Tombola: A Christmas Tradition for the Whole Family

A southern Italian Christmas would be incomplete without a few rounds of Tombola with family and friends. Tombola is a board game that looks like Bingo, and in some ways, is quite similar to it.

This game is so easy to play that the whole family can get involved.

Tombola consists of:
le cartelle or tombola cards that have random numbers (like Bingo cards) ranging from 1 to 90.
i tombolini which are the small wooden disks that display the numbers from 1 to 90 to be called out
il tabellone which is the large board that has all the numbers and where the tombolini are put once they’ve been called out.

Some games will come with markers to cover up the numbers as they are called, but if you don’t have them no worries. Italians are known to improvise and use pieces of orange peels, dried beans and other small items around the house that can be used again and again.

Along with the simple number-only version of Tombola, you’ll also find some versions that have “La Smorfia Napoletano”. La smorfia is a “dictionary” that connects a word, like a person, object, situation etc, that corrispondes to a number. It is often referenced when someone has a dream in order to determine what numbers they should play for the lottery.

Some of my favorites:

17 – la disgrazia which means “misfortune” (17 is also an unlucky number in Italy)

25 – Natale which means “Christmas” (makes sense since December 25th is Christmas Day)

39 – Il cappio al collo or l’impiccato which means “The noose around the neck” or “The Hanged Man“.

47 – il morto che parla which means “the dead man who speaks” (yikes!)

66 – le due zitelle which means “the two spinsters

69 – sottosopra which means “upside down

So, how do you play Tombola? Well, it’s very simple!

First, you decide on a price per card and everyone, except the person who has been elected to call out the numbers, buys the number of cartelle they would like. All the money goes into a main pot which is then divided into 5 different pots.

This often leads to heated discussions on what is a fair divide, but once it’s been settled, you are ready to play.


The caller draws a number from the bag or basket and reads it out loud. The players look at their cards and cover the number if they have it.

When a player covers two numbers in the same row, they call out AMBO. The caller checks the card and if it’s ok, the player wins the money from the first pot.

The game continues and if a player covers three numbers in the same row, they called out TERNO. If it checks out, they win the second pot.

This continues for QUATERNA (four numbers in the same row) and CINQUINA (five numbers in the same row).

After that, it’s the battle for the final and biggest pot, that is won for covering the whole card.

You can pass hours and hours playing this game and if you’re lucky, you’ll walk away with heavy pockets full of change!

If you would like to get your hands on this family favorite game, you can order this Tombola game from Amazon!

Image Credits: Square87, Andrea Skerlavaj