How to Play Jacks (Game Rules and Instructions)

For a real bout of schoolyard nostalgia, read up on the Jacks game rules and be taken back to your elementary and middle school days.

The gameplay is still the same, so your kids should be able to see why it was once one of the kings of the playground.

Jacks is also simple to learn, making it the ideal game for beginners to pick up. Yet there is still enough of a learning curve to keep players wanting to come back for more.

So for a reminder of all the Jacks game rules, you may have forgotten, or if you’ve never played before have a look at our guide on how to play Jacks.

What Are Jacks?

Jacks Game Info image

Jacks takes elements from traditional games such as Bocce Ball (check out our Bocce Ball rules guide) and Dominoes to create a unique game.

A similar yet ancient version of the game called Knuckleball was apparently played around 2000 years ago, with texts from Greek philosopher Sophocles making reference to the game.

The gameplay originally used small objects such as pebbles but has evolved over time into the game we know today.

Number of Players Required: 2 – 8.

Who Can Play It: Everyone, although usually played by kids.

Difficulty: Easy.

Length of Play: 5 – 15 minutes.

Similar to: Pick Up Sticks, Dominoes, Marbles

Main Goal: Be the player to pick up the largest number of jacks at once to get to the highest round.

Why we love it: Jacks is a game in which the fun comes in its simplicity. As long as someone has some jacks, then you can play anywhere. It’s easy to see how it’s become such a staple of the schoolyard for so long.

Jacks game rules playing image

Playing Jacks – What You’ll Need to Play

Unlike other schoolyard games, like Tetherball, you don’t need much to be able to play Jacks.

Make sure you have the following:

  • A small rubber ball
  • A set of at least 10 jacks
  • A small, clear space to play

Fortunately, all jack sets will include what you’ll need to play, such as this Jacks Game set which will get you started instantly.

Once you sort your set, you can move on to learning Jack’s game rules.

Jacks Game
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How To Set Up Jacks

The game setup could not be easier, as it’s designed so that kids can get the maximum amount of jacks fun into a limited recess.

Place as many jacks as you want in the middle of the players, have all participants sit in a circle and you’re ready to go. 

Jacks Game Rules and Gameplay

Decide who goes first by using any method that you would like, just make sure that it is fair and agreed upon by all participants.

Alternatively, use the method of ‘flipping’ by placing the jacks in cupped hands, flipping them to the back of your hand, then flipping them back into the palm of your hand.

The player who finishes with the most jacks in their hand goes first.

You May Also Like: Pick Up Sticks rules

Starting the Game

The start of a game of jacks is always the same once your group nominates a player to start the game.

Scatter the jacks out by literally throwing them onto the floor with your weaker hand, but make sure they don’t go too far.

Have the nominated player start the game.

How to Play Jacks

Jacks game rules are very straightforward. Players take it in turns to bounce a ball and pick up jacks whilst the ball is in the air and before it bounces again.

Players need to pick up 10 jacks to be able to move onto the next round. The number of jacks that get picked up each round depends on the number of the round.

So if players are in round 1 (Onesies), then they pick up 1 jack per bounce of the ball until they’ve successfully managed to pick up 10 jacks.

That player then moves onto round 2 where they will need to pick up 2 jacks per bounce of the ball and so on.

Players continue to complete rounds until they fail to pick up the required number of jacks before the ball bounces twice. They then pass the ball over to the next player in the circle.

Anyone who fails their turn is either deducted 1 round when it’s their go next or if they’re on the 1st round removed from the game.

As there are 10 jacks, the final round requires players to pick up 10 jacks with one bounce.


To keep things simple, we’ve included an example guide to what jacks you’ll need to pick for each round after the first 2. The first 2 should be self-explanatory.

  • Three: 3-3-3-1
  • Four: 4-4-2
  • Five: 5-5
  • Six: 6-4
  • Seven: 7-3
  • Eight: 8-2
  • Nine: 9-1
  • Ten: 10

The winner is the player who either picks up 10 jacks in one bounce first or who gets the furthest within a time limit if playing in recess.

Video Tutorial

Frequently Asked Questions

Are there different Jacks game rules that you can play with a Jacks set?

Our guide details the most common game to play with Jacks and the one that you are most likely to be familiar with as it is the simplest one.

There are other rules that you can use when playing to make the game easier or harder, such as letting the ball bounce twice depending on the age of players.

Can you play Jacks solo?

Jacks is certainly a game that you can play solo and is a great way to keep yourself entertained by following the same set of jack game rules.

Alternative Games to Jacks

The game of jacks is an ideal way to improve upon skills such as hand-eye coordination, and its pick-up-and-play ability means that a game you can bust out almost anywhere.

Pair jacks with other standard schoolyard games and read up on Tetherball rules for the proper authentic school experience. 

If you’re looking for similar games that can also improve upon dexterity and reflex skills, check out guides Cornhole rules or Spikeball rules which can help in this area.

Alternatively, if smaller games that can be played anywhere is what you’re after, then learn Bunco rules and check out the 3 dice game. These are classic examples of dice games that require almost no complex game sets to play.

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