Playing Card Basketball

He drives down the lane, pulls up outside the arc, it’s good if it goes… SCORE! He’s a gym class hero! No way will the bigger kids beat the snot out of him later. What a finish! If any of this sounds like a fantasy you might have had once or twice in school, we feel your pain. And while playing this fast, easy and intense card game won’t actually get your lunch money back, it can ease the hurting. Trust us.

Number of Players: Two

What You Need: A 52 card deck, no jokers.

Object: Be the first to score 10 points.

Setup: Divide the deck into suits, and shuffle each suit. One player takes all the black cards, the other all the red cards. Each player should have two face-down piles in front of him, each containing one of his two suites. The spade or diamond deck is his “big play” deck, the club or heart deck his “fundamentals” deck.

How to Play:
Start the game with a tip off. Each player flips over the top card of his fundamentals deck — that’s clubs for the black player and hearts for the red player. Whoever reveals the higher card gets first possession. In the case of a tie, flip the next card.

The player on offense then draws the top card of both of his decks. The player on defense draws the top card of his big play deck only. The offense may then decide to pass or shoot. Fundamentals cards are used for passing, big play cards for shooting. The defense has only his big play card, which he can use to block or steal.

If the offense decides to pass, the defense has a chance to attempt to steal. If he doesn’t, both players discard the cards their hands and draw again, the offense drawing a new big play (shot) and fundamental (pass) card, the defense drawing a new big play card. The offense will often want to pass a few times to set up a good shot.

If the defense does decide to steal, reveal the offense’s fundamental card, and the defense’s big play card. If the defense is higher, he steals the ball, and immediately takes possession. All the cards just in use (even the former offensive player’s unused big play card) are discarded, and new cards are drawn. But if the offense’s card is equal to or higher than the defender’s, his deft ball-handling have kept the ball out of reach. All cards are discarded and new ones drawn, just like in a normal pass, except this time if the offense doesn’t like the big play card he drew, he can discard it and draw another one. He has to stick with this new card.

When the offense shoots, the defender has a choice – he can try to block the shot, or he can leave it to chance and hope the offense is having a bad shooting day. If he leaves it up to chance, he flips over the top card of his fundamentals deck, and compares it with the offense’s big play card. If the offense’s card is equal or higher, it’s a basket. The offense scores two, and the defense gets the ball. If the defense is higher, the shot’s no good, and the defense gets the ball.

If the defender tries to block, compare the big play card in his hand to the offense’s big play card. If the defense’s is higher, he knocked it from the air. No points are scored, and the defense gets the ball. If the offense’s card is higher, the ball goes in, and the offense drew the foul. The offense goes to the line and shoots one foul shot. If the two cards are equal, the defense fouled the guy on his way up. The ball didn’t go in, but now he gets two free throws. How do free throws work, you ask?

Free Throws
When you have to shoot a free throw, just flop over the top card of your big play deck. The defense flips over the top card of his fundamentals deck. If the offense’s card is equal or higher, it’s a swish for one point.  That’s it. No thinking is required of either player in this process. After free throws, the defender gets the ball.

Shooting the Three
Instead of taking a normal shot, the offense can choose to shoot a three-pointer. To make a three, the offense’s card must be at least three ranks higher than the defense’s card, whether the shot is defended or left to chance. When shooting the three, the shooter can’t be fouled, so feel free to try and get a hand in there.

Discarding and Reshuffling
Be sure to keep your discarded cards separated by suit – usually you can just keep a face-up pile of discards next to each face-down deck. Whenever you run out of cards in one of your decks, shuffle up the discards and use ‘em.

Optional Rule: Rebounds
If you think it’s blasphemy to have a basketball game without rebounds, just add this little rule: Whenever a shot is left up to chance and misses, there’s a rebound opportunity. Resolve this just like a tip-off.

Interested in learning about how we designed this game, and why? Check out the designer diary.

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