I quite enjoy playing basketball, but unfortunately I’m not very good at it. This is most likely because the majority of my basketball experience involves timely pressing of buttons rather than playing outside with my friends. Well, rest assured… my days of NBA Jam–exclusive basketball are behind me, because now I have Pocket Basketball – a basketball themed dice game from the Pocket Sports series of games.
Pocket Sports work on a simple premise: provide the player with a simple yet enjoyable game, which is portable enough to be able to be played almost anywhere. Each game consists of only 8 custom dice in a cloth bag with instructions, but you don’t need more than this, as the pieces are enough to provide a framework that’s easy to pick up, but detailed enough to be interesting.
Pocket Basketball, much like Pocket Aussie Rules Footy, uses 5 die to simulate player positions on the court. Each position is uniquely coloured for ease of identification during games and has instructions printed on each face. Games are played by sequentially rolling dice and carrying out instructions until a time limit is reached. While timed quarters are advised, we found it more enjoyable to set a numerical goal and work towards that instead.
The easiest way to describe game flow is to imagine that each die represents a player interacting with the ball. At the start of a game, both players try to gain possession at the tip off – they roll the black scoring die (a standard d6) and whoever rolls highest is considered to have gained possession. This player then rolls the red point guard die and follows the instructions indicated by the roll.
In this case the player is considered to have passed the ball to the position indicated by ## and you roll their die next. So if you rolled the red point guard die and got “Pass PF,” then you would “pass the ball” and roll the blue power forward die next.
This just means you re-roll the die. If you roll dribble three times in a row the shot clock is considered to have timed out and you turnover possession of the ball to your opponent. Any time dribble is rolled, your opponent may also roll the black scoring die and try to steal the ball, which can be a real nuisance at times (in a fun way).
Take a shot
There are two types of shots – contested and uncontested. Both are shown as the shot name followed by a number, with uncontested shots also displaying an image of a star. Contested shots allow the other player to roll for defence, whereas uncontested are unblockable and instantly score. Shot names vary by die, but are all relevant to the real game (Lay up, Jump shot, Hook shot, etc.). The number displayed represents the number of points you score if the shot is made. So, for example, “Outside 3” would be worth 3 points and allow the other player to defend, while “Jam 2 *” would be worth 2, but would score instantly. It’s hard to describe just how well this works without actually playing the game, but the variety in shot names makes the game feel like you’re really playing a game. Commentating your turn is fun and the die provides an added incentive to say “he goes for a Lay up” instead of “he goes for a 2 or 3 pointer”… assuming you like talking while playing games of course.
Defence felt a little “crunchy” to me, but that’s most likely due to me not being familiar with the terms. When defending against a shot, the player rolls a brown defence die, which affects their opponent’s chance of getting the basket. Roll “Open” and the attacker must roll a 2 or higher on the score die to get the points, roll “Cover” and they must roll 5 or higher, and so on. Fouls can also be rolled, resulting in a variety of outcomes. For the most part, these are clear; however, I felt the “draw” foul wasn’t clearly outlined in the instructions. Once I had it clarified, it matched game rules perfectly, but initially I wasn’t sure how you were meant to proceed with the dice and felt the included instructions were a little ambiguous.
A couple of the positions have secondary rules, which can really make your turn feel like a game of basketball. “Pass/rebound”, for example, allows you to pass the ball and, if the receiving position misses the shot, gives you an opportunity to re-roll as if your small forward had rushed in after the pass to gather up the rebound. These sorts of variants give the game a nice tension that statistical dice games don’t often have.
My only other gripe with my version of Pocket Basketball was that a couple of the die faces were incomplete. For example, “Ally oop” had a star, but no score, so was it a shot or a secondary move? I clarified that it’s a 2-point shot, but without the indicator I wasn’t sure whether it would behave like a “pass/tip in”-type move. I’ve since been told that this has been addressed for future versions though, so rest assured that the copy you buy will have everything you need.
Once you get the hang of the dice and how to perform actions, Pocket Basketball is a really fun game. Rolling the score and foul dice adds tension to a simplistic mechanic and gives you the feeling of having a second chance when a shot goes awry. Furthermore, the shot names and moves simulate a real basketball game nicely, allowing any who are playing to follow the flow of a game and get excited. If you even remotely like basketball, but enjoy fast-paced dice games, then this is something I’d imagine you’ll enjoy.