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Three-sided Football (wikipedia.org)
146 points by camillomiller on May 30, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 59 comments

Also note the historical, mind-bending three-way baseball game (Dodgers vs. Giants vs. Yankees) to sell War Bonds just a couple weeks after D-Day in 1944: https://www.cbssports.com/mlb/news/just-because-june-26-1944...

I wish the Wikipedia article would elaborate more on some of the strategies and tactics that are unique to three-sided football instead of just recounting previous tournament results. Perhaps a good opportunity to contribute to Wikipedia for some HN reader who's knowledgable?

I have to wonder how mature tactics are given there must only be a handful of fields in existence, if any. If the winner is determined by ceding the fewest goals, then I'd imagine defense is the priority. Also, shifting the focus of attack quickly would surely happen- why spend much effort to attack a well defended goal with a lot of traffic in front.

I could imagine there being some interesting tactical situations where you have to decide whether you want to take the risk of passing the ball to an opponent 1 player who has an opportunity at scoring in the goal of opponent 2. Your own goal is always going to be adjacent, so what if opponent 1 sees the opportunity to put the ball in YOUR goal instead?

I imagine the emerging pattern would be to pass to the weaker opponent in order to knock out the stronger adversary, as games played out on the tv gameshow Weakest Link. Whenever a player receives a pass, the perhaps the best strategy is to score on the stronger team, which might necessitate duplicity.

Presumably the strategy is don't pass to your opponent unless they have a clear cut scoring chance in the other opponent's goal

Just from a counting argument, the strategy is probably closer to cooperate against the leading team. Then you commit half of your players to the attack, as does the cooperating team, and you can then match the leading team, while having half of your team in defensive. (And the only uncommitted opposing players are half of the players of your cooperating partner.)

Since the game is about who concedes fewest, I'd be packing my team with defenders and drilling them mostly on defensive organization.

A well organised and skilled defence should be capable of repelling a team with numerical superiority for extended periods anyway (particularly with a lack of coordination amongst attacking players and a pitch shape which eliminates the ability to get in behind the opponents at the byline) and there's always the incentive for one of the collaborating teams to defect, especially if they're getting tired of not scoring and then the ball's lobbed into an area where they'll find themselves in a one on one situation if they decide to chase it. And even if that strategy fails, the alliance against you is only likely to last until you stop leading.

Winner of a game in a normal football is also the one who cedes the fewest goal of the two.

But crucially here is that on a 3 sided game that rule is not symmetrical anymore.

On 1v1 saying that the winner is the one who concedes the least or that scores the most is equivalent.

Whereas on a 3 sided game it is not equivalent. See this example below (if you change the rule a different team will have won the game):

    Team X: Scored/Conceded
    Team A: 4/5
    Team B: 5/3 (winner if highest scorer wins) 
    Team C: 1/2 (winner if lowest "conceder" wins)

[Edited to make the total scored and conceded add up to the same number.]

An alternative measure would be "best goal difference", which also would make team B the winner in your example, but wouldn't necessarily be the same as highest scorer, or lowest conceder.

As seen in an alternative outcome, this gives us 3 potential winners.

    Team X: Scored/Conceded
    Team A: 6/4 (winner if best goal difference wins)
    Team B: 7/6 (winner if highest scorer wins) 
    Team C: 0/3 (winner if lowest "conceder" wins)

This would fail to penalize a team that accidentally knocks the ball into their own goal, unless you add a special case rule for that scenario.

And if you didn't special case it would lead to an "interesting" strategy of trying to score on yourself whenever you were in serious danger of having someone else score on you.

It would often be quite impossible to determine which team scored a goal, for instance in 'scrimmage' situations, or own goals.

Plus it would create weird situations where a attacking team would stop a goal from the other attacking team on the line and try to get in on their own name.

That's a problem in 2-team football, anyway (the individual who scored always has to be identified), although the point you raise about own goals is an interesting one. Maybe an own-goal should award half a goal to the other two teams?

The player who scored is identified, but it doesn't really matter because it goes to the scoring team regardless of who scored it.

How do you have 11 scored goals and only 7 conceded goals?

They got A the wrong way around

Yeah, sorry edited fixed!

Same question but more specific - what stops two teams from ganging up on the third? When I played 3SF with the "most goals wins" rule it quickly turned into "the two stronger teams take turns beating the weaker one" - I suspect that "fewest goals conceded" might help with that issue, but I've not considered it thoroughly enough to figure out if it solves it...

There's some info about tactical consequences here:


> "Meanwhile the penetration of the defence by two opposing teams imposes upon the defence the task of counterbalancing their disadvantage through sowing the seeds of discord in an alliance which can only be temporary. This will be achieved through exhortation, body language, and an ability to manoeuvre the ball and players into such a position that one opposing team will realise that its interests are better served by breaking off the attack and allying themselves with the defending team. Bearing in mind that such a decision will not necessarily be immediate, a team may well find itself split between two alliances. Such a situation opens them up to the possibility of their enemies uniting, making maximum use of this confusion. 3-sided football is a game of skill, persuasion and psychogeography."

That's the problem with three-player chess, too. Once two players turn against one, it's a beatdown.

But wouldn’t the weaker of the allied teams decide to defect since it would lose if the third team were fully vanquished? I don’t think the strategy is so straight-forward.

The winner of 3SF is determined by the fewest goals conceded. Game theory will prevent any long term 2v1s.

If there's information added from this conversation, it will be quickly covered in [citation needed] and no original research.

We once wanted a quick timekilling card game for three players that had some symmetry, but didn't knock one player out to sit around bored while the other two dug in for some long war of attrition.

Enter "Lifeboat" Magic. Three players, player with the highest life total when the first player is eliminated wins. Attack any direction so seat order doesn't matter.

Strategic targets and alliances would shift basically every round. You'd try to keep your opponents roughly balanced until you could suddenly knock out the tougher one in one blow.

I know there are fancier CCGs, but MtG was simple and fast, so it worked as a timekiller. The emergent strategies were honestly more interesting than the cards themselves, probably could have worked with other games just as well.

This particular victory condition -- highest life/score when one player is eliminated -- seems to have been reinvented a few times. Nexus Ops used it as one possible way to win (although not the main way). Then David Sirlin used it as the victory condition in [the multiplayer variants of] a few of his games, apparently unaware of its earlier use in Nexus Ops. And now here's another reinvention (quite possibly earlier than the two I mentioned :P ). Interesting.

Huh, neat. Pretty sure it was independent, but not sure about timing... I think we used this when Ravnica first hit.

When was that... oof, Google says 2005? Seriously? Wow.

David Sirlin independently endorsing a method I also thought up is one of the best compliments I can imagine. Thanks.

Interesting idea, but seems like it might have some latent flaws. Even regular football needed a century of rule-tweaking to keep it relevant, would be a marvel if something as tactically complex as this could spring into life fully formed.

Another thing I've wondered about - regular two team football, but with more than one ball ('MULTIBALLLL!') Would be hard to follow, but an intriguing idea.

Also the idea of 'walking football' - where running is forbidden. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walking_football

Reminds me of a Budweiser advert shown in the UK a long time ago:


Don't forget Blernsball, the true king of sports: https://vimeo.com/147674727

One thing I always wondered is if multiball (with progressively more balls as time passes) could be a viable alternative to penalty shootouts after overtime.

> Another thing I've wondered about - regular two team football, but with more than one ball ('MULTIBALLLL!')

This reminds me the scene from 1938 Russian book "Старик Хоттабыч" and its 1956 Soviet film adaptation where ancient genie grants every football player his own ball. Sadly they don't understand it and remove all these balls from the field.

See here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RZRKypTrjto&t=4000 (since 1:06:40)

A version with English subtitles:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aCqXBTBzilY&t=4157 (since 1:09:17)

Walking football seems like a good idea for practicing the control of the ball.

> Unlike conventional football, where the winner is determined by the highest scoring of the two teams, in three-sided football the winning team is that which concedes the fewest goals.

You could say that in conventional football the winner is determined by the team which concedes the fewest goals as well. It wouldn't make a difference on 1v1, but it does make a difference on 1v1v1, and that'd make the two more compatible.

I've played football with 3 teams before as a kid & teen (and other sports, such as softball), but not with the above rule. It generally turned into a gank fest (2v1), and the above rule would solve that for a lot of games with 3 players though not something like MtG because the game is over after you "scored" 20 times ie. there's no end time.

Also, as a general statement, there are a lot of fun variants on football including ways to build equal teams. I've seen some of that some during gym, playground on school, and after school on the streets (yeah, did things besides playing computer back in the late 80s/early 90s). To name two simple examples of variations on football: on the schoolyard playground we played football with a tennis ball, and on football training we played football with small goals though without keeper. Simple, minor modifications which allow for a lot of variation and strategy.

"doubles" was fairly common when I was young, you have 1 goal + keeper and rest get split into pairs (if theres an uneven number then the worst players get a 3 person team) with added rules about when you can score to avoid tapins once the other team has had a shot saved + deflection etc

Ah you're taking me back. Another one was 'Last Man Back' which meant the player nearest the goals could handle the ball and do goalie things (within the box). A nice compromise when no-one wants to be in goals or you have only a few players.

Yup, 'rush goalie' we called it.

Surely this is flawed as there is no motivation to try and score? All 3 teams could just sit back and essentially do nothing all game. Goals are often conceded on the counter attack in regular soccer so by going for, what is essentially a futile, an attack on an opponents goal they have a much higher risk of conceding.

I agree, that scoring system is flawed as it provides no motivation to attack at all. For example, take a game where one team just defends heavily, and the other two teams decide to ignore them and have a proper game between themselves (and trade a few goals). The defensive team would be rewarding for being boring.

A better system might be if a team's final score were determined by subtracting their concessions from their goals. Or, if you want to tweak the style of play between offensive and defensive, applying some coefficient between goals and concessions (e.g. concessions subtract 2 while goals add 1). In a way, this is already the system, except the 'goal coefficient' is zero which is clearly unbalanced.

It wouldn't occur like you say - The two teams trading a few goals would quickly realise they were both losing and attack the defensive team together.

If that is happening, both "active" teams are now incentivized to attack the defensive team (because they are winning). So by being "boring" you essentially force the other teams into an alliance against you.

I think the fun here is that 2 teams can join forces and hammer the other side by having twice as many player, at some point there will be a betrayal and one of those teams will break the alliance.

Yeah but why bother? By teaming up they don't win they just make the third team lose.

The more effort they invest in that the more tired they'll be when they finally decide to face eachother.

The only way to win is by making the other teams lose.

Like real football.

Except you have to make sure you score in both the other team's goals to make sure they concede more than you.

And I expect once someone score then you can't sit back again as the result is uneven.

If the pitch is small enough it will still be an interesting match, as you have 3 parties you can't rely/trust the others enough to just park the bus and camp.

https://youtu.be/EzbnKQKszm4 Explanation from FIFA itself

A three-sided "cutthroat" game of pool is very similar (identical?) to this concept.

Related is 3 sided chess, which is a little more complicated because it's hard to figure out who wins and when the game is over: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three-player_chess

Only tangentially related, but it reminds me of the story 17776 - What Football Will Look Like in the Future.


I think people are taking this either far too seriously, given that it's Situationist football, or not seriously enough, given that it's a tool for changing one's modality of thought for which the kicking a ball about is only a metaphor.

All this talk of the philosophy of football just makes me think of this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B97_TUyWygE

Even the simplest three way games have perplexing strategies. Consider splitting one dollar three ways by majority vote. The obvious strategy is for player A and player B to agree to 50-50 and leave out C. Of course, C offers A a better 60-40 split to ditch B. Then B offers A a 70-30 split. Etc.

For comparison, several variations of three-player chess (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three-player_chess) exist.

Reminds me of Football X-7!

Apparently the game was designed by a Marxist philosopher as a way to explain his new theory of dialectics (triolectics?)

Decent history here:


How would you decide if a player was offside?

and the score is still 0-0-0

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