Monday, November 30, 2009

The Secret City is coming!

Image Credit: Alton

A friend of Obscure Games, Allen Hahn, has graciously offered to re-open his Secret City game for us to play. The Secret City is, well, I'll let Allen tell you:

"The Secret City is back on Sunday, December 13 for two showings beginning at 10am and 2pm at the Braddock Carnegie Library at 419 Library Street in Braddock.

The Secret City experience lies at the crossroads of theatre, installation, urban exploration, game play and storytelling and garnered enthusiastic praise from the people who played it in June:

"I had been [to the library] a number of times… but in the context of the game it seemed like an entirely new place."
"I felt like I was dropped into the middle of a novel, rather than starting at the beginning."
"Certain phrases [from the story] struck me… and made me want to keep playing."
"Another thing that was great about the library as a setting was being able to use the library itself to solve clues."

All you need to participate is a cell phone that can send and receive text messages, two free hours and a healthy dose of curiosity! It will be a blast and I'd really love to hear your feedback on taking it to the next level."

There you have it. Space is limited, so please register to play at:

Monday, November 23, 2009

New Games!

Another beautiful Sunday and a great end to the "official" 2009 Obscure Games season marked the last Sunday Brunch Games. This Sunday gave us the opportunity to develop and play three new games, the rules for which are below.

"Foxhole" : A Foxtail game where scoring involves "tagging" two goals in sequence.

Number of Players: 10-14
Equipment: Foxtail, goal markers
Field: Rectangular, with a goal at each end.

Gameplay: After the throw-off, the offensive team scores by "tagging" each goal, i.e. catching a Foxtail in one goal area, then the other. The opposing team attempts to intercept the Foxtail and "tag" goals as well.

1. Foxtails must be caught by the tail. Catching by the ball is a turnover.
2. Defenders must give a "step" to the player with the Foxtail (no close guarding) and cannot grab the Foxtail while it is swinging.
3. Players cannot run with the Foxtail. A few steps to stop momentum is okay.

Things to work on:
Does a tagged goal remain tagged until a point is scored? This allows both teams to have one tagged goal at a time. If each team has tagged a different goal, the game reverts to an "Ultimate" type game. If both teams have tagged the same goal, a situation develops where both teams are working towards the same second goal, creating new strategic situations.
Alternatively, a "tagged" goal can be nullified once the opposing team tags a goal, leading to a back-and-fourth kind of gameplay.
Also, could this be played on a triangular field with three goals that had to be tagged?

2. "Kick Laptka" : Based on an ancient game of Russian Baseball, the details of which are vague. A sort of combination of kickball, dodgeball, and wind sprints.

Players: 8-20
Equipment: Kickball/playground ball, field markers
Field: Rectangular, long and narrow, with edges clearly marked.

Gameplay. The defensive team positions itself around the field, and rolls the ball to the offensive team, which is standing outside of the edge of the narrow side of the field. A player on the offensive team kicks the ball, and the entire offensive team runs on to the field. Points are scored for each player who crosses the field untagged. Outs are made when players are hit by the ball.

1. No headshots.
2. The ball must be kicked past a certain point on the field, and must land within the field. A ball kicked otherwise is a foul ball/strike. Two strikes make an out.
3. A caught ball does not make an out.
4. The defensive team cannot run with the ball on the field. If a ball lands fair and rolls foul, a defender may run with the ball while in foul territory, but must stop when entering fair territory.
5. Three outs end the play for the offensive team.

Things to work on: Field shape and size. Keeping runners running through the field long enough to equalize the advantages to the fielders and runners.

3. "Ringer"/"MonkeyBall(s)" : Created by Skory as part of his quest to create a bunch of games involving hitting one ball with another. I love this game because it can be played with an odd number of players.

Players: 5
Equipment: Kickball/playground ball, stability ball, field markers
Field: Stability ball surrounded by a a ring of field markers. Between two and three feet away from the central ring another ring surrounds the central ring, creating a donut shape around the stability ball, where the goalie stands. There is no outer boundary to the field. (See figure below)

Gameplay: A goalie is selected. The remaining players divide into two teams of two. The goalie kicks off the playground ball to start the game play. Teams dribble and pass the ball to move toward the goal. A team scores by hitting the stability ball with the playground ball.

1. Players start the game in the ring. Once the ball is kicked-off, the players may not re-enter the ring or run through it.
2. Players may not run with the ball. To move, a player must dribble the ball. Double-dribbling is not allowed. Players may also pass the ball to each other.
3. If the goalie touches the center ball after it has been hit, the throwing team automatically scores.
4. The goalie may not leave the ring. Players may not enter the ring. If a player crosses the ring on a scoring attempt, the ball is turned over and no score is made.

Things to work on: Scoring. This game is difficult to score because it is played with an odd number of people, of which one is always acting as the goalie. One possible scoring scheme is as follows:
The first goalie automatically gets one point attributed to him. When a team scores, the thrower gets two points and his teammate gets one point. The thrower then becomes the goalie. If the goalie catches the ball, the thrower replaces the goalie in the ring, with no points attributed to wither player. Each game lasts for a pre-determined period of time (~15 minutes).
Other scoring ideas: goalie gets a point for catching the ball; assists and scores give equal points to the team members; point limit, not time limit; etc. etc. etc.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Last Games of 2009

Image Credit: El Grafico Magazine

Sadly, this week marks the last week of Obscure Games for the year 2009. We'll be back and playing again in 2010, though when exactly I don't know. To play in the dead of winter, we'll need some kind of indoor space, and so far I haven't been able to come up with anything. A thousand points to whoever can find us a place to play!

Over the winter, keep an eye out for "Obscure Events," which may be games and may be something else entirely. And if anyone has an idea for an indoor event, or hears about something in-line with the general manifesto of Obscure Games (whatever that is), let me know and I'll pass it along.

For those of you want to keep exercising over the winter, let me recommend CrossFit. Think of them like "Obscure Workouts." Every day, the CrossFit blog posts a new workout for you to do. The movements are dynamic, the workouts usually take only a half hour, and they will destroy whatever is unhealthy in you. I'd like to do this over the winter. If anyone is interested in partnering up, or wants more info about Crossfit (I did it a bit in the summer, before Obscure Games), email me.

Finally, the PGHPlays Festival of Games, which I am planning for August 2010, seems to be gaining steam. We won't know until December whether we've gotten some grant money from The Sprout Fund, but I'm continuing to push forward with the idea. Volunteers will be needed. People to help generate games will be needed. People with expertise in web and tech fields will be needed. Enthusiastic support of the power of play will be needed. So get in touch with me if you'd like to be involved.

With that said, games this week will be:

Tuesday Night Games:
Play from 6-8 at the University of Pittsburgh. Meet by the Cathedral of Learning, on the Bigelow Blvd side, at 5:50.

Thursday Afternoon Games:
Play from 3:30-5:30 at the University of Pittsburgh. Meet by the Cathedral of Learning, on the Bigelow Blvd side, at 3:20.

and, of course:

Sunday Brunch Games!
If you can only come to one, come to this one. Play/Brunch starts at 11 am. We'll meet at Mellon Park again, at the pavilion near the parking lot, across from Beechwood Blvd. These will be the last games of 2009, so if you haven't played in a while, shake off your Saturday night hangover and come out to play. Games are free, but I'd appreciate a bit of money for the Brunch. Also, please let me know if you're going to come, so I'll know how much food to get.

Thanks to everyone who helped make Obscure Games possible this year. Come out to play and I'll thank you in person.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

New rules for Motion and Friggat created at Sunday Brunch

Image Credit: Nic McPhee

Today's Sunday Brunch Games were another huge success; 10 players, three games, and four hours of play. Thanks to the collaborative efforts of everyone, we were able to work on some improving two of the games that we'd created, namely Motion and Friggat.

In addition to the rules described here, we've added these:

1. No traveling. That means that if you are dribbling the ball and stop, you must pass it to another member of your team. Kicking the ball was not allowed in the last game, except on the "kickoff." Otherwise you had to dribble the kickball or pass it.
2. A disc that hits the ground is a turnover. I go back and forth on this rule, because I'm afraid it will cause the disc to remain stationary for too long. But we played it both ways (with dropped throws being turnovers and with them not being turnovers) and each had their pros and cons. More experimentation will determine whether this is a good rule or not.
3. An odd number of players per side works out best. 5-on-5 is probably the perfect number.
4. You can play zone defense or man-on-man defense. In practice, zone defense means that a couple players on each team focus on the ball, and a couple on the disc. Man-on-man means you pick a player on the opposite side to shadow.

As you can see, this game is evolving. Today was one of the best versions of the game yet. The same is true for what is proving to be a perennial favorite, Friggat. We usually end up playing Friggat last, when we're tired. But new additions to the rules may make this game more rigorous.

The idea we've been toying with is using multiple team members to run bases or interfere with fielder's attempts to tag-out the runner. A runner, heading for home, can tag or pass an object (we used a baseball) to another member of his team, and then the fielder must try to tag this new player in order to get the out. Since there are no baselines, a runner can run anywhere within the triangle area created by "The Line" and home base. It turns what was a footrace to home into a game of tag within the boundaries, with players constantly changing.

There was a lot of playing today, as well as a lot of working on the rules of these games to make them better. I think making the game up as we go adds another aspect to the "play" that is Obscure Games. And the idea is starting to spread; players are starting to generate new ideas for games (keep an eye out for a soccer/marble-type game being worked on by Skory). Do you have an idea for a game? Then tell us about it! We'll help develop it to make it playable and fun.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Update - Sunday Brunch Games Nov 8 and 15

The first Sunday Brunch Games were a unbelievably huge success. Sixteen players, three games, delicious brunch, and a 60-degree Pittsburgh November day. Games played included Drop-In, Circle Rules, and Friggat, with some modifications to the rules (I'll post "Friggat 2.0" soon). We were joined by new friends and great players from deeplocal, who created Pickupalooza and have been spreading the joy of play around the city.

Next weeks Sunday Brunch Games (Nov 15) will be held at Mellon Park. Check Pickupalooza for a map of the field.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Sunday Brunch Games

This Sunday will be the first of a three-week series of Sunday Brunch Games, to be played at locations throughout the city. We'll play games from 11am - 1pm, with coffee and doughnuts/bagels to eat. It looks like it will be a beautiful day on Sunday, and we'll be playing at Frick Park near Regent Square. The 61B will drop you off right close, and there's parking nearby if you're driving.

Monday, November 2, 2009


The AVL, or American Vikingball League, is a mysterious and innane organization bent on improving the game of street hockey through the addition of The Viking, a goalie with a hammer and shield. And they play right here in Pittsburgh! There will be two more games this season, down in Banksville park in the South Hills. Got a car? Like a little obscurity with your hockey? Then check them out at .

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Obscure Games October 27 and 29

Games invented this week:

"Motion"/"Moving Target" : This game involves two objects (a ball and a flying disc) moving around the field at the same time. Points are scored by spiking the ball on top of the disc, with the disc on the ground.

Number of Players: 6-12
Equipment: One ball (a kickball or soccer ball will work well), one flying disc.
Field: Rectangular, ~100 feet x 50 feet

Gameplay: Each team begins with one object, and "kicks-off" to the other to start the game. After the kickoff, each team attempts to gain control of both objects, and pass both to one player who spikes the ball on the disc to score a point. Once a point is scored, teams switch starting objects and kick-off again.

1. Play begins with each team kicking off/throwing off one of the objects to the opposing team. Kickoffs/throwoffs must cross the center line.
2.A player may not run with the disc (like Ultimate). Players may pivot around one foot.
3. If a player drops a disc, or fails to complete a pass, that player may not pick up the disc. Any other player, on either team, must touch the disc first.
4. If, while a player is holding a disc, a member of the opposing team touches the disc, the disc changes possession (a turn-over on the spot).
5. A player may not carry the ball, but may dribble the ball using hands or feet to move. A player may also pass the ball using hands or feet.
6. A ball or disc which lands, rolls, or is caught out of bounds changes possession at the point it crossed the line.
7. The ball may be spiked on or rolled across the grounded disc to score a point.
8. Players may block a point from being scored by covering the grounded disc with a part of their body.
9. Once a point is scored, teams switch starting objects and kick-off again.
10. Play to 10 points or 60 minutes.

"Friggat" : This game is a mixture of Over-the-line and Circket, played with a Foxtail.

Number of Players: 4-6
Equipment: One Foxtail and at least 6 cones to mark boundaries
Field: Rectangular, with a triangular area connected to one of the short ends (an elongated house shape). The tip of the triangle is home plate, and 20-30 feet directly forward from home plate stands another base in-line with the two corners where the rectangle and triangle meet. ~100 feet further are the other corners of the rectangular field. (See image below.)

With 6 or more players, the end cones can be moved sideways, widening the playing field. This game can also be played on a baseball field, using home plate and the pitchers mound as bases.

Gameplay: While up at "bat" players attempt to throw the Foxtail past the line (the end of the triangular section) but within the boundaries of the field. Once a throw is made, the player runs back and fourth between the two bases (home base and the base directly in front of it) to score points. Fielders remain in the rectangular field until the Foxtail is caught or hits the ground. Fielders try to tag the runner or home base to get the runner out.

1. A Foxtail caught (by the tail) counts as one out and no points can be scored on that run.
2. A Foxtail that hits the ground and is then caught or picked up does not count as an out: the fielder must tag the runner or home base to get the runner out. Fielders must be in possession of the Foxtail to tag-out, but may not use the Foxtail to tag the runner.
3. A ball that goes outside of the boundaries, or does not cross the line, is a foul ball and counts as a strike. Two strikes equal one out.
4. A runner scores by running in a line between the bases. Out and back counts as two points, and one additional point is awarded for each base the runner touches after that.
5. If a runner is tagged by a fielder before completing his first out-and-back run, the runner is out and no points are scored. If the runner is tagged at any time after completing the first out-and-back run, the runner is out but retains the points already scored.
6. Once a fielder with the Foxtail enters the triangle area, no additional runs can be scored and the runner may choose not seek extra points. The next player is then "up to bat."
7. Once the Foxtail has hit the ground, fielders may enter the triangle area and catch a Foxtail thrown by a team member, to attempt to tag a runner.
8. A Foxtail caught by the ball is an automatic 2 points for the throwing team, with no out.
9. A Foxtail thrown into a tree is an automatic out. And darn tricky to recover.
10. Three outs per team per inning.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Obscure Games now on Pickupalooza

Obscure Games will now be listed on Pickupalooza, a free web service that allows users to schedule games at locations throughout Pittsburgh, Washington D.C., San Francisco, and Boston. A product of the Pittsburgh company deeplocal, Pickupalooza is a great resource for finding games throughout the city. Check it out at, create a profile, and come to Obscure Games (and others!)

Friday, October 23, 2009

PghPLAYS - Get Involved

PghPLAYS is an idea born from my realization that, at the age of 22, it had been at least
five years since I had played, just for the sake of playing. So I started to play again, tossing Frisbees and kicking kickballs and running around, and it was great. So great that I wanted other young people to join in. And so Obscure Games, a twice-weekly meetup to play, began through the University of Pittsburgh's Outdoors Club. Since September 2009, we've met twice a week to play games most people have never heard of. New players join us every week, and regulars come back to play again.

From Obscure Games came the idea for the PghPLAYS Festival of Games. Like the Come Out and Play Festival in New York City and the Igfest in Bristol, UK, PghPLAYS is a celebration of the impact of creative play on individuals and communities, men and women, adults and children. Right now, the festival is in the planning stages, looking for funding and community support. If you're interested in this project and would like to get involved, make a comment on this post and I'll keep you in the loop as the project develops. And keep an eye on the blog for news, games, and other information about playing in Pittsburgh.

Now, get some friends, get out there, and go play!