Watch two experienced players going at it, and the frantic pace of play can make air hockey seem like anything goes free-for-all.
As fun as that may sound, it’s hardly ideal if you want to learn how to play air hockey properly.
That’s where we come in.
In today’s guide, we’ll explain exactly how to play this super-fast tabletop sport, outlining the key rules to air hockey and everything else you need to know to play the game correctly without losing any of the excitement that makes air hockey so popular.
What is Air Hockey?
Air hockey is a fast and furious game with one clear objective:
Score more points than your opponent.
Players use a mallet to push a plastic puck across a frictionless surface in an attempt to get that puck into their opponent’s goal, earning a point every time they do so.
Number of Players Required: 2 – 4. The game is best suited to one-on-one, but playing ‘doubles’ in teams of two can be great fun.
Who Can Play It: All ages, though younger children may struggle on a full-sized table.
Main Objective: Score points by landing the puck in your opponent’s goal. The first player (or team of players) to score 7 points wins.
Why We Love it: It’s one of those great games you can pick up and start playing without any experience or expertise. Plus, its fast-paced, relentless game-play makes it one of the most exciting games around.
Learning to Play Air Hockey: What you’ll need
Most of the best air hockey table sets come with everything you need to start playing right out of the box. That includes:
Air Hockey Table
Though there is a standard regulation table size (90” x 50”), you might want to consider buying a smaller model like the Triumph Fire ‘n Ice 54” Air Hockey Table if you’re introducing your kids to the sport, or if you simply don’t have the room for a full-sized table.
Yes, those sombrero-shaped tools you use to slam your puck around the table are officially called mallets, but you might also hear them called ‘pushers’ or ‘strikers.’
The puck that comes with your table will be perfectly good to use, though it’s sometimes a good idea to have a good quality set of air hockey pucks on hand in case your originals get damaged or go missing.
Air Hockey Rules and Gameplay
How to Start a Game of Air Hockey
Air hockey games begin with what’s known as a ‘face-off.’ This is when the puck is placed directly in the center of the half-way circle.
In competitive games, the puck is held by a referee while the players move their mallets to within an inch of the puck. The referee then calls ‘players ready!’ before finally releasing the puck. At this point, the players can go for the puck, attempting to gain possession and/or score a goal.
If you’re playing casually and have a neutral, non-playing friend with you, it’s a good idea to get them to carry out the referee’s role to ensure fairness. However, if it’s just the two of you, you can still have a face-off by placing the puck in the halfway circle and agreeing to begin play at a certain point, such as after a count of three.
Once the puck is in play, players rally it back-and-forth in an attempt to get the puck into their opponent’s goal. Every time they do this successfully, they score a point.
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Boundaries in Air Hockey
The puck can only touch the following objects and surfaces during play:
- The table surface
- The walls of the table railings (the frame around the table)
- The goals
- The players’ mallets.
If the puck touches any other surface, it is deemed out of bounds, and possession of the puck is handed over to the opposite player. In other words, if Player A strikes the puck and it flies across the top of the rails or hits any other surface, then the game is paused and the puck is handed over to Player B.
The exception to this rule is if the puck goes out of bounds while being blocked. A block is considered to be any time a player uses their mallet to stop a puck but doesn’t fire a return shot.
In this example, Player A strikes at Player B’s goal. Player B moves the puck only to stop it, but the force of the shot colliding with the puck causes it to fly off the table. In that case, Player A is at fault, and possession returns to Player B.
Goal Tending and Fouls
Goal Tending is not allowed. This is any time you block the puck using any tactic not considered to be a standard use of the mallet.
Palming – Touching the puck with any part of your body or even your clothes. Palming the puck results in a technical foul, which is when your opponent gets to take a free shot at your open, unblocked goal.
Topping – Lifting the mallet (or one half of the mallet) off the table to trap or catch the puck underneath and stop it in its tracks. Topping results in a regular foul, which is when your opponent takes possession of the puck but you’re still allowed to block your goal.
Scoring Goals in Air Hockey
Scoring might seem pretty simple:
Slam that puck into your opponent’s goal and you get a point. Get 7 points, and you win the game.
Yet to avoid arguments, there’s two key things you need to know:
If you accidentally hit the puck into your own goal, that counts as a point for your opponent.
If you hit the puck into your opponent’s goal and it bounces back out again, that doesn’t count as a point.
Top Tips for Winning at Air Hockey
Frequently Asked Questions About Air Hockey
How Much Room Do I Need for an Air Hockey Table?
Most experts recommend a space of at least 10ft by 7ft in order to comfortably enjoy your game. Standard air hockey tables are only 7.5ft x 4.1 ft, however, you’ll need a few feet of space around the outsides of the table in order to move around it.
What’s the Best Way to Clean My Air Hockey Table?
Like regular furniture, air hockey tables can collect dust and grime. Over time, this can cause the puck to move more slowly across the table which takes a lot of fun out of it.
To prevent that from happening, give your table a regular wipe down with a soft, dry cloth, You might even want to go over it with the flat-head nozzle of your vacuum cleaner to get any dust out of the air holes.
How Can I find a Competitive Air Hockey League Near Me?
Contacting the United States Air Hockey Association is the best place to start. The Air Hockey Players Association also has details on upcoming tournaments and competitions.
Alternatives to Air Hockey
Make no mistake about it, air hockey is one of the most relentless table-top games there is. Yet if it’s somehow not challenging enough for you, you could always hunt down a boomerang air hockey table.
This is a unique game in which, rather than the goals being at opposite ends of the table, they’re actually next to each other. Players stand side by side and attempt to hit the puck off a back wall and into their opponent’s goal. It’s tricky, but it’s also a lot of fun.
You could also try out the unique game of Klask, which is based on a very similar principle to air hockey except played on a smaller, magnetic table. Check out the game in action below:
As you’ll see in the video above, it’s a game that requires a great level of skill while retaining all the excitement of standard air hockey.