Thursday, November 02, 2006


Is the title a typo? No. Is the image above a mistake? No. If you know me well, you know that I dislike all spectator sports and the kind of mindless behavior that seems to follow them.

In this case, however, I am discussing a table-top tactical/dexterity boardgame. But Subbuteo is not what you might think. It plays like football (American soccer) amazingly well for such a simple set of basic rules. Here's the Wikipedia entry for it.


The playing surface is about 4x3 feet with standard football lines laid out on it. Quality ones feel like a plush but smooth felt. This is mounted on a hard flat surface with short walls all around, except for the areas behind the 2 goals.

Each player has a team of 10 players plus 2 different goalies. Standard players are plastic men mounted on a weighted and cupped base. The main goalie is mounted on a rod that the player can use to move it around. The secondary goalie piece is similar to a normal player. It is used in situations where a goalie would kick the ball like a normal player would.

The ball is half the height of the players, made of hollow plastic, and is very light.


The basic play is very simple. To flick a player, you use your index or middle fingernail. You can use the table top, but not your thumb, to give you power.

At any given time, one player has possession and is called the attacker. The other player is the defender. The attacker flicks a player so that it contacts the ball. The same player may be used up to 3 times in a row. The attacker may switch players any time. As long as the ball stays in bounds, and it does not touch a defending player, possession is maintained (there are many complex rules to cover offsides and other fouls).

After each attacking flick, the defender may make a defensive flick to move a player into a position to force a turnover of possession. The flicked player may not touch the ball or another player. The attacker does not have to wait for the defender to make a defensive flick before going again.

In this way, the attacker can take his time, while the defender must react quickly. Of course, the attacker might also want to flick quickly before the defender has a chance to think or flick.

These are the quick rules. These are the long rules.


The only way to really get an appreciation for this game is to see it in action. Here's a video of the game in progress.

If I had the space, I'd probably be all over this. Fortunately, someone in my gaming group just bought himself a set and is currently building a fancy table for it.

Subbuteo image by Bob3K


At 7:45 AM, Blogger Coldfoot said...

That is too cool. Thanks for pointing it out.

At 8:01 AM, Blogger Jason said...

Looks like a lot of fun.

At 12:36 PM, Blogger hibikir said...

The original game came in a rather big box, but the playing field was a big cotton cloth that was almost impossible to store without getting wrinkled and creased. I remember having my mother iron it before games, back when I was 8.

Now, through the miracles of polyester, it'd be much easier to make a playing field that can be folded, so that players don't have to resort to custom tables to be able to play.

At 12:56 PM, Anonymous Mosse said...

I was amazed at this game also when I bought a copy a few months ago. Highly addictive.

Sadly, I have a crappy cloth, and no fancy table for it... And I don't have a big enough room for it, so it's a rare joy to have a match or two.

At 1:07 PM, Blogger Jasen said...

Funny you should post this. I'm in the middle of acquiring all the components and I've convinced a friend of mine to build a table for me (in return I've bought him a team of players). Can't wait to play!

At 4:15 PM, Blogger Fellonmyhead said...

I find it difficult to believe that this mainstay of British boys' hobbies has not become more popular over the pond.

It has been competing with the video game just like everything else, but Subbuteo had a following akin to, say, the modern Games Workshop when I was younger. This was probably the original collectable table-top game of any description.

I haven't played since before I was a teenager - I think...

Rugby and cricket editions were also produced - less successful and much sought-after. I may have a cricket edition somewhere (never played it though) but my rugby edition went under when I was much younger. The rugby edition had a fantastic scrummage device.

At 12:17 PM, Blogger Steve Janecek said...

This looks like one of the best reasons to go to Maine :)

At 12:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fond memories of late nights, stoned, with a sore flicking finger....

And I HATE soccer!

At 6:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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