During a Scandinavian summer there’s a chance you’ll stumble across a family or a group of friends throwing wooden blocks at each other in open parkland. At least, that’s what it looks like at first.
You’re actually watching a game of Kubb, colloquially known in the US as Viking Chess.
Although it’s a game claimed to have viking roots, I can’t find a great deal of evidence of this, other than it seems to have originated in Sweden, albeit only 100 years ago. According to Wikipedia, the first commercial kubb sets were manufactured as recently as the 1990s. Anyway, its origins aren’t important. In this connected age of mobile apps and digital everything, the game using nothing more than wooden blocks is surprisingly addictive.
Gerry first introduced me to kubb a few years ago and up until recently it had been a long time since I’d played. Our Catalonian friends Adela, Jordi and Jaume were back in Trondheim and suggested a game after a catch-up dinner. We didn’t need asking twice!
Kubb is best played on a nice flat surface, something not all that common in the hilly suburbs of Trondheim. But you know, playing on a slight incline with long grass adds a certain something to the game!
How to play kubb
Kubb reminds me a bit of Monopoly in that it’s a game that you can either just play, or learn the rules and play properly. Either way it doesn’t really matter, you’ll still have fun. And it will bring out the competitive side in you, I guarantee it!
Here is our version.
Split into two teams. Mark out a rectangular pitch using wooden markers, with the longest sides as the sidelines. Place the largest block (“the King”) at the very centre of the pitch. Each time lines up five kubbs (rectangular wooden blocks) along their own base-line. You’re all set!
The first team throws the six batons from their baseline, with the aim of knocking over the other team’s kubbs (but not the King!)
Any kubbs that are knocked down are then thrown by the second team into the first team’s half, and stood upright. They then become targets for the second team’s six batons, before they get the chance to knock down any of the kubbs on the first team’s baseline. If successful, the second team can then return the kubb(s) to their own baseline, and attempt to knock down any of the kubbs on the first team’s baseline with any remaining batons.
And so it continues…
Once a team has knocked over all the opposing team’s kubbs, they take aim at the King. Knock down the King and you win the game. See? Simples!
Kubb around the world
Although it’s a game mostly played for enjoyment (for me it evokes memories of garden games back in England like horseshoes and Quoits), kubb is also played competitively. Every year kubbers (I’m guessing!?) gather in Gotland, Sweden for the World Championships and in Eau Claire, Wisconsin for the US championship.
I’m told, although I’ve never seen it, that some people (probably Swedes) play the game on ice. Sounds dangerous, but the fun kind of dangerous. Stand by for a winter kubb post!
Before I sign off, you’re probably wondering about the result.
Catalonia 2 Norway International 0 🙁