The Fox & the Hounds
I learned a variation of this game from a book called "New Games", a book of games designed to promote play without an over-emphasis on competition. Now the game itself is plenty competitive, but because of the structure, it encourages cooperation at the same time it encourages individual effort. It can be fun for a group even if the kids in your group vary in size, strength and speed.
The game is based on the old playground game "Tag You're It". In traditional tag there's something of a problem that every teacher who's ever used it runs into. Whoever is "It" is the center of attention. Now some people really like being center of attention, especially kids with poor self-esteem. So rather than running away they fake stumbling or taunt the person who is "It" so that they can get caught and then they run around pretending to chase people but never quite catching them. This keeps the game focused on themselves and everybody eventually ends up standing around waiting for the your egotist to finally be shamed into catching somebody so the game can go on.
The Fox and the Hounds variant turns the structure upside down and effectively uses the desire to be center of attention into a tool for making kids run their hearts out. Here's how it works.
- Large relatively open playing field. A wooded park area is best as the trees will break up the chase and give the fox a chance.
- A 3 to 4 foot long "tail" made of cloth or canvas. A strip of fake fur made up to look like a bushy animal tail is the most effective type of tail. I keep one in my games bag at all time.
- Whistle for the referee. The whistle is useful for stopping the action when the tail is grabbed and for getting the attention of kids who are getting over-eager (like the kid that picked up a fallen tree limb and decided that braining the fox might be an effective means of getting that tail).
- Explain the rules and the boundaries to the kids. Boundaries can be arbitrary, but should all be within clear eyesight of where the referee (and his whistle) is standing.
- One player is selected as "It" or "The Fox". Let slip that in this game the fox is "It". It will make being the fox more desirable to the egotists who are usually the ones you want to tire out. The Fox must tuck six inches of the tail into his belt or the back of his pants - enough to hold the tail securely, but no enough to carry the pants down to his ankles when someone jerks the tail loose.
- The remaining players are designated "The Hounds". The hounds must do two things. First, they must chase the Fox and try to pull off his tail. Second, they must bark and bay like hunting hounds while chasing the Fox.
- At the start of each round, the Fox is given a head start before the hounds are turned loose. The hounds must then chant the fox hunting song and when they are done, they may all take off after him. The song goes like this:
A hunting we will go, A hunting we will go
Heigh, ho, the derry 'o, A hunting we will go
We will catch a fox, We'll put him in a box
We will pull his furry tail and then we'll let him go.
- Whoever relieves the Fox of his tail becomes the new Fox and you start over with the chant to give him a head start.
- The referee must watch the hounds. Any who are not baying or barking like hounds are ineligible to catch the fox. Advise the hounds to be sure and bark when grabbing the foxes tail. It doesn't count if you forget till afterward. The barking slows the hounds slightly because it takes some of the wind out of them.
- The fox must not touch his own tail, shorten it or pull it out of reach with his hands. Warn the fox not to take a loop around his belt to make it harder to pull the tail. It's a good way to get hurt by being pulled off your feet or slung into a tree or to lose your pants altogether. The ref should check to see that the tail is removable with an ordinary tug.
The game encourages the fox to run so he can keep the coveted tail and the hounds to pursue him in order gain the tail. The kids will come up with some surprising pack hunting strategies all on their own, many of them just the sorts of strategies used by lions, cheetahs, wolves and hyenas. The kids inevitably run themselves to exhaustion in 20 or 30 minutes. When they are all sprawled out on the grass gasping for air, it's a good time to go to campfire and then off to bed. They'll sleep pretty well that night, I promise you. The beauty is that you, the referee can handle the whole bunch while your fellow adults take a quick break AND you don't have to run around after the kids. The action circles you. I used to have this tall stump I liked to "referee" from.
As I always say, "Old and crafty beats young and energetic every time!"