Rules of Moopsball

Gary Cohn

Moopsball is a contact sport played by up to three hundred and twenty-four people, divided into two teams, for three days, on a field more than ten times the size of a football field.

Each team is made up of the following players: [Picture of a warrior]

In addition, each team is allowed up to one hundred noncombatants, support personnel: camp followers, wives, husbands, cooks, medics, dogs, turkeys, etc. There are also fifty-one referees.

The field is five hundred yards long and two hundred fifty yards wide. It is a rectangle of mixed terrain, preferably a golf-course fairway sort of area. White lines mark its borders. In addition, there are several other lines, arranged thus:

[500x250 yards, with the centerline and the 200-yard lines marked; pedestal at the center; goals at the center of each end-line]

In the center of the two-hundred-fifty-yard line stands a pedestal five feet tall.

In the center of each of the one-yard lines are the goals. These are transparent tubes of tinted plastic, two feet in diameter, four feet tall, unbreakable. The half-circle around the goal post has a fifty-yard diameter.

The Teams

Each person in Moopsball, including noncoms, carries as a sidearm a soft plastic bat approximately twelve inches long.

In addition, each of the various combatants earlier mentioned is armed according to type, as follows: [Picture of a shield]

Shields. Each shield is armed with a Moopsball hammer -- a long plastic mallet with a collapsible accordion-shaped head made of soft plastic. There are several products of this sort on the market, the best known being the Marx Sock-It-to-Me Mallet. Each shield also carries a shield of soft plastic; plastic garbage can covers do very well.

Hoops. Each hoop carries a Moopsball hammer and a flexible plastic hoop, three feet in diameter.

Flingers. Each flinger carries three Frisbies, one strapped for use as a buckler, in addition to the hammer.

Guardians. These are the goalies, the only combatants without hammers. Each guardian must weigh over two hundred pounds. Each is armed with a pugil-stick -- a sort of giant Q-Tip, five feet long, with a mass of padding at either end of a flexible plastic staff.

Cavalry. Each cavalryman carries a hammer and a lance. The lance is a foot longer than the pugil-stick; it is padded only at one end. Cavalrymen are mounted on "wheelie-bikes" or "moto-bikes," highly maneuverable bicycles designed for off-road riding.

Officers. Officers can choose any armament described above except for that of the guardians, and at least two of the five officers must be mounted.

Buglers. Each bugler is assigned to an officer. Those assigned to mounted officers are also mounted. They carry hammers and long plastic horns that go "Blaaat!"

Standard bearer. The standard bearer carries the team colors at the end of a seven-foot staff. He is armed with a hammer. He is assigned to the captain at all times, and if the captain is mounted, then so is the standard bearer. [Picture of a gibbering shaman]

The wizard. The wizard is the only active player not on the field during play. He remains behind the lines, muttering his magics, attempting to put the whammy on the opposing team from afar by use of appropriate spells and incantations; his major concern is his opposite number. The psychic battle of sorcerers plays a vital role in the game. To aid in this, the wizard is allowed three nubile assistants of any sex. He creates his own style, be it staid and stately Merlin or feathered, gibbering shaman.

The Ball

The moopsball is a soft, bounceless ball about the size of a grapefruit. In a pinch a real grapefruit will serve, although somewhat lacking in durability. At the beginning of the game it sits on the pedestal at center field.


[Picture of an altercation] Each referee carries two shields, to be used to separate combatants in the event of serious altercations. Referees are present to maintain some semblance of order. Players are expected to whale away at each other with their weapons, but punching, kicking, grappling or other forms of unarmed combat are strictly prohibited. Two violations bring immediate disqualification and assignment to latrine duty. There are no substitutions.


Each combatant wears a uniform in the team colors, consisting of a jersey, shorts, knee socks, sneakers and a hardhat. Officers wear feathered helmets. The captain's helmet is plumed. All male combatants must wear groin protectors and female combatants must wear chest protectors. A small pouch is worn by each player, containing beef jerky, chocolate, salt tablets, Band-aids, etc.

Referees wear white shorts and jerseys. The head referee wears a gray derby.

The Play

Moopsball requires three days to be played. A weekend beginning with a Friday is the best time. Activities begin in the pre-dawn hours, with the gathering of forces.

Each team meets at a designated location two miles from the field of play, along with half the refereeing squad. A marching formation is ordered, with noncombatants at the rear, and a forced march to the field takes place. Referees, using an agreed-upon system, grade the teams on discipline, fierceness of demeanor, formation, etc. Small touches, such as bagpipers, can count substantially.

The teams, hereafter called Team A and Team B, arrive at their respective ends of the field in the early morning and set up camp, starting ten yards behind their one-yard lines. The camp will be judged. When the camps are completed, both teams assemble on the field of battle. [Picture of a guardian]

Battle formations begin at the two-hundred-yard lines and may extend back to the one-yard line. Guardians are confined to the goal areas, which no other member of the same team is allowed to enter.

Movement of all players other than guardians is unrestricted.

Formations must be set up by 11 A.M. to allow a full hour for war cries and the hurling of epithets across the hundred-yard no-man's-land. These will be graded. It is a time for the uttering of mighty oaths, and each wizard is allowed an incantation at the head of his team.

As noon draws closer the wizards retreat behind the lines, officers confirm signals with buglers, and all the players rattle their weapons.

At one minute of noon the head referee steps out onto the field at the two-hundred-fifty-yard line and removes his hat. Staring at the second hand of his watch, he holds his hat at arm's length. At precisely noon he lets it fall.

The play begins at the drop of the hat. Team A and Team B charge the ball, howling. [Picture of a cavalryman]

The object of the game is to bring the ball to the other team's goal and ram it down the tube, and to smash anyone who gets in your way. The ball can be conveyed downfield in any manner. It can be thrown, kicked, dribbled, air-dribbled, carried; but it cannot remain in any player's hand for more than five seconds.

Teamwork is important, as is an awareness of the strengths and limitations of the different weapons. The hoop, for example, is especially effective against cavalry. A cavalry wedge can break a large defensive infantry formation, and that wedge need consist of only three cavalrymen. A flinger is at a severe disadvantage when closing with a shield. The prudent commander must know his army.

Nighttime Activities

Nights are filled with feasting and drunken revelry. During the game, the support personnel have been preparing a huge repast and a raucous party. Referees will circulate among the camps, taking notes. In this partying as in all other things, the teams must strive to outdo one another.

Various games may be played to while away the night. Some suggestions:

Pick-a-tent. A warrior, armed only with a hammer, stands in the center of a fifteen-foot circle facing three tents.

In one tent there are three nubile wenches, a hot bath, a steak dinner and a soft bed. But in each of the tents there waits an opponent or opponents. In one there may be a fully-armed guardian; in another, two hoops or two shields. These opponents come out smoking when the contestant chooses their tent, and set upon him. The contestant must fight until he or his opponent is driven from the circle. If he wins, he throws open the tent flap to claim his prize. If he has chosen wrongly, he may try once again.

One-on-one. This is a basic challenge match, in a circle, the object being to force the opponent out of the circle.

Inquisition. During the day prisoners will probably have been taken. A prisoner is taken when an opposing player is surrounded and disarmed, or is forced across the one-yard line into the enemy camp, or surrenders for reasons of his own. The prisoners are confined to a compound. They are not allowed to try to escape unless they can come by weapons. Once armed, they can make the attempt.

Inquisition is played by the Wizard, a jailer, a prisoner, and a referee. These four cloister themselves in a tent. The referee takes notes. The jailer watches.

The Wizard asks the prisoner simple yes-or-no questions in an attempt to gain useful information, such as the key to the team's bugle code or battle strategy.

The prisoner does not answer "yes" or "no," however. He answers "rum" or "tum" or "rum-te-tum." This last in a maybe. He may use it twenty times. He is allowed to choose which of the other two means yes and which no. The Wizard has one hundred questions in which to find out which is which and to gain useful information. The prisoner is allowed to lie twenty times.

Play continues from noon until sundown.

Rescue. In the course of the night each team is allowed to send a total of ten players, laden with sidearm clubs, to infiltrate the enemy camp and provide prisoners with weapons, so that they may attempt an escape. These infiltrators are subject to capture.

Resumption of Play

This is the most crucial stage in the game, since it is the time when a point is most likely to be scored. Just before dawn, as many of each team as can be roused out of their tents and sleeping bags assemble in battle formation on the field. At dawn the hat is dropped and play is resumed.

Now suppose that Team A has roused forty or more players, while Team B has managed to awaken only fourteen. It is very possible that Team A will score in the early moments of play.

Should a team score a point while opposed by a force less than half its size, the scoring team is given five minutes to ride roughshod through the scored-upon team's camp, knocking over tents, liberating prisoners, carrying off wenches, etc.

After a point is scored a half hour is taken to regroup and then play begins anew.

The game proceeds through Saturday from dawn until dusk, in the same manner as before. Players will probably wish to resign, and may do so without much fear of retribution.

At sundown the game is once again adjourned for a night of drunken revelry.

The next morning the play is resumed yet again at dawn. Play continues until noon on Sunday. The teams then retire to their camps to await the declaration of a winner by the referee squad.

Declaration of a Winner

In the unlikely event that a point has been scored, the scoring team is automatically the winner. If more than one point has been scored, high score takes it. In a scoreless game or a tie, other methods must be used. [Picture of stately Wizard]

First, the Wizard. If, during the course of his performance, he has actually succeeded in putting the whammy on the opposition by his ritual defenestration of a watermelon or whatever, then his team loses.

The next criterion, if this has not happened, is the number of prisoners held at game's end. The team holding the most prisoners wins.

If this produces no result, subjective judgments take over. Revelry, marching skill, enthusiasm of play, all the diverse activities observed and noted by the referees, become the determining factors. In any event, by 3 P.M. a winner is declared ("What the hell, let's give it to team A"), the teams congregate at midfield and everyone shouts, "Huzzah!"

Then everyone goes to the winning camp for yet another night of partying. The next morning camp is broken and everyone goes home.


Moopsball will be played soon. People are needed to organize, publicize, provide monetary support, scout locations, and play.

Keep in mind that this is organized anarchy. There are rules. A Moopsball team must incorporate a real dimension of discipline, or else the game will be a failure.

Volunteers, know your limitations. If you want to be a player, be sure you can run your tail off for twenty-four hours. If not, be a referee or a wench or a cook or a musician or a juggler.

The original text concluded with a contact address for Gary Cohn. It is no longer valid, and the author prefers not to make his current address public.

Transcriber's Notes

Andrew Plotkin

This is an exact transcription of the original Rules of Moopsball, except as noted. I have not attempted to update the text for playability, consistency, or the serial comma. Yes, I know that guardians are not listed in the team roster. And "noncom" usually means "noncommissioned officer".

History of Moopsball

Rules of Moopsball appeared in Orbit 18 in 1976. Orbit was a well-known science fiction anthology series edited by Damon Knight. It was, I believe, emblematic of the New Wave period of SF. Besides Cohn, volume 18 featured such authors as George R. R. Martin, John Varley, Kate Wilhelm, and Kim Stanley Robinson.

Cohn states that the game was subconsciously influenced by "43-Man Squamish," by George Woodbridge and Tom Koch, which was published in Mad magazine in 1965.

(There are other silly-name sports with complicated rules that have appeared in the annals of fantasy and science fiction. You might have heard of Quidditch. Kosho is unfairly forgotten, in my opinion. And, of course, nothing will overshadow the prominence of Calvinball.)

In the 1980s, Cohn scripted comic books for DC Comics. Moopsball was mentioned occasionally in Legion of Superheroes. Apparently, Braniac 5 was not a Moopsball fan. I would speak more of this, but I wasn't into comics back then (and I never got into LSH at all), so I've never seen these issues.

Indoor Moopsball is mentioned in Gene Wolfe's novel There Are Doors (1988). See the beginning of chapter 9. It is played at a psychiatric hospital, and you can draw any conclusions you want.

Moopsball is reputed to have been the unofficial college sport of the late Justin Morrill College at Michigan State University. I do not know if it was actually played.


Played Moopsball? Email me. I'd be fascinated to hear how it goes.

My game-designer prejudices say that scoring won't be as unlikely as the rules presume. Once you get the ball into the goal circle, it's one guardian against as many of your compatriots as you can summon. The guardian will probably be steamrollered. But perhaps this just means that the team strategy depends on defending the perimeter of the goal circle.

If I were a player, I'd definitely want marching, pageantry, costumes, and epithets to count towards the score, regardless of the number of goals. Goals count for a lot, but style points should be encouraged.

I'm pretty sure nobody wants to hear about safety. The closest analogue to Moopsball that I know of are the field battles of the Society for Creative Anachronism. They wear a lot of armor.

My Life with Moopsball

I first encountered Orbit 18 in a high-school library -- are they still called "media centers?" -- around 1985. I thought Moopsball was the coolest thing ever, and promptly added it to my list of all the coolest things ever. (A long list, to be sure.)

I kept the idea of Moopsball in the back of my mind for many years. In 1995, I wrote down rules for a game called "Capture the Flag With Stuff". (Not capturing the flag using stuff, but Capture-the-Flag with Stuff added to it.) I was strongly inspired by Moopsball. In particular, I adopted the logic-puzzle game of Inquisition. I think it works well, since you can interrogate prisoners about the location of Flags and Stuff, and the game scale is smaller (so six questions, not a hundred). The game of Rescue is of course already integral to Capture the Flag. And I tried to maintain the general tone of lunacy.

(Actually, CtFwS can get pretty large-scale. It is played regularly at Carnegie Mellon University, by the same club that I wrote it for ten years ago. I've seen games start up with over 140 players. I don't know if they'll ever hit 324, but it's something to consider... Since that group has actually had experience organizing the game, you'll want to read their rules for CtFwS. They've made many changes and additions in the name of more fun. It is also played at Harvard.)

Last updated June 10, 2005.

Zarfhome (map) (down)