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The game is played on a 'pitch', about the third of the length of a soccer field, it is roughly elliptical in shape, though the edges are not treated as 'hard' boundaries as they tend to be in other sports. There are three hoops of varying heights at each end of the pitch, if premade hoops aren't available, many teams will resort to hanging hulahoops from soccer nets.
There are four balls on the field. One Quaffle, which is usually a slightly deflated volleyball, and three Bludgers, usually slightly deflated dodgeballs. All these balls must be slightly deflated because the game is essentially played with one hand at a time, as the other hand is nearly always occupied holding your broom (or broom-like implement).
Each team has a few different players on the field at all times, their roles being differentiated by headband colour. These players are: three chasers (white headbands), one keeper (essentially a chaser, but wears a green headband), two beaters (black headbands) and one seeker (yellow headbands). Teams may also have subs, but most tournaments limit total team size to 21 players. All players must keep a broom, or broom-like implement (a member of my team uses a plunger), up between their legs at all times. If the broom is not between their legs at any time, they must run back to, and touch, their hoops before rejoining play as though they were hit by a bludger (more on that in a moment).
The roles are as follows:
- Chasers play using the Quaffle (or "quaf"). They try to gain and keep possession of it, score points by getting it one of the three hoops at the opposing team's side of the pitch (scoring gets their team 10 points per goal) and trying to keep the other team from scoring.
Each player can only interact with their own game ball and other players who interact with that ball. This means that a chaser or keeper can only take possession of a quaffle, and can only tackle other chasers or keepers, and they absolutely cannot swat, hit or kick bludgers or catch the snitch. Likewise, a beater cannot catch the snitch or use the quaffle, they can only use the bludger to hit other players or other balls, and can only tackle other beaters. The Snitch Runner follows none of the rules of pathetic mortals and has been known to steal quaffles, bludgers and even interfere with hoops.
At the start of the game, the balls are lined up along the centre line and the starting string of players from each team line up along their respective hoop lines, kneeling with their brooms on the ground. After signalling ready, they and all of their substitutes must bow their heads and close their eyes while the ref "releases the snitch" by saying "The Snitch is loose!" Once the Snitch Runner is out of sight, the ref yells "Brooms up!" and all the players mount their brooms and race to the middle to try and take possession of the balls. The Snitch Runner's boundaries vary, but when we play on campus, the Snitch Runner can go anywhere at all on campus; and at the World Cup, they could go anywhere at all, as long as they did not cross any pavement.
The game continues until the Snitch is caught and returned to the field.
Often, game length is controlled by "seeker floors" which keep the seekers from leaving the pitch until 5 minutes after the beginning of the match, having the snitch set to return to the pitch after a certain amount of time or by setting a maximum time limit on the game such as half an hour and whoever has the most points at that time is declared winner.
In the case of a tie, the game goes into sudden death overtime, during which the snitch cannot leave the field and the first team to 30 points within 5 minutes wins the game.
The IQA's website and forums are a great resource to learn more about the game and understand the tactics and strategies.