren’t so specific as to what type of sack should be used. I guess any large sack will do!

eixoJogo do Eixo:
This is the Portuguese version of leapfrog, with anywhere from four to eight players. Eleven times, the running player must jump over the others, who are doubled over on the ground, without falling or touching the backs of the players with his/her legs. While jumping over each, the runner must say the following:
Um à bananeira (One to the banana tree)
Dois à catacumba (Two to the catacomb)
Três aberta, fechada ou mista (Three, open, closed or mixed)
Quatro rãs ca partam (Four, the frogs leave here)
Cinco Maria do brinco (Five, Maria’s joke)
Seis panela do tio Reis (Six, Uncle Reis’ pan)
Sete canivete (Seven, pocket knife)
Oito biscoito (Eight, cookie)
Nove já não chove (Nine, it doesn’t rain anymore)
Dez não molhes os pés (Ten, don’t get your feet wet)
Onze os sinos da capela são de bronze (Eleven, the chapel bells are bronze)

Sources:,, American School of Languages, wikipedia, ART

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