Updated: 03/02/21 •  6 min read
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Tim McPherson, Air Hockey Head Honcho

An air hockey player and all-around arcade game enthusiast, Tim knows what he’s doing when he is called to give expert game advice

Air Hockey Rules and Regulations

Air hockey isn’t exactly a complex game, but any game is going to have a few things that can trip up a new player if they start facing off against people who are sticklers about that sort of thing.

Air hockey rules essentially fall into two broad categories: the rules of play, and the “do nots” of the game, or the fouls. So, let’s go over them real quick, so you can get down to the more fun business of actually playing the game.


Air Hockey Rules of Play:

So, to start off, know the basic board state for air hockey.

Each player has a “mallet” or “striker”; no matter what you call it, it’s the thing you use to whack the puck. There’s a single puck for the whole table, unless it gets damaged for whatever reason.

Hathaway Puck and Saddle Set

Each player stands on one end of the table. There’s a centerline dividing it into two equal halves. Interestingly, you do not have to stand at the very end of the table, you can stand anywhere on your side of the centerline. Typically you won’t want to wander too far since it can mean leaving your goal open, but you can absolutely stand on the sides of the table if you wish.

The objective of the game, as you might know, is to hit the puck into the opponent’s goal. Each successful goal in gives you a point, and the first to a predetermined number of points wins.

The game starts with a coin flip and then in each round, one player is given “possession” of the puck, and allowed to hit it first. This is referred to as the attacking player, while the other player is the defender. Despite this, so long as the puck is in play, either player can hit it, and both players are able to score; possession only determines who initially may place and set the puck in motion.


You may only hit a puck that is on your side of the field, though ANY part of the puck being on your side of the centerline makes it fair game; this can result in scenarios where the puck is a legal target for both players, resulting in a confrontation at the centerline.

After the puck crosses the centerline, a player has seven seconds to return the puck, so you have a bit of time to think about things and what your game plan is going to be if you stall the puck long enough.

Play continues until one player scores; this is defined as the puck going all the way into the goal and staying there. If the puck rebound after going in, or even gets stuck halfway, it doesn’t count as a score.

When one player scores, the player that was scored upon is now considered to have possession of the puck. So if you get scored on, you do have a bit of an advantaged when coming back, since having possession gives you a chance to have maximum control over the puck.

After a goal is scored, the player with possession has 10 seconds (starting from the time the puck falls all the way through and pops out of the return slot) to put the puck back into play.


During this 10 second period, a timeout may be called once per game for each player; you may also call a timeout if you’re in possession of the puck. This timeout is likewise a max of 10 seconds long.

After each game, players change sides of the table.

And…that’s about it for the rules of play. One of the advantages of playing air hockey is that the rules are simple overall. But there are a few more ways you can foul, which makes things a bit more complex.

Air Hockey Fouls:

There are a few no-nos when it comes to playing air hockey, and all of these will completely invalidate any points you may have scored in a given round.

  1. Hitting the puck with the bottom surface of the mallet is an invalid move. You may hit the puck with any other part of the mallet if you which and are capable of doing so.
  2. Topping” the mallet is illegal at any stage of the game, both during the serve and in play. This is defined as setting your mallet on top of the puck in order to slow it down and make it easy to control. This is any part of the bottom, even accidentally, so be careful about tilting the mallet upward while playing. Interestingly, this does NOT apply to airborne pucks, so if you’re smacking down a pop fly, hitting with the bottom of the mallet is fair game.
  3. Palming” the mallet is also illegal. This might bring to mind grabbing the puck with your hand, which the term DOES cover, but it’s not limited to just that. Palming is ANY outside interference with the puck using anything besides the mallet; this could be a hand, shirt sleeve, or any other object besides the mallet.
  4. Hitting the puck after it has already fully crossed the centerline to your opponent’s side of the field is illegal.
  5. Hand serving” is illegal unless you’ve just been scored on. This is defined as using your hand to put the puck into play, slightly separate from palming.
  6. Taking longer than 7 seconds to return a puck after a serve, or 10 seconds to put it back into play after being scored on results in a foul.
  7. You may only play with one mallet at a time. Yes, sadly, this does mean that your childhood dreams of dual wielding air hockey mallets is a no go for games that are playing by the rules.

Any foul during a play results in any point scored being rendered invalid.

After playing an extensive game of air hockey, it’s always good practice to check the table for damage. The knowledge of maintaining an air hockey table will be important here. Also, not all tables are the same because they could be made from lesser quality materials. That is why some of them are easy to break if not take cared of. If you’re planning to buy, then it’s good to find the best air hockey tables for the money.

Tom Erickson