Passatella – how to play this infamous Italian drinking game


This strange game has its beginnings in Ancient Rome. Originally called Rex vini (the King of wine) or Regnum vini (the Kingdom of wine), it holds a dubious distinction of being a drinking game which can leave one or many player utterly sober. However, the amount of alcohol to be consumed during a round of play always remains the same. This results in a very explosive situation. The sober ones are upset and belligerent. The drunks are, well, drunk and potentially also belligerent. How can all this happen?

There are many ways in which passatella can be played, but it always begins with the purchase of wine or other alcoholic drinks (every participant chips in). Then the players are divided into three types: Padrone (Boss), Sotto-padrone (Sub-boss) and Uguali (Equals). This can be decided by drawing lots or by playing a different game (bocce or morra). The padrone drinks a cup of wine in a single gulp and offers another cup to his lieutenant who also consumes it at once. Then the boss offers a drink to one of the other players. However, the uguali can only accept the wine if the sub-boss allows for that. At this point three scenarios are possible:

  • All players receive approximately the same amount of wine
  • One or two participants are not permitted to drink at all
  • Nobody except the two bosses drink. Since all of the purchased alcohol must be somehow consumed it seems as if the padrone. ends up drinking whenever any participant chosen by him is not allowed to touch. It means that the boss will likely become extremely drunk.

It is believed that this game mirrors societal structure in Southern Italy. Whether it’s true or not, one can see that past offenses, grudges and dislikes can surface during a round of passatella. Someone who has spent a good amount of money on wine can find himself in the company of drunks who are having a jolly good time at his expense. The potential for a brawl is very real. It also seems that violence became intrinsically associated with this drinking game. As a result passatella was sometimes banned.

It is said that the Pope Sixtus V once decided to play a round of passatella with his cardinals only to find himself an Ormo, the word applied to the unwilling designated driver (if you will) in this cruel game.

The popularity of passatella even led to the publication of “official” rules. Given the dangers of the game, I suggest you refrain from playing it, unless you familiarize yourself with the rules in their entirety!

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