As the Minnesota summer kicks into full gear and restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic ease, outdoor activities are sure to abound, but choosing games to play that will limit the risk of spreading the virus is key. Various lawn games allow for that social distancing. There is one in particular I’ve found particularly fun to play over the past couple years: Kubb, a Swedish lawn game. I first spotted Kubb while covering my first Midsommar Dag, a Swedish summertime festival celebrating the summer solstice, at the Gammelgarden Museum in Scandia. Since then I’ve learned how to play and become a fan — and even introduced it to my family this past weekend.
Kubb (pronounced koob), which some have nicknamed as “Viking chess,” can be played between two solo players or up to two teams of six. A game is played on a pitch (or playing field) measured at 5 by 8 meters. Five blocks of wood, known as the kubbs, are set up along the base line of each team’s starting line, and each team is given six chances to toss a wooden baton end over end to knock over the other team’s kubbs. For each kubb that is knocked down, the team who struck it gets to keep it on their half of the pitch (thrown by the opposing team and stood upright where it lands) as one more kubb in their line of defense. Kubbs will be tossed back and forth throughout the game by both teams, creating a back and forth volley, eventually leading to one team’s bigger line of defense via the kubbs from the opposing team.
The fun is in the strategy as much as it is in the execution. For every block that is knocked down by an opposing team, you must toss that block into their half of the pitch, indicated by the king in the center. Wherever that block lands is now the point of which the opposing team can throw from. You can decide to either toss it closer to the back line, therefore giving your opposing team a throwing point from farther back. However, you must knock down those blocks first before you can continue to knock down the opposing team’s back line. So depending on how good your aim is at a distance, you can also choose to toss the block closer toward the center line. That gives you the advantage of having the block closer to hit, but it also means that the opposing team can throw from that block now.
The game can go back and forth for some time, with blocks being tossed between each team’s territory, before the king is in play. Once a team has successfully knocked down all of the kubbs of the opposing team, then they can try to knock down the king, located in the center. Like an eight-ball in pool, the king can only be knocked down once all kubbs from the opposing team have been knocked down, otherwise you lose the game. If the team misses the king to close the game, play continues. Many games can go the other way if a team misses the king (much like when I couldn’t clinch the win when I played against my family this weekend, and ended up losing after that).
Kubb is a fun game for all ages and official pitch playing size can be adjusted for younger children.
Fun fact: The U.S. National Kubb tournament is held in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, every year. (This year’s tournament has been canceled due to the pandemic.) The world championship is held in Sweden every year.
Kubb can be ordered from Amazon, Target and Walmart, and can also be found by area craft vendors. It’s also a fairly simple DIY project for amateur woodworkers.
For official Kubb rules, visit usakubb.org/rules.php.