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Beach basketball

January 28, 2017

A few years ago, I accidentally designed a very fun game with a friend of mine. We’ve never shared it anywhere which is a bit of a shame, because there’s a certain elegance to it’s simplicity and natural balance. I’m calling it beach basketball, because it’s like basketball and we played it on the beach. But you could play it anywhere.

All you need is two players and a ball, ideally made of platic or some other material that’s not too hard. It’s also better if it’s roughly basket-ball sized, but anything smaller will also do.

Draw a straight line on the ground (that’s where sand is handy). Both players start standing back to back with the line separating the two. Then they both take a big step forward, then turn to face the other player – they should both be at the same distance from the line.

Each turn, one player is the shooter and the other is the basket. The player being the basket forms a rim with his arms; fingers touching, arms extended to form a circle in front of him. The shooter has to make the ball fall through the rim to score. The player being the basket is not allowed to move until the ball touches the ground. If he does, the shot is considered scored.

The rest is easy: if the shooter scores, the basket takes a step back. If he misses, the basket takes a step forward. Then the next turn begins and the roles are switched. The first player to cross the middle line wins!

Being the basket

Let’s address the worrysome bit first: being the basket. As you’ve probably guessed, not being allowed to move means you’ll have to eat the ball a couple of times. This is where the hardness of the ballcomes into play: being hit by the ball shouldn’t hurt you, but it also shouldn’t be something you look forward to. This makes being the basket a little interesting, because you’re getting shot at, and you have to fight your basic instinct to dodge the ball. If the ball is going to land in your face, you have to make a split second decision: to you catch it and conceed a point, or eat it and hope it bounces off?

So being the basket is not an idle role, you’re playing a game of dare against yourself. It also makes the game very funny, because you’ll end up shooting a friend in the face every now and then. By-standers might find it funny too. Most important point being, don’t do it with an actual basketball. Or a bowling ball.


Now, the step forward - step backward mechanic. This is where the game shines. Making a shot forces your opponent back, increasing the distance between both of you and making his next shot harder to hit. If he misses that next shot, you get to step forward, getting you closer to the line, but also making you shoot from the same distance you just made one. So theoretically, you’ll make this one too! If on the other hand he makes his shot, you have to shoot from an even greater distance.

If one player can consistently hit shots from a 8 step distance, but the other one needs a 7 step distance, the better shooter will quite easily march to victory. The only way to reverse the momentum is for the other player to start making harder shots, or the better player to start missing shots.

What usually happens is that the range increases at the start of the game, until it’s big enough that players start missing shots. At that point, it goes back and forth until a player can make a streak of shots that his opponent can’t match.

End game

The end game mechanic is also interesting. Contrary to most games, you never get to shoot for the win. All you can do is make the shots harder for your opponent.

However, you do get to shoot for not loosing. If you’ve had a few bad shots, your opponent is standing on the line and it’s your turn to shoot. As long as you can make that final shot, you won’t loose. So ultimately, when you lose, it never feels like the other one beat you, but more like you messed up – and you can do better!

A trick and a variation

After a while, we started using a trick in the early game. The first couple of shots are very easy, but after a while come the mid-range shots where you’re still pretty close, but also too far to just drop the ball in. A very gamesmanship thing to do at this point is to deliberately aim for your opponents face! Regardles sof the ball’s softness, that’s a shot you don’t want to eat, so more often than not the other player will dodge it and will have to step back. Of course that only works at short distances, after which it becomes too hard to reliably aim for the head.

The variation can only be played at the beach. We would usually play this parralel to the shoreline, with our feet in the water. This allowed us to jump in every now and then to cool off.

But one day we decided to incorporate the water in the game. In this variation, you start off feet in the water, with 8 or so steps between each other (a distance that is chalenging for both, but not too much). But when a player makes a shot, the other one has to make a lateral step into the water, instead of back. A failed shot gets the opponent closer to the shore.

In this variation, the shot distance barely changes, but both players end up being deeper and deeper in the water. After a while, jump shots aren’t possible anymore. You start loosing your balance. And eventually, you can’t touch the ground anymore and have to give up. better player on very hot days!

So anyway, it’s a fun game with little equipment required. Try it out for yourself, it’s not nearly as masochistic as it sounds, I swear.

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