Topsies, Knock-downs, and Bounce-backs

Recollecting the lost art of card throwing


As I was putting one of my boys to bed the other night, we had a quiet discussion about what I did at recess when I was his age. It has been a while since I thought about it (it was in the early 70's after all), but memories started to flood back about a series of games that, to my knowledge, has all but disappeared.

Scaling. Flipping. These are some terms that show up if you Google it. But to us, it was just “cards”.

As kids, we collected cards. As good Canadian kids, it was hockey cards mostly, but it also included baseball cards (even though in Toronto we did not have a team yet), football cards (CFL, thank you), and TV shows like The Monkees, The Partridge Family, and others that I cannot recall anymore. Part of collecting these cards involved trading, after spending what seemed like hours poring over another kid’s collection: “got em, got em, need him, got em…”.

But another part to collecting these cards was playing a series of games whose sole object was to get even more cards. Unlike the current incarnation of “trading card games”, of which Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh, and Magic are the most notable examples, card games back then were for keeps. If you beat someone, you actually got their cards. That aspect alone gave a certain edginess to it that doesn’t exist anymore.

In trying to explain this to my son, I was pretty hazy on the rules. I recalled the basic variants, but that was about it. So like any good 21st century dad, I Googled the problem and was quickly flummoxed. There were virtually no online references for how to play these lost games. And so, like any good 21st century geek dad, I decided to do something about it.

What follows shall henceforth be known as the “Official Rules to Card Throwing Games” (until someone disputes them or writes something better).


The Official Rules to Card Throwing Games

General Rules

  1. Unless agreed upon by all players before commencing play (by saying “no keepsies”) all losing cards shall be kept by the winner(s).
  2. All cards to be thrown shall be unmodified, with the exception of being modified by extensive throwing.
  3. All throwing shall be from a distance of 3 to 5 “big steps” from the throwing wall, as agreed upon at the beginning of the game. Both feet must be behind this “line” at all times when throwing, although you may lean as far forward as gravity allows.
  4. For games that have variations, all variations must be agreed upon before commencing play.

Rules for Topsies

  1. Players alternate throwing one card at a time, in any fashion they choose.
  2. The thrown card must hit the wall to be counted. It may bounce back as little, or as far, as the thrower chooses. A card that does not hit the wall is left on the field to be topped, regardless of whether it topped another card or not.
  3. If a thrown card hits the wall and then “tops” another card, the thrower that topped the card retrieves both cards. If the thrown card tops multiple cards, all topped cards are won.
  4. In case of dispute about whether a card actually tops another one, the thrower shall push down on the top card where he thinks it is topping the lower card and, if the lower card moves, then the top is deemed successful.
  5. A variation of the game requires two or more tops (called “double tops”, “triple tops”, etc.) to be a winner. A single card may top multiple cards, each of which are counted as a separate “top”.

Rules for Knock-downs (aka, “Leaners”)

  1. Before the game commences, each player contributes an agreed upon number of cards (usually one), and all collected cards are placed leaning against the wall, with the bottoms at least one inch from the wall to ensure a stable lean. All cards must be leaning the same amount.
  2. Players take turns knocking down the other players’ cards.
  3. The last player whose card remains standing wins all the cards thrown.
  4. If a thrown card “stands up”, leaning against the wall in any fashion, that card must also be knocked down. The player who threw the leaning card will remain in the game as long as either of their cards remains standing.
  5. A variation of the game between two players only (the “duel” variant) would have a single card be the leaner to be knocked down. Players take turns contributing a card to be leaned.
  6. Another variant (the “rumble”, or “melee”) would have players throwing cards as quickly as they can instead of taking turns. The rumble can be combined with any other variation of the game.

Rules for Bounce-backs

  1. Players alternate throwing one card at a time, in any fashion they choose.
  2. The thrown card must hit the wall to be counted.
  3. Once every player has thrown, the card that bounced back the farthest wins all the cards thrown.

Rules for Nearsies

  1. Players alternate throwing one card at a time, in any fashion they choose.
  2. The thrown card must not hit the wall to be counted.
  3. Once every player has thrown, the card that is closest to the wall without touching wins all the cards thrown.
  4. A variation of the game would require the thrown card to hit or touch the wall to be counted, the goal being to bounce back the least. However, allowing cards to touch the wall can result in a lot of ties, and ends up being kind of boring.

Rules for Stand-ups

  1. Players alternate throwing one card at a time, in any fashion they choose.
  2. The first person to successfully have their card “stand up”, leaning against the wall in any fashion, wins all the cards thrown.
  3. A variation of the game would have the next thrower, after a card has been stood up, attempt to knock that card down. If the card is knocked down, then either (variation a) that thrower wins all the cards thrown, or (variation b) the game simply continues.
  4. Another variant (the “rumble”, or “melee”) would have players throwing cards as quickly as they can instead of taking turns. The rumble can be combined with any other variation of the game.
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