Sitting Ducks

From Ludocity
Sitting Ducks
Designer: Tom Melamed
Year: unknown
Players: 9
Stuff required: 9 big water pistols, 9 hunting duck calls, 9 caps in three colours, lots of rubber ducks in same colours as the caps, megaphone, stuff to mark out a course in shallow water, stop watch, antiseptic wipes, permanent marker pens.
Crew required: 2-3.
Preparation: 15 minutes.
Time required: 30 minutes.
Place required: About 10 meters square of still water where the players can move freely around the edge.
Activities: shooting, squatting, quacking, racing
This is a playable game - it's finished, tested and ready to play.
This game is made available under an Attribution-Noncommercial Creative Commons licence. (What does this mean?)

Sitting ducks is a race game where teams propel rubber ducks around a floating course by shooting them with water pistols. This game won most fun game and best overall game at igfest 2011 in Bristol UK.

Game Overview

Sitting ducks is a fairly simple race game that involves shooting ducks with big water pistols around a course which is itself very fun, but it gets noticeably better when you add in the theatrical elements and the build up in how you introduce the game and get the players into the mood of the game. It's important to the enjoyment of the game that you get the players to care about their ducks. So to explain this game I'm going to try and set it out in stages as you build up the game and then let you, the one putting on the game change what you like.

Notes on Equipment

  • 9 water pistols,
    • You need one for each player.
    • They need to be large water pistols, of the pump action super soaker type.
  • 3 ducks per session.
    • You need one duck per team per group of players.
    • The ducks need to be in team colours (e.g one red, one yellow, one blue).
    • I did this by getting yellow ones and spraying them with acrylic paint.
    • The ducks will get "used up" in the course of a session so if you are running the game lots of times with different players then you need lots of ducks.
    • I found that 5cm plastic ducks floated highest and went fastest.
  • 9 Hats
    • These make it easy for you the person running the game to tell who is on which team which is important and wil be explained later.
    • I added cartoon eyes to my caps so that they looked like ducks with the peak of the cap being the ducks bill.
  • 9 Duck calls
    • These are important to the game but also kind of expensive, you will need one for each player and maybe a spare or two. I got mine from ebay for about 7 pounds each.
    • Use the antiseptic wipes to clean them between players so that no one catches anything.
  • 3 Marker pens
    • However you choose to colour the ducks make sure that you find a pen that writes on it well. I went for acrylic paint on the ducks, and then acrylic pens.
  • Race track
    • You need to mark out a course in the water for the ducks to race along.
    • I did this by filling plastic bottles with sand and then sitting them in the very shallow water, I then used string between the bottles to mark the left and right hand edges of the water.
    • If I was doing it again then I might have tried using chicken wire netting as walls instead but not sure how well that would work if a duck got stuck in the netting.
    • You need a water source a short distance from the main race track to refill the water pistols as players aren't allowed to refill from the race track.
    • The track needs to be long enough that the players need to refill their water pistols once during the race. I haven't tried a race that is long enough to require more than one refilling.
    • If the water is too big then the water pistols won't be able to reach the ducks and move them along, so size is limited by the effective range of your water pistols.
    • Wind can really effect the ducks so try to find somewhere sheltered.
  • The megaphone is for the commentator. It's important that the commentator is amplified over the sound of the duck calls.


Race organiser

For this game to work you need to explain a few rules to the players. They also need to be made to feel OK about being very silly so it helps if the person giving the rules is also dressed and acting rather silly. I did this by being the Duke of Duckingham a country gent who had bred rubber ducks for four generations. Dressed in tweed and waders. But you need to find what works for you.


During the race itself you need a commentator to increase the fun, and add to the tension of the game. They also fulfil another very important role in stage 2 by helping the players to think of their duck as a character in it's own right.

Assistant to the teams

This character works most closely with the players, encouraging them and talking to them about their ducks. Again they are mostly about getting everyone in the mood. They also help with the giving out and taking back of equipment. You can run the game without this character, in fact I have but it seemed to run much smoother with this third person. In my version this character was a professional duck trainer who had got some of their ducks to the Olympics before.

Running the game

Step 1: Start

When people arrive get them to get into three teams of three. Give each player a hat in their team colour.

Explain the rules of the game. I feel that it helps a lot to do this in terms of a back story that gives the game some character, helps the players remember them and starts to slowly get the players comfortable with being a bit silly.


  • It's a straight race, first duck across the finish line wins.
  • You move the duck by shooting it with water pistols.
  • Only shoot your own duck.
  • You have to sit or squat to shoot your duck.
  • Of the three players in a team at least two must be sitting/squatting at any moment in time.
  • When you refill your water pistol you most do it from a fountain or other water source nearby but not from the water the duck is floating in. This could be from a different part of the same body of water, the important thing is that the player has to get up and move to refill.
  • All communication within the team during the race has to be made using only the duck calls.
  • Any breaking of the rules will result in your duck "jumping backwards". (Actually you just pick the duck up mid race and throw it back about 40-50 centermeters.)
  • Each team gets to decorate their duck, the prettiest duck should get some kind of small reward, like the title of prettiest duck or the choice of the inside line or something.

To explain these rules, I used this back story. "The ducks were bred by my second cousin once removed, who was a Eastern European count during the cold war who used cattle prods, hormones and hypnotherapy to make his ducks the fastest. This has made them very fast but also scared of people. That is why to get the best out of the ducks you need to pretend to be a duck with the duck calls and the duck disguises (hats). And can't crowd them, hence the sitting down. The ducks also sometimes went to the toilet during a race which is why you can't refill the water pistols from the race track." You can of course make up your own back story and way of explaining the rules.

It helps if the back story and the way it is delivered is both clear and also slightly silly, this makes the players more comfortable with being silly themselves which you will soon ask them to do. I did this by being in character and in costume.

Step 2: Getting Into Character

Give the teams their:

  • Ducks (one each, to match the colour of their hats)
  • Their pens to decorate their ducks.
  • One water pistol per player
  • One duck call per player.

Get the players to name their team, their duck and give their duck a back story. This is where the other characters get to work with the players to get them to breath life into their duck. They do this by asking the teams about their duck, the commentator can do this to learn about each duck for their commentary later. The trainer can work with each team to learn each duck's strengths and weaknesses and help them get the best out of their duck. You can imagine other characters also working, for example a race adjudicator from the duck racing federation or something.

The players should also decorate their ducks, discuss tactics and fill their water pistols. The point of this step is to get the players used to being a bit silly and starting to care about their ducks. This step shouldn't take more than about 5 minutes. Don't let it drag on too long.

Step 3: Race!

Once step 2 is done get all the ducks lined up on the start line, we put the ducks on the edge of the pond and then had a racing start where the players shoot their ducks into the water. But before they start, the players need to get used to making noise with their duck calls. Make each team sound off in turn, tell them that the loudest team normally wins. If a team isn't loud enough make them quack louder before they can start. Start the race, I've found that most teams don't really get the rules the first time, especially the rule about at least two of the three of them having to be squatting/sitting at once. Players need to get up to change position as the ducks move around the course and also to refill their water pistols, when they get excited they forget to see if anyone else from their team is already moving or refilling. I tend to go easy on them during the first race as they have enough to understand but then give them a talking to afterwards and be much stricter on subsequent races. It's generally best to have the commentator out of the water with an overview of the race and then the organiser in the water putting the ducks back on the course if they go outside the course and putting them backwards if they break the rules. This is where the coloured hats come in, they should make it easer to spot which team is misbehaving.

Make sure that the race is long enough that the players have to refill during a race, this changes the whole dynamic of the race and is important!

Three races seem to be a good number, after that some people are a bit tired of all the squatting and shooting. Time each race and let the teams know the times so that they have a target for each subsequent race. Give the teams about a minute between races to refill their water pistols and discuss tactics. Don't let the between race refills take too long, otherwise the excitement can be lost and the game can drag.

Above all have fun.


Original game advert for igfest 2011: game advert

Review of game: review of game

Good write up of igfest 2011 with lots of great Sitting Ducks pictures: nice pics