How to Play Vyshibaly

So you’re learning about Russia and want a kid friendly game, right? Durak is too advanced maybe; lapta is just too confusing without someone who knows the rules; and you’re concerned that gorodki might teach your small child it’s okay to throw sticks. (And by you, I mean me. I’m the one with a child who throws sticks.) So what do you play? Vyshibali! This game is so fun and easy. Something like Dodgeball meets Red Rover, and all the rules got reversed.

These Russian kids give a great visual of how to play the game, but if you don’t speak Russian and still feel a little confused after watching this, then read on and I’ll explain these simple instructions.

What You Need to Play

  • at least 3 people
    • 2 throwers, and 1+ dodgers/catchers in the middle
  • a ball

Game Rules

  1. The first step is to decide what everyones rolls will be in the game. You’ll see that the children in the video do this (0:16) by circling around one person and essentially doing “eenie meenie miny moe” to sort two people out of the group.
  2. The two throwers should spread apart facing each other with room for everyone else to stand in a line between them. (0:23-0:29)
  3. The throwers take turns calling out instructions and trying to get the people in the middle “out” by various means.

How to Get “Out”

  1. In a dodgeball-like version, the throwers may simply try to throw the ball at those in the middle, who should try to stay in a line without getting hit. If a player is hit by the ball, then they are out. The player may yell “DODGE” before throwing the ball, so that players know what to do. (0:30-0:40)
  2. In another version, the thrower might yell something like, “CATCH!” before lobbing the ball high into the air. If the player who tries to catch the ball drops it, then they are out. (0:45-0:51)
  3. In yet another example, the thrower in the video yells “BOMB”, again lobbing the ball into the air towards the dodgers. The dodgers all “take cover” by squatting in place and freezing. If the ball lands on them, then they are out. (1:04-1:14)
  4. A fourth option shown – the thrower gives an instruction prompting everyone to line up. The ball is then rolled on the ground to the opposite thrower. All of the dodgers should line up behind one another, allowing the ball to roll between their legs. If anyone does not manage to line up in time for the ball to go between their legs, then they are out. (1:15-1:25)
  5. I could be 100% wrong on this one, but to me it sounds like the thrower is yelling “MACARONI” as his instruction. Whatever he says, the dodgers all plant their feet in place and have to avoid the ball without moving their feet. (1:26-1:33)

I really think this game is perfect for such a wide age range and as soon as I get a big enough group of kids over 2 years old together to play, I’ll share a video of how it goes! If you beat me to it though, please share your experience and send in a video here, on Facebook, or tag me on Instagram! Enjoy!

And if you want to learn more about Russia through fun games and interactive ideas, check out my Russian activities pack!


I hate to admit that I read an R-rated book, but the first thing you have to know about “Pachinko” if you’re on my blog is that it is NOT for youth. This is not one I would put on my bookshelves for the long haul, and because of that, I didn’t know whether or not I’d give it a review at all. But the excuses for why I kept reading through the book is because it really was such an interesting look into a WWII racism-fueled relationship between the Japanese and Koreans. If you haven’t read “Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea” then plan to read these two titles back to back for a whole array of perspectives on an overlapping bit of history. If you care to have a little more chronological order, then read this one first as it starts and ends earlier. You almost forget that it’s fiction. Almost. And then there is that other layer of the book bearing the motto “a woman’s lot is to suffer.” It takes you through how different women (and men) deal with that suffering. Do they grin and bear it, rise to the occasion, or let it overwhelm them? It does all of this by basically following 4 generations of shameful acts on a Korean family that ended up living in Japan around the time WWII.

There are two things you will need to understand before this book is over: 1. go-saeng and 2. pachinko.

Go-saeng,” Yangjin said out loud. “A woman’s lot is to suffer.”
“Yes, go-saeng,” Kyunghee nodded, repeating the word for suffering.
All her life, Sunja had heard this sentiment from other women, that they must suffer – suffer as a girl, suffer as a wife, suffer as a mother – die suffering. Go-saeng – the word made her sick. What else was there besides this? She had suffered to create a better life for Noa, and yet it was not enough. Should she have taught her son to suffer the humiliation that she’d drunk like water? In the end, he had refused to suffer the conditions of his birth. Did mothers fail by not telling their sons that suffering would come?

Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee

This book offers some very thought-provoking questions, like the one above, about the suffering that comes with this life.

I got way too far into the book before figuring out what a pachinko even is. At first, I was honestly envisioning a bowling alley, which just made no sense – why it would be frowned upon to work in a Japanese bowling alley. So don’t be like me and think that if you read this story. Instead, imagine a hundred slot machines and line them up in a small building or room. Also, take away the money that you would cash your coins in for gambling, and instead use your pachinko balls to trade in for special prizes or tokens. Gambling is illegal in Japan, but the loophole people found was to exchange their pachinko ball winnings for special tokens, and then sell those special tokens on the black market. And just like that, people have their gambling. Voila! Hence why its frowned upon. And yet some of the major characters of this book working at pachinko parlors are some of the most well-off characters! It’s these kind of backwards situations that carry the plot along – giving in to some “shameful” act and then living with any blessings, consequences, lies and scrutiny that follow.

Photo by Emile Guillemot on Unsplash

Physical deformities, illegitimate pregnancies, disagreeing with the government, preaching an unwanted gospel, internalized racism, gender equality, homosexuality, suicide, abortions, it’s like the Japanese-Korean “Inferno” diving through all the levels of things these people wanted to hide from a judgemental society. A society trying to figure out who they were and where everyone stands within a post-war mess that’s had multiple cultures all forced into this uncomfortable mixing of different kinds of people living together. So if you’re wondering what the historical relationship between Japan and Korea is, this might just be a good read for you.

Nothing To Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea

I think the kids nowadays say “I’m shook”? And I feel like this is the correct context for my first time ever using that slang, because this book for reals left me “shook”.

I just can’t say enough good things about the work and research that went into this book. And for people to share their stories like this is incredible too when you think about it! The author tells the overlapping true stories of 7 different people and their families as they slowly discover that communism doesn’t work and the leader they so loved has cheated them.

The alarming problem with North Korea that is illustrated in this non-fiction text is not that they live in squalid conditions under crazy dictators and without electricity. (I mean, that’s a huge problem, but that’s not the most alarming part.) No. The alarming problem is that Korea made its way into the twentieth century at pace with the rest of the industrialized world, but before the century ended, North Korea LOST their power grid. Can you imagine living your normal life with internet and theaters and telephones (which I can assume you have if you’re reading this), going through something as awful as a war, and then slowly watching each of those things be taken away as the electricity goes out?! It just blows my mind. I had never stopped to wonder what North Korea had once been, only ever looking at it as we all know it now.

I can’t even say more without giving it away. Just go read it. Please. And then tell me you read it so we can gab about it and maybe start a book club!

And for your little ones to read on the same topic, I think that N is for North Korea is great too!

Trevor Eissler, the author, may not have any real connection to North Korea, but don’t let that throw you. This is the illustrator’s story. And wow, do his pictures take you straight to all of the sites and culture that you will read about in Nothing to Envy! This book approaches the topic of North Korea in a very simple story that leaves it up to the adult to explain what is going on in the powerful images. I love it. Such a great conversation starter!

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