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Tanks – A Pen and Paper Game

Posted By Queenique Dinh On May 13, 2019 @ 1:03 am In Game,general | Comments Disabled


M: This is Tanks, at least that’s what I’ve always heard it as.  Um, we have two different control schemes that we’ve played with.  He used to do an actual flick to move it*, um, I never did.  Mine was always just pressure.  And then you just see if you can- the danger is actually stabbing the other person the pen, but you set it up at the end of the triangle, and then the- your tank moves to wherever, um, so you see that tank only moved a little bit.  (Gestures towards recent opponent move) So the goal of this is to actually eliminate your- the- all of your opponent’s tanks.

*By it, he meant a pen.


Summary of Game Rules:

Each player draws three triangles at either end of a sheet of paper pointing towards the opposite end; the paper should be fairly large like loose-leaf or computer paper.  The players take turns placing a pen at the tip of one of their drawn triangles and by either flicking the point or applying significant pressure draws a line from that point.  Regardless of the orientation of the line, the new tank is drawn facing the opposite end of the paper.  The tank’s new position is drawn at the end of the line.  To eliminate an opponent’s tank, your line must solidly touch the other person’s tank; eliminated tanks are crossed through with an X.  Whoever eliminates all of the opposing tanks first wins.  Please see the reference images below.



This game was collecting while hanging out with a group of friends from the University of Southern California and we all began to talk about different games from our childhoods.  The primary informant, ‘M’, provided the brief description above as he was playing it with another informant who also gave his experience with this game.  The summary of the game rules was written using the explanation given and my observations as the game occurred.  The primary informant stated how he learned this game in elementary school while living in Okinawa, specifying that he attended school with both Japanese and other American students.  He also stated that this game was something he did during camps with his friends as well.  The informant playing against him grew up in San Diego and learned this game from his dad when he was four years old.  He mentioned how he was surprised that others knew this game because he thought it was just a game among Asians since his dad never fully assimilated into American society.



A quick search online yielded dozens of variations on this game, including, but not limited to, playing with planes or rockets instead of tanks, drawing a map that players must navigate around while also trying to destroy their opponents’ tanks, or destroying the tanks by means of gunshots as opposed to running directly into them.  Even with the two players above, they knew two different ways to complete their move: flicking the tip of the pen as it is standing or applying pressure until the pen slips from underneath itself.  I believe the drastic variations in the game and the spread in geographic location where this game is learned is due to a number of different reasons.  As a start, pen and paper games are easily accessible because of the simplicity of materials.  They travel easily and the game is easy to teach because the materials are familiar to most and do not need to be transported.  Tanks has no cultural or language dependencies, allowing it to be shared across cultures and potentially even cultivate cross-cultural relationships.  There is not a large learning or knowledge curve to overcome before the game can be enjoyed, either.  Lastly, as evidenced by how the opponent from the game above learned it from his father, there are no age limitations to this game.  The gameplay does not necessarily become boring or childish; younger kids may enjoy being able to flick pens around and destroy tanks, while adults may find simple pleasure in strategizing how to make a move or entertainment in playing.  Thus, it is easily passed down between generations and easily perpetuated over time.  All of these factors in the gameplay of tanks lend to how easily it can be modified and how easily it is shared among people.  Tanks is easily accessible by people from a variety of different cultural and personal backgrounds, and thus it can foster interpersonal connectedness wherever it travels through the shared enjoyment of a simple pen and paper game.



Tanks Game Board [1]

The tanks game board, where each player starts with three triangles at their end of the paper.  You can see the drawn lines from each tank for the moves made, and how a tank is destroyed in the center because the opponent’s line crossed through it.
Tanks Gameplay

An example of the gameplay in tanks.  This player is making his moves by applying pressure to the pen until it buckles from underneath itself, making a line on the paper as it does so.

 Additional Informant Information:

The information for the primary informant, ‘M’, is above the item, the same information for the second informant is included below.

‘A’ – Nationality: American-Taiwanese, Age: 22, Occupation: Digital Marketing/Entrepreneur, Residence: Los Angeles, CA, Primary Language: English, Other Languages: Mandarin, Japanese

Article printed from USC Digital Folklore Archives: http://folklore.usc.edu

URL to article: http://folklore.usc.edu/?p=47311

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[1] Image: http://folklore.usc.edu/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/IMG_3289.jpg