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Island Hopping – A Game of Economics, Strategy, and Speed

Island Hopping is a game I developed when I taught middle school back in the day (2007). It was a response/solution to “what to do with 150 kids during indoor recess?” and having access to a gym.

It’s a game of economics, strategy, and speed. Oftentimes, the team that figures out the speed aspect, along with purchasing a second boat quickly wins.

*It’s also a quick way to find out who the natural leaders are on your team… 😉

I had the game designed in an old file (.pages), and I can’t seem to find it, and now have a paper copy only, so, I am recreating it here. I suspect a broken hard drive holds the secret, but the original design was before Dropbox/Google Drive…

So, here you go…. with some additional modifications, enhancements along the way.

Island Hopping

The Team

There are at least two (2) teams playing. Each team consists of at least 15 people, although the rules can be altered to accomodate other combinations.

The more even (in numbers) the teams are, the better.

Island Hopping is specifically an inclusive game – everyone is welcome!

The Field

Island Hopping can be played on any kind of field, inside or outside.

An area the size of a regular basketball court is ideal, but larger or smaller areas will work as well. Each team needs an opposite side to play towards – but the field can be of any shape.

The Equipment

The equipment for Island Hopping is simple, and can easily be adjusted based on the amount of players, the environment, and the materials available.

For a game consisting of two (2) teams of 15 players, the following is ideal as it makes for a fast-paced even gameplay:

  • Five (5) “boats” – can be any device that three (3) players can hold on to securely. Hula-hoops, a frisbee, or a loop of webbing.
  • A way to mark or designate the “shore line” and the “island”. Markings on a gymnasium floor are ideal, where the center circle becomes the island, and the lines around the basketball court the shore line. A soccer field, or football field work well for larger games.

UpdatedI used loops of webbing that I sewed together – they seemed to last a lot better as there tend to be a lot of hard use during the game, and we broke a hula-hoop or two… A loop of rope would work, too.

The Game

The object of Island Hopping is to transport all players to the opposite shoreline, via the island.

At the beginning of each game, each team is located along their own shoreline, and each team has one (1) boat with a designated captain (a player of choice).

When the game begins, each boat transports no more than two (2) players to the island where they disembark. The boat returns to pickup two more passengers, and so on.

Here’s how travel is defined and limited:

  • All boats must be piloted by a captain. The captain can change, but should stay somewhat consistent.
  • A boat can only transport two (2) passengers, plus the captain.
  • Passengers may only travel half-way. From shoreline to island, or from island to the opposite shoreline. Passengers can never travel the whole distance in one trip, and must layover at the island.
  • There can only be ten (10) players from each team on the island at any given time.
  • Once ten (10) players have reached the opposite shore, that team may purchase another boat. The cost is ten (10) players. On purchase, nine (9) players travel back via the sidelines to their original shoreline, and one (1) becomes the captain of the the purchased boat.
  • There is a total of five (5) boats. Three (3) are available for purchase by any team that can pay the fee.

When all players on a team have been transported to the opposite shoreline, that team has won the game.

UpdatedA series of games is recommended, as one game will be very fast (<5 min). Best of 3, or a series perhaps…

The Boundaries

During play, all players must remain within the designated boundary lines, as set forth by the organizing entity or game official.

For example – no shoreline creep… with players meeting the boat out in the water. See more below.


The game is very quick, and full of high energy – especially when played with middle schoolers.

Each round will likely take less than 5 minutes, and therefore, a series is recommended – best of 3, or a tournament style “International Island Hopping Championships” perhaps…

Violations & Enforcement

  • All players must be in contact with the boat at all times during transport. If not, all three (3) players must go back to their original shoreline and start over.
  • All players must remain behind the shorelines, or within the designated island area when not being transported. If not, after three (3) warnings, all players that have reached the opposite shoreline must return to their original shoreline and start over.
  • The game should be supervised by a game official for smooth play, managing the sale of boats, etc. The game official referees the game, enforces rules, and keeps overall score.
  • The game official’s decision is final.

Code of Conduct

I wrote this to better help guide our young players in grades 6-8, but a good guide nonetheless for any player of any organized game.

  • Understand, and appreciate and abide by the rules of the game.
  • Respect the integrity and judgment of game officials.
  • Respect your opponent and congratulate them in a courteous manner following each match, whether in victory or defeat.
  • Be responsible for your actions and maintain self-control.
  • Do not taunt or bait opponents and refrain from using foul or abusive language.

Note – a middle school gymnasium can get VERY loud during games of Island Hopping…

General Layout

Here’s the general layout, based on a basketball court. Remember – if you have more players, move outside to a soccer field or football field. Smaller? Play it in a classroom…

Use what you have to mark the field – cones, flag markers, or other play equipment make easy material.


It’s been a while since I played, and led game play with a hundred kids at a time… but here are some reflections/questions for you.

  • What about two (2) islands?
  • What about unlimited boats?
  • What about 3+ teams from various directions/opposite shorelines?
  • How can government tax the boat services?
  • What about a passenger limit of 1?
  • Do you have to pay rent on the island?
  • What about rafts with no captain?
  • Is swimming allowed?
  • Can one captain pilot 2 boats?

Now it’s your turn. Get a large group together, and start sending those boats… Use this game however you feel like it.