Red Rover

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For other uses, see Red Rover (disambiguation).
For the game played in South Africa, see British bulldogs (game).
Youths playing red rover

Red rover (also known as forcing the city gates and octopus tag) is a game played primarily by children on playgrounds. This 19th-century children's group game (requiring around 10 or more players total)[1] is thought to have originated in Britain and then spread to Australia, Canada, and the United States

The 1829 book titled The Red Rover: A Tale by James Fenimore Cooper describes the exploits of a pirate called "Red Rover".[2]


The game is played between two lines of players (usually called the "East" or "West" team, although this does not relate to the actual relative location of the teams), usually around thirty feet apart. The game starts when the first team, in this example the "East" team, calls a player out, using a line like "Red rover, red rover, send [name of player on opposite team] right over", sometimes sung.

The immediate goal for the person called is to run to the other line and break the "East" team's chain (formed by the linking of hands). If the person called fails to break the chain, this player joins the "East" team. However, if the player successfully breaks the chain, this player may select either of the two "links" broken by the successful run, and take them to join the "West" team. The "West" team then calls out "Red rover" for a player on the "East" team, and play continues.

When only one player is left on a team, they also must try and break through a link. If they do not succeed, the opposing team wins. Otherwise, they are able to get a player back for their team.[1][3]

In Russia and other former USSR countries this game has been known as "Ali Baba". In Hungary this game is known as "Adj, király, katonát!" In the Czech Republic the game is known as "Král vysílá své vojsko" (The king sends out his army) and the difference is that each team chooses which of its members will attempt to break the other team's line, rather than sending the member called by the other team.

The game needs at least five people to play, although this would be a very short game. People form chains by joining hands, then two chains stand parrelel and facing each other. Then one side calls one person, in the southern United States, the person is called by chanting, "Red Rover, Red Rover send (person's name) right over." The person called then runs to the other side in an attempt to break one of the links in the chain( the joined hands). If the link is broken the called person joins that side. The goal is to have the most people in a chain, the side with the most people win. Red Rover is played by a mix of of boys and girls. The game can get aggressive, because the called person naturally targets "links" they assume are weak, or other reasons.

Popular culture[edit]

A 2010 PBS documentary, New York Street Games, includes red rover.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Red Rover: A Traditional Favorite Outdoor Game". Retrieved 27 October 2010. 
  2. ^ Walker, Warren S. "Plots and Characters in the Fiction of James Fenimore Cooper", James Fenimore Cooper Society Website.
  3. ^ "Red Rover". 2007-01-28. Retrieved 2010-06-26. 
  4. ^ Hector Elizondo (narrator); Matt Levy (director). New York Street Games (Motion picture). New York City. Retrieved 14 Nov 2011.