What is Subbuteo?

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Before there was FIFA or PES or Football Manager or even Mario Super Strikers, there was Subbuteo, the tabletop proper football game that’s shockingly true to the genuine article. Invented by Peter Adolph in 1946, Subbuteo is essentially a more fluid version of foosball; whereas foosball figurines are attached to metal rods in four straight lines, each individual Subbuteo token is free to roam the entire gameboard-cum-pitch. Here’s everything you need to know about your potential new favorite board game.

How do you play?

A two-to-four person game, Subbuteo largely follows the rules of proper football—each team has 11 players/pieces which they use to try to push a ball into the other team’s net. The ball is advanced by flicking a piece into it, although the same piece can’t touch the ball three consecutive times, just as one soccer player can’t dribble the ball the length of the pitch by himself. Conversely, possession is lost if a player’s flicked piece fails to hit the ball or if the ball is “intercepted” by the other team. Defensively, you can maneuver your players around the board to shut down passing lanes or block shots, but there is no tackling, so you can’t flick your own pieces into the ball on defense. 

Besides the wonky, modified rules for possession, Subbuteo faithfully replicates aspects of the game such as offsides, goal kicks, free kicks, corner kicks and throw-ins. The one major change is the implementation of a “shooting line” in the final third of the field that the ball must be inside of before you can shoot; without the “shooting line,” the strategy of the game would deteroriate into who can huck the ball the length of the board more accurately. 

Where can you play?

Wherever! The easiest way to play Subbuteo is to buy it, which you can do on Amazon or from the game’s official list of distributors. If you want to sample the game before splashing out any cash, some areas have local Subbuteo clubs where you can practice and play against other enthusiasts. 

What's with the all the accessories?

Beyond merely trying to create a table-sized simulacrum of proper football’s gameplay, Subbuteo reproduces the spectacle of the beautiful game too—you can buy sets of referees, ball boys, VAR officials and just about any game day-adjacent person you can think of. For the figurines alone, there are hundreds of different kits to dress them in; fans of megaclubs (i.e. Manchester City, Chelsea, Real Madrid) and more obscure squads (Landskrona, Hartford Bicentennials, Antwerp) alike can recreate their favorite teams in Subbuteo. Similarly, hardcore Subbuteo-heads can construct full-on replicas of their favorite stadiums. 

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