How to Play Jacks
How to Play Jacks
Jacks is a great, easy-to-learn game that can be played indoors on a hard floor or outdoors on concrete. It can be played in groups, pairs, or solo. All you need is a small bouncy ball and a set of jacks. You’ll need to know how to set up the game, learn the basic rules, and learn about some of the variations on the game.
Setting up the Game
Gather your jacks and a ball.All you need is a small bouncy ball and a set of jacks, which are six-pronged metal pieces. The number of jacks you need depends on which variation of the game you're playing, though most sets will have ten jacks.
- Jacks sets, which include a ball, a set of jacks, and a pouch to hold them in, can be found at most toy stores.
- The ancient form of jacks was called knucklebones, because instead of today's modern metal jacks, the knucklebones of sheep or goats were used.
Play on a hard surface.Jacks requires a hard, flat, smooth surface for the ball to bounce on. If you're playing outdoors, a wooden porch or a paved surface like a sidewalk or a blacktop is ideal. If you're playing indoors, a hardwood or a linoleum floor works best.
- It's possible to play on a table, but standing is better than sitting in a chair, because it gives you more mobility.
Gather your players if desired.While it’s possible to play jacks by yourself, it’s more fun to play with an opponent. Jacks is usually played one on one, but you can have more players for a more fun game. There is no hard rule concerning the maximum amount of players, but keep in mind the game will last longer the more players there are. You can play in teams of two for games with six or more players.
Decide who goes first.The most traditional way is called flipping. Place the jacks in your two cupped hands, throw them into the air, and then catch as many as you can on the backs of your two hands, linked together with your thumbs. Toss them back in the air, and then catch as many as you can again, this time with your palms cupped again. The player who catches the most jacks goes first.
- You can use a simpler method to decide who goes first, such as flipping a coin or playing rock paper scissors.
Playing the Game
Scatter the jacks onto the playing surface.Whoever goes first throws the jacks directly in front of them. Try to scatter them evenly, not too close together and not too far apart.
- If two jacks are touching, you can pick them up and throw them again to scatter them.
Toss the ball into the air.Throw the ball straight up, giving it enough height to give you time to pick up your jacks but not so high that it veers off beyond your reach.
Pick up a single jack.Scoop the jack into your hand before the ball has a chance to bounce.
Let the ball bounce once and catch it.The ball can only bounce one time - if you let it bounce more than once, your turn is over. Use the same hand you used to pick up the jack to catch the ball.
- The jack must stay in your hand while you grab the ball.
- Once you've caught the ball, transfer the jack to your opposite hand.
Throw the ball again and pick up a single jack.Use the same hand you threw the ball with to scoop up another jack. Catch the ball after it’s bounced one time. Transfer the jack to your other hand and repeat the process until you’ve scooped up each jack one at a time or you foul. This first round is called "onesies."
- The jacks you’ve collected needs to stay in your hand as you scoop up another.
Move on to the next player after a foul.Your turn ends and goes to the next player counterclockwise to you once you foul. When your turn ends, return any jacks you picked up, scattering them. Pass the ball to the next player. There are a number of different ways to foul.
- Missing the ball, or letting it bounce more than once.
- Failing to pick up the correct number of jacks.
- Picking up the wrong number of jacks.
- Dropping a jack that you've picked up.
- Accidentally moving a jack from its placement on the ground (this is called "tipping").
Continue on to the next rounds.After picking up all jacks one by one, scatter them again. Follow the same sequence, throwing the ball, picking up jacks and catching the ball. Only this time pick up two jacks each time. This is called the "twosies" round. After all jacks have been picked up in twos, pick up three each round, then four, then five, and on to ten.
Pick up where you left off.When your turn is reached again, start from where you were before your foul. For example, if you fouled during the “twosies” round, you would start your turn by throwing the ball and picking up two jacks. If you succeed, you keep going until you’ve picked up all the jacks in twos, then move on to the “threesies” round.
Play until you have a winner.The winner is usually the first person to complete the "tensies" round. For more skilled players, the winner can be the first person to complete "tensies" and then work their way back down to "onesies."
Adding Gameplay Variations
Play no bouncies.Play the game following the usual steps, only cut out the ball bounce. You need to scoop the jacks up before the ball has a chance to hit the ground.
- An easier variation involves letting the ball bounce twice while you scoop up the jacks.
Switch hands.Use your weak hand to throw the ball and scoop up the jacks. Use your strong hand to hold the jacks while you scoop up more.
Play Black Widow.You must go from "onesies" to "tensies" without making a foul. If you do, you have to start over at "onesies" at your next turn. This is a more challenging variation for skilled players.
Play Around the World.After you throw the ball, make a circle in the air around it with your hand before it bounces.
Use different materials.Try using a wooden ball, like earlier forms of the game did, or a set of small, similar-sized stones instead of metal jacks. The earliest forms of jacks used small bones in place of metal jacks; the possibilities of materials you can use are endless.
QuestionWhat are some other variants with catching jacks on the back of one hand?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerOne variant is pigs in a basket. Pick the jacks up with your ball hand and then bounce the ball and put the jacks in your other hand.Thanks!
QuestionWhat are horses in a stable?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYou make a little cave with your weak hand and then the jacks go in the "stable," rounds 1 through 10.Thanks!
QuestionIf I lose my turn, does the next person get all the jacks, or only the ones that haven't been picked up?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYou scramble the jacks on the playing surface and when the opponent gets a foul, you go back to where you left off.Thanks!
QuestionIn uneven rounds like round 7, do I have to pick up 7 jacks first and then the remaining 3 jacks?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerIf you call "cart before the horse" prior to throwing the jacks out on the playing surface, you can pick up the 3 jacks first and then pick up the remaining 7 on the second go. Otherwise, you have to do 7 first and then the remaining three. Calling "cart before the horse" works on any level where you'll have a remainder.Thanks!
QuestionWhat happens when a jack lands on top of another jack?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYou pick up both the jacks that form the piggyback and separate them, so they aren't touching any more.Thanks!
Isn't it called "kisses" when jacks piggyback? Doesn't the player have to say "kisses" out loud? Do they have an option not to separate them if playing other than onesies?
When is it okay to release "kissing" or "touching" jacks?
Can I play jacks with a foam ball?
What is the standard size for the jacks and ball?
If the ball hits the ground as soon as I pick up the right amount of jacks, does it count, or is my turn over?
Short Video: How to Play Jacks
To play jacks, scatter out your jacks on a hard, flat surface, then toss your ball straight up into the air. Pick up a jack quickly, then allow the ball to bounce once and catch it in the same hand you used to catch the jack. If the ball bounces more than once, your turn is over, and the jack must stay in your hand while you grab the ball. Once you’ve caught the ball, transfer the jack to your opposite hand, then continue bouncing the ball and picking up jacks until you’ve gathered them all. In the next round, pick up two jacks in each hand, then three, and so on.
- Jacks are small and pose a choking hazard. They also hurt if you step on them, so put them away as soon as you're done playing with them.
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