Star Wars: The Pencil Game
December 18, 2015 9:13 AM   Subscribe

"When I was a kid, my uncle taught me this pencil and paper game he called Star Wars." "I have no idea who originally invented it." "Basically you draw two bases on opposite ends of the paper. Each base gets a mothership and two flanking defensive (immobile) turrets. Players wage war on each other by launching fighters from their motherships, then attempt to blast away their opponent's base. [...] To launch fighters, move, and fire weapons, players place their pencil tip on the selected unit's cannon. Then they must hold the pencil in position with a single index finger pressing down on the end of the pencil. Finally a player fires by pushing down on the pencil forcing the tip to draw a line outward. " posted by Iridic (44 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
Play this A LOT in middle school (circa 1980), but I don't think we called it Star Wars. Also played lots and lots of paper football. I'll have to ask my Middle School'er if its still a thing.
posted by Frayed Knot at 9:16 AM on December 18, 2015

Brilliant! I'll try it this weekend. I wish I heard of this when I was younger.
posted by michaelh at 9:16 AM on December 18, 2015

Also played lots and lots of paper football.

This. And when we lacked paper, we substituted a quarter. All you need a table and a player number 2. So many hours wasted.
posted by Fizz at 9:17 AM on December 18, 2015

Holy shit! I played this a lot, only with tanks instead of spaceships!

That's really all I have to contribute.
posted by bondcliff at 9:18 AM on December 18, 2015 [5 favorites]

Ha! My 8-year-old introduced me to this a couple of weeks ago, and it's fun. He should get an account and start posting, he's evidently way more up-to-date on what's "hip" and "in the now" than you squares.
posted by middleclasstool at 9:21 AM on December 18, 2015

This was a staple of my classrooms growing up! Thank god for erasers, cause the included photo looked like it was in pen and I don't know how you'd play with that.
posted by Carillon at 9:23 AM on December 18, 2015

Is it as good as playing Missile Command with the drops running down a window heavy with condensation?
posted by GallonOfAlan at 9:25 AM on December 18, 2015 [7 favorites]

I played this in school. 40 years ago, a couple of continents away. What Frayed Knot said.
posted by infini at 9:25 AM on December 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

In grade school I played a similar game to 'Star Wars'. It was a car racing game, you would draw a 'track' with two concentric circles (actually any shape) and a start/finish line. You would do the same pencil flicking thing starting at the line. If you line went 'off the track' your next line would start there. The first person around the track would win.

Darned if I know what we called it.

Edit: Wiki entry
posted by Confess, Fletch at 9:26 AM on December 18, 2015 [6 favorites]

Wow, this sort of game was ubiquitous in my junior high around 1982. We designed some incredibly complex variants. For example rogue-like games with guys with health using pencil pushes to move through elaborate mazes, get keys, defeat monsters with multiple HP, etc. Or games with whole fleets of spaceships. Typically the big ones went through several stages as the maps were redrawn on clean paper with just the remaining forces. I had totally forgotten about this!!
posted by freecellwizard at 9:29 AM on December 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

Confess, Fletch's version is the one we played in elementary school in Seoul decades ago. The track-design phase took up way, way more time than the actual game.
posted by shortfuse at 9:29 AM on December 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

I played this a lot, too. We had "islands" with a starting amount of carriers, planes, boats, etc.

You were also allowed 1 "guided missile", which was a ballpoint pen. With the right amount of practice you could keep the pen moving and steer it.
posted by JoeZydeco at 9:33 AM on December 18, 2015 [4 favorites]

Ha! I learned this game in the 6th grade when a new kid showed up in class and showed it to me. Shane, his name was. We used to play this anytime we could get away with it. he later turned into a jock asshole. Then I saw him when he was in university and he was a "pothead" now, just like he used to torment me about in high school. Fuck you, Shane! Anyways, what were we talking about?

And when we lacked paper, we substituted a quarter

This was our default. We'd spin a quarter by holding it upright with one finger and flicking it on an outward edge. For field goals, you had to grab the spinning quarter with both thumbs, and throw it at the "goalposts" with a flick of the wrist--the opponent's fingers held up in the shape of the goalposts. Right in front of their face. The things went pretty hard sometimes. It could hurt. We were dumb.
posted by Hoopo at 9:41 AM on December 18, 2015 [4 favorites]

Yeah, we played a game like this, but instead of the fingertip pencil technique, we just closed out eyes when we "fired." Many sheets of notebook paper went to their deaths doing this in 5-7th grades.
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:58 AM on December 18, 2015

We played this in the early 70’s with tanks. That, paper football, and pencil fighting were the big ones.
posted by bongo_x at 10:20 AM on December 18, 2015

There's an app (or two) for that.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:20 AM on December 18, 2015

My favorite game like this when I was in grade school:
When I was a kid, we played a game where you drew your tanks on your half of the page and they drew theirs on their half. Didn't matter where you'd put then. Then you'd darkly color a dot on your half, fold the paper over, and rub over the dot you just drew so the graphite from the pencil dot on your side transferred to their side. You'd then unfold and see where it rubbed off on their side. if it hit their tank, it was destroyed. It was basically estimating exactly how far from the center of the page their tank was.
Now that I'm older, though, it doesn't seem like a particularly hard game. Maybe me and my friends were just spatially dumb.

Also, wouldn't it be hilarious if we didn't have Fanfare and this was the fig-leaf thread where everyone could talk about The Force Awakens?
posted by Ian A.T. at 10:28 AM on December 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

The variant I played was a little bit different:

you draw your x-wings/tie fighters on each side of the paper, then you use a pencil to mark a spot on your side with a dot, fold the paper over, scrape the dot onto the other side and if it lands in the fighter's space, it's a hit.

Also played it with tanks.
posted by Chuffy at 10:31 AM on December 18, 2015 [4 favorites]

Confess, Fletch's version is what we played as well.
posted by infini at 10:43 AM on December 18, 2015

I played this Star Wars by myself, sometimes with quite elaborate variations (asteroid fields and the like), when I was in 6th and 7th grade. Eventually a settled on a version where a small fleet of mobile ships capable of taking only two hits went against a couple large mother ships.

Never found anyone to play with, though.
posted by Quasirandom at 10:45 AM on December 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

I really want somebody to surface in this thread with a bookshelf full of completely filled-out notebooks chronicling a decades-long Space Pencil War with capital ships, multiple factions, a dense mythic backstory, a functional economic subsystem underpinning technological advances and ship development, etc
posted by prize bull octorok at 10:57 AM on December 18, 2015 [4 favorites]

I'm curious about the origin of the game! It feels like something that might have been invented once and then spread. I mean maybe it's like Cat's Cradle in being independently reinvented, but it relies on a technology (cheap stiff writing implement + paper) that's only 100–200 years old.
posted by Nelson at 11:08 AM on December 18, 2015

Oh man oh man! My version was pretty close to this one but with totally bad-ass motherships. We also had power-ups locked inside some of the asteroids - you had to shoot a tunnel to reach it and then go pick it up (trying not to accidentally bash into the unexcavated portion and die), and you'd get an extra ship or two shots/moves per turn.

I wonder if tanks vs. spaceships varies geographically, like soda/pop/coke or woodchuck/groundhog.
posted by theodolite at 11:11 AM on December 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

And here I thought eight year old me invented this in the 70's when I was bored in math class......
posted by remo at 11:12 AM on December 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

You were also allowed 1 "guided missile", which was a ballpoint pen. With the right amount of practice you could keep the pen moving and steer it.

IMO this is a brilliant, revolutionary innovation along the lines of dribbling or the forward pass
posted by theodolite at 11:14 AM on December 18, 2015 [4 favorites]

We'd play this on the school bus, but without the flicking; each side draws a base with a general or whatever in it surrounded by soldiers, tanks, cannon, barbed wire, sandbag, etc. Each turn one of your units would fire, and whatever it hit would be erased or damaged depending on what fired and what was hit - soldier killed, tank damaged, barbed wire breached - with the ultimate goal of penetrating your opponent's base. That looseleaf was pretty grey by the end.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:38 AM on December 18, 2015

Like others, I played this with tanks in the 1970s. A few years ago [sheesh, was it really back in 1999?] I wrote up about how we played.
posted by fings at 11:46 AM on December 18, 2015

Late '70s Atlanta 'burbs player here. We did do some X-wing versus TIE Fighter setups, but we were partial to Battleship Island deals. Like multiple levels with turrets and bunkers and fighter planes and such. Imagine Scramble combined with Star Blazers and you'll be close.
posted by ob1quixote at 12:19 PM on December 18, 2015

Played variants of this in the late 70s/ early 80s:
- 2 armies
- one army inside a cave, other army out in open, pencil flicks could dig through rock as well as shoot enemies
- boats going down a twisty river that had gun turrets on banks
- figures with guns running around avoiding/ shooting blobs that grew every turn
posted by markvalli at 12:26 PM on December 18, 2015

I used to play this all the time. I too mastered the curve. Even had a pen dedicated only to this game.

Played with tons of variations. The common rules was every shot bred a new fighter. A space opera version of the Game of Life. But sometimes we'd limit how many fighters could be spawned. Sometimes, we'd erase or mark out the fighter's original position. Sometimes, shots which destroyed an enemy ship would not result in a new fighter being born. Sometimes the game would end when the original fighter was destroyed, even when there were tons of survivors.

What I liked most at the end was how the paper looked. Here was the scribbles of a tightly fought engagement. Here's a lone fighter posted as a guard against a flanking maneuver which never came. Here's another lone fighter, surrounded by scribbled explosions: a grizzled and crazed survivor. And then the white space: Part of the galaxy which somehow escaped the fighting and got to live their lives ignorant of the grand struggle all around them.

I think I enjoyed reconstructing the history of the battle as much as the battle itself.
posted by honestcoyote at 12:29 PM on December 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

The trick was to send in the left flank and mothership in a blitz, then mop up with the right flank.
posted by clavdivs at 4:18 PM on December 18, 2015

I played a similar sort of game in middle school. There were 4 different characters, a ninja with a ninja star, a white dude with a grenade, and two others I don't remember. You draw a scene (like a Mario-type level) and put them on it. Then you simply act it out. So the white dude throws his grenade but the ninja hits him in the face with his ninja star, etc. Eventually, one of them wins. Kind of interesting to recall!
posted by lubujackson at 4:22 PM on December 18, 2015

In addition to playing this, we also wrote numbers on the sides of our hexagonal golf pencils so we could roll them like dice.

posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 4:38 PM on December 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

Oh yeah, did anyone else here play "graph paper racers"? It was a grid paper space game with 2d newtonian physics: you could thrust 1 space in any direction, and that would be combined with your existing velocity vector on the next turn.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 4:40 PM on December 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

Holy shit. Lord we played this with tanks. We even had supertanks that got two shots, but moved at half speed.

This was (thinks) 1980-81.
posted by eriko at 5:25 PM on December 18, 2015

We (Ireland, early 80s) played it like Chuffy said - draw the shots on your side of the battlefield then fold over and colour over it from the other side to make the dot transfer to the opponents side. I taught it to my five-year-old the other week and he loved it!

Rum-soaked space hobo
, if you've an android device someone's made a great (i.e. horribly difficult) version of that called Turn Based Racing that I lose a day or two to every few months.
posted by coleboptera at 5:53 PM on December 18, 2015

posted by mwhybark at 9:29 PM on December 18, 2015

A quick and unscientific survey implies this game began in the seventies and rapidly crossed the entire globe by 1980.
posted by infini at 11:15 PM on December 18, 2015

Come to think of it, I'm sure I've played the "fold over the dot" version described by Chuffy and coleboptera too.
posted by ob1quixote at 11:36 PM on December 18, 2015

Played this as a kid in Australia in the early 80's ... we had "flick races", which was car races based on elaborate tracks (with "jumps", and rocks, and tunnels etc) ... or "flick wars", which involved tanks and things. Most excellent :D
posted by nonspecialist at 1:35 AM on December 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Shit yes! Played this all the time in the late 70s. Our favorite way was a space battle with the opposing sides divided by an asteroid field. The goal was to cross the map with your fleet and destroy the opponent's base. If your pencil flick touched an asteroid, your ship was destroyed. And you could also install guns on the asteroids to defend against the invaders. God that was fun.
posted by Enemy of Joy at 6:46 AM on December 19, 2015

Is it possible this game was first published in a magazine in the 70s? I'm thinking Boy's Life or Crossroads or some other magazine for children. I'm far too lazy to research it myself though.
posted by Nelson at 7:15 AM on December 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

I learned a version of this from a classmate in 1982 or 1983. You'd start with one X-Wing or TIE fighter, and each pencil flick would create a new ship, whether you destroyed an enemy ship or not. Since every round was guaranteed to create two new ships but far from likely to destroy two or more ships, the games never ended until we ran out of time. It was a good early lesson in the futility of space war.
posted by ejs at 11:15 AM on December 28, 2015

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