Paper football (also called FIKI Football, Finger football, Chinese football, Flick football, or Tabletop Football) refers to a table-top game, loosely based on American football, in which a sheet of paper folded into a small triangle is slid back and forth across a table top by two opponents. This game is widely practiced for fun, mostly by students in primary, middle school, and high school age in the United States and by bored employees. It is also commonly referred to as "Polish Football" around the Chicago area, which has a large Polish population.
Due to the audience and impromptu nature of the game, a paper football is often made out of a single sheet of paper. The paper is folded similar to the way that an American flag is folded to form a triangle. First fold the paper lengthwise two or three times to form a long rectangle. Then repeatedly fold in a diagonal fashion, forming a triangle. Finally, the end of the strip is tucked into the last fold, securing the final paper football in a triangular shape.
In the absence of paper, sugar packets, matchbooks, and foil-wrapped cookies have also been used to substitute for a ball.
Many variations of the game exist, but generally paper football games vaguely emulate American football. The two opposing teams (usually two opposing players) sit facing each other over the play area. A coin (or, a specially-marked football) is flipped to see who kicks off to start the game. After the kickoff the teams advance the Ball by flicking it across the field. Each flick represents a drive in American football, with the goal being to score a touchdown. Games may be as simple as flicking the ball back and forth in a fashion similar to field goals, or as involved as including simulations of events from touchbacks to penalties to first downs.
A kick off may start the game. The player holds the football under a fingertip of one hand on his end of the table and flicks (kicks) it with a finger from the other hand towards the opposing player's end of the table. The receiving team gets possession where the ball stops. If any part of the ball is overhanging the end of the table a touchback has occurred. The receiving team gets an agreed distance away from their endzone and play continues.
There are a couple of other ways to perform the kick off; one is by placing' the ball on the edge of the table with one corner overhanging, and flicking it towards the opposing side of the table. Other players use a one-handed type of kick off: the ball is held resting in the palm, then it is tossed onto the table by hitting the fingers on the underside of the table. The method used should be agreed upon before playing.
Some play with a "wind" rule on kickoffs in which the opposing player can blow the ball backwards as "wind."
Advancing the ball
The primary activity of the game is to slide the paper football across the football field by flicking it. The legal flick or shot or throw is any method which advances the ball through flicking or hitting, but pushing the ball is disallowed. The ball is generally flicked either with the thumb and forefinger in a manner similar to shooting marbles, or another manner comfortable to the player. Striking with objects such as pencils is more rare.
Players have four chances (downs) to score a touchdown. They may attempt a field goal on fourth down.
A team scores points by the following plays:
A touchdown (TD) is worth 6 points, as in American football. A touchdown is scored when a player advances the ball such that it comes to rest with part of the ball extending over the edge the opponent's end of the table without falling to the ground. If the ball falls to the ground it is considered a touchback. If on fourth down a player feels that they are not close enough to have a good chance at scoring a touchdown then they can attempt a field goal for 3.
When the players are unsure whether a touchdown has been scored, a flat object can be slid across the edge of the table nearest the ball. If the object moves the ball, a touchdown is ruled.
Following a touchdown, the scoring player usually kicks a field goal for 1 point (an extra point or point-after touchdown), or has the option to try for 2 points (a two-point conversion).
- Point After Touchdown: The opponent holds his fingers in the goalpost position, and the scoring player flicks the ball through the air. The attempt is successful so long as the center of the ball travels through the imaginary area over the bottom fingers and between the uprights, even if the ball bounces off the uprights (but continues through the scoring area) in the process.
- Two Point Conversion: The scoring player gets one attempt to flick the ball over the edge of the table in a manner similar to scoring a touchdown. The player starts from the middle of the table for this attempt.
Play resumes with either a fresh kickoff by the scoring player, or a change of possession, based on house rules.
A field goal is any attempt by a player to hold the ball in one hand (which in turn generally rests on the table), and to flick the ball using the other hand such that it travels through a goalpost formed by the fingers of the opposing player. Field goals generally score 3 points. Implementation of field goals varies widely, and in some variations the game consists entirely of players kicking field goals back and forth with no other plays in between. If this is the case, each successful field goal is worth only one point.
- If a team gains possession in the other teams territory (such as after an illegal attempt to push the ball or the ball going out of bounds), the player can attempt a field goal instead of trying for a touchdown. The defender can place the goal posts anywhere on their goal line and the kick must take place from the exact position where the football lies, or from the spot the football left the table.
- The defending player has the option to try for a field goal after a touchback. A field goal, which employs precisely the same method as described above for a Point After Touchdown, except that it scores three points rather than one. In some variations, the field goal option is only awarded after three (or another predetermined number of) touchbacks.
A safety is worth two points. This occurs when a player scores a touchdown on his/her own end of the table and not his/her opponent's end. The opposing player earns these two points.
Pushing the ball excessively, double flicking, kicking the ball so that it lands far away from the table, or disturbing the ball during an opponent's play may all result in penalties depending on game variation. Most often, a penalty moves the ball toward the offender's side of the table, to the opponent's advantage. If players are using downs, the offending player generally loses a down (or the opponent's play is considered not to have used a down), in addition to letting the opposing player move the ball to a more advantageous position.
Game length varies. A match may last a set amount of time such as 10 points or until the end of a class period in school. A match is often played until someone attains 21 points. Games are generally played quite quickly, especially when played on shorter tables.
Various methods in turn or in combination can be used to break ties. One is "sudden death" - if the game is tied in a timed game, the match goes into sudden death, and the player who scores first wins the game.
- The game was known to be played with matchbooks as footballs in the 1950s in the American Midwest.
- Players are allowed only one chance to advance the ball over the goal line per turn (instead of the aforementioned four tries). If a player pushes the ball off of their opponent's end of the table a "strike" is awarded and their opponent gets to kick the ball back into play. After 3 strikes a player's opponent has the option of kicking a field goal for 3 points.
- Tabletop football was played in Connecticut in the 1950s using an American quarter. Each player had 4 downs to advance the quarter up the field, and hang it over the edge of the table for a touchdown. If the quarter fell off the edge or the player failed to hang it within 4 downs, the opponent was given possession. The shooting player could try a field goal at any time by hanging the quarter over his own edge of the table, and "kicking" it with his index finger toward the opponents field goal "posts." The player with the highest score won the opponent's quarter. Due to the excessive noise of the quarter during play, the quarter variation was often avoided in school.
- As the length of the paper football and the length of the table vary, the probability of the football hanging off the edge varies.
- One classroom variation incorporates a study guide or test into the game. Each player in turn answers the next question on the quiz, and may only take possession of the ball with a correct answer, playing the ball from its current position on the table.
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