In addition to the basic rules, each game of Deka has an additional 4-12 rules, which may not be known to all of the players, or any of the players. In practice, game play is still the Deka foundation rules, but specifics like game length, winning conditions, penalties, the field, or what defines a “goal” or a “ball” or indeed a “player” are all over the place.
There are a few traditions. It’s bad form for the referee or players to lie about rules or points, at least in friendly games (local league play, backyard fields, and so on.) For the most part, rules targeting a specific player or team are rejected, unless it’s someone’s birthday or something like that…except for the standard “girlfriend is watching” style of rules tweak, both teams should be able to take full advantage of the rules and loopholes. Rule suggestions that would create a short game (playing to first injury, for example) are usually softened or thrown out. Usually the referee will shout “Score!” or “Penalty!” or sound a buzzer or chime to indicate if something broadly good or bad has happened, but generally won’t explain exactly why there was a call. In formal play there’s usually a scoreboard, typically a timer and a single number, indicating half time or end of game and the number of points scored less penalties…across both teams.
Ultimately Deka is supposed to be a fun game, if frustrating and deliberately opaque to outsiders. Most of the rule variations are minor tweaks to what’s legal, what’s illegal, and how the game ends. Generally both sides have a sense of some of the rules, as each side has given the referee a bundle of suggestions. With a working knowledge of standard variant rules, the local play style, carefully watching the opposition, and maybe making a few covert deals with the other team between plays, it’s possible to suss out the game mechanics of a specific match. The best rules are easy to figure out or fun for the audience. Sadistic rules aren’t encouraged in local play.
Typical variant rules: Play to 20 points, play to 30 points, play to third injury, play until the beer runs out. After half-time the ball begins to slowly deflate until it’s flat, at which point the game is called. Time Outs are fun ones as the rule’s effects on the timer are obvious: Timer continues during time outs, but no one can play. Timer continues during time outs, but only the two referees can play. Calling a time out adds a point to your team. Penalties are arguably the favorite target of new rules, since they don’t dramatically affect game play. Any range of what constitutes a penalty are popular variations…touching the ball with a specific body part or failing to do so, swearing, not addressing the referee by “Sir” or “Ma’am” (actual gender notwithstanding), the same player getting two consecutive points. As to what happens to a penalized team, that’s also all over the board. Besides standard point penalties, moving the goal posts, and so on, dousing the team with beer, removing articles of clothing, blindfolding players…well, it’s a huge list.
Street Deka: As popular as any other ballball game, the core game is played wherever bored kids or co-workers gather. Street Deka doesn’t usually rely on the hidden rule part of the game, at most there’s some negotiation of what rules will be in play before the game. Street Deka is basically “kick the ball” with loose parameters.
Yard Deka: With enough players, Street Deka evolves into Yard Deka. The core game is as written above. Both teams have a quick huddle and agree on three or four rules they want to see in the game, and pass them on to the referee. After that, there’s usually 20 minutes of chaos before the teams have figured out what’s actually going on. For the most part, Yard Deka is played the same way over and over at any given park, turning into a local variation with some extra frosting. The huddle is often skipped entirely, and the referee adds a few choice variations to the game to keep people guessing.
League Deka: Schools, towns, and offices will sometimes have more formal Deka teams and travel their regions for matches. League Deka tends to have 9 house rules, which the home referee keeps “in a special place.” At the beginning of the game both referees get together and throw out two old rules, replacing them with new ones. League Deka involves more bribery and research than other versions. One long-standing tradition is that if the rules are leaked in an obvious way, the league can rewrite them entirely. Which isn’t to say they couldn’t rewrite them anyway, but it’s generally not done. League Deka played by adolescents, students, and 20somethings is sometimes called School Deka, and is mechanically the same as League Deka, but makes for better blackmail material.
Professional Deka: Least predictable, but most solvable, Pro Deka’s general pattern is “30 minutes of arguments, 30 minutes of chaos, a very long half time, and then the teams know what’s going on and the game really begins.” Before the game begins, players, referees, sponsors, and fans can submit rules to the referees and their assistants. Money, promises, rookies, all change hands frantically. The audience votes on fan-submitted suggestions, boosting their choices with microtransactions and their own heated negotiations. The announcer sometimes takes a hand with hype like “Kameho CaWo is playing for her mom today, who’s come all the way from Ganymede to cheer her on. Put Mom on the video screen, there she is! How about giving this lovely lady a few of your hard-earned creds to give her daughter an edge in the upcoming battle royale?” Ultimately 8-10 rules are chosen: two for penalties, two for scoring, one for the clock, one for victory conditions, and then whatever else makes sense for this particular game.
Players are usually in the dark about most of this, but the sudden appearance of new equipment (heavy armor is a bad sign, bats or secondary goal posts are neutral), changes to the field, modifications of the scoreboard, can all give clues. Usually the audience will spoil a few rules too, though they only know a portion of them. The team’s coach will weigh in with theories, but unless he’s greased the right palms, he’s usually guessing. Game play begins as per most Deka games, a lot of arbitrary penalties and some points as the broad outlines of the rules start to come together.
Half Time is huge in pro Deka. The field is opened to the audience (at least the ones that got the good seats or have a compelling story), cheap drinks flow like the water they mostly are, tips on rules and red herrings are exchanged. Invariably some of the players are “drafted” (that is, dragged off for private conversations, future employment opportunities, or what can broadly be termed “fan service.”) Once most of the players have been recovered, the game resumes, the score is recalculated for any points or penalties scored during the break, and the game moves on…though every player has a rookie story of being swapped out in half time for someone’s eight year old son because mom knew the victory condition for the game. Still, the second “half” usually rolls on with a much stronger idea of the game, and how it’s going to end.
Most pro Deka games run for an hour, plus half time. The longest on recent record ran for six hours, as no one leaked that the only valid goals were balls that were run into the audience and given to the visiting Senior Women’s Club of Dione Regio, who all wore green shirts for the occasion. It seemed like a good idea at the time.