Play Between the Lines

Do you remember the first game you ever played? What was your experience playing it? Games play a formative role in growing up, exposing children to concepts like rules, fairness, teamwork, and loss. A first encounter with a game can definitively shape the way you respond to others that come later in life.



At Primary 5, I transferred to a new school. I was the new kid on the block - quiet, chubby and awkward. The first week was especially sad and lonely. I sat by myself and ate alone during recess, watching other boys and girls play a game on the badminton court. It wasn't Pepsi Cola 1 2 3.


I couldn’t figure it out, even after a week of intense observation. It looked like catching, but between teams of up to seven players. Everyone could catch and be caught! And like a school of fish swimming in formation, some mysterious rubric seemed to be governing their actions. One of the kids felt sorry for me. She spotted me constantly hovering at the sidelines and invited me to join her team. When she finally explained the rules, my mind exploded.


The minimum requirement to play Two Lines, plus friends

Two Lines, or 两条线 (liang tiao xian), is simple to learn. Picture the two furthermost lines of a concrete court. Each line is Home to its respective team. Going Home means touching your line. The most important rules of the game are:

  1. You can catch anyone from the other team if he/she left their line earlier than when you left yours.

  2. You can be caught by anyone from the other team if they left their line later than when you left yours.

  3. To reset the order, simply return Home by touching your line.

If it still doesn’t make sense, picture this. Players are fishes in the sea. The big fish eat (catch) the small fish. Your size depends, crucially, on when you leave Home in relation to your opponents and your teammates.


This is not your grandfather's game of catching

Imagine a player from the other team leaving Home and striding across the middle of the court, taunting and baiting you. He’s smaller than you but swaggers like a giant. You’ve seen tactics like this before. You quickly check off your teammates and rank them by speed, stamina, and dexterity. You’re the fastest on your team, and that means you’re the best player to make the first catch. Small Fry’s showing off now, with his back deliberately turned to you. “Go home sleep lah!” you exclaim.


You signal your teammates and kick off but Small Fry darts left and runs to the open field beside the court. He’s looping in circles, veering left and right, but you’re quicker and the gap closes! Small Fry’s trying to sprint Home and into range of his teammates, who are fresh on the line waiting for you to come too close. You see one of them charge in your direction but before she can reach you, piak! You smack Small Fry’s arm in triumph. You got him!


The game continues for everyone else but for the two of you, the game is temporarily paused until you bring Small Fry to your Home and hook him there. He must keep one foot or hand on your line until someone from his team releases him with a touch. Catching a breath, you turn back to the game and survey the ground. It’s time to jump back into the fray!


With the 10-minute mark approaching, you survey the court: three runners from the opposing team are hooked on your line pleading for their teammates to come rescue them with a tap. But with only two free players on their line, they're outnumbered two to one and cannot afford to lose another player, which would result in an automatic loss. You brush the sweat off your brow and walk calmly towards their line with arms outstretched, inviting them to catch you. The taunt doesn't work. They look beat, dejected, and short of breath. After a quick huddle and with only two minutes left on the clock, they throw in the towel.


Another day, another victory.




This is how a typical game of Two Lines unravels from a first player’s perspective. It runs fast and furious, lasting 10 or 15 minutes. If schools had Two Lines, no one would need the TAF club. By the time I graduated from primary school, I had lost all my baby fat. Speed and dexterity are essential. But so too is communication, strategy and situational awareness. This is as much a thinking game as it is a running one.


Two Lines was a game-changer for me. I learnt how to spot opportunities and take risks in a split second, how to win and lose gracefully, and how to ask for help. I realised that winning doesn’t result from having the quickest players or the most/best resources but knowing how to use them in creative ways. And that’s what good games like Two Lines should do - reveal something about you and the way you compete that reflects back on how you work and play in daily life.


On another note, have you played Two Lines or are interested in learning how to play? Let's start a club and resurrect this game!



Download the Two Lines Playbook (promo code 'heritagegame' valid until 31 May 2019)

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