The magical “Viking” game of Kubb

Jake Grant, of the St. Marys Swedish Kubb League, makes a toss in a recent game.
Jake Grant, of the St. Marys Swedish Kubb League, makes a toss in a recent game.

By Spencer Seymour

Kubb is a game that has started to gain worldwide popularity, hosting tournaments all over the world, and even inspiring a new league in St. Marys called the St. Marys Swedish Kubb League.

Eau Claire, Wisconsin has declared itself the Kubb Capital of North America and every year hosts the U.S. Championship. There is even a Kubb World Championship held every year in Gotland, Sweden.

But what is Kubb? To begin with, the proper pronunciation is “Koob.” Now that you know how to pronounce it, let’s move on to what the heck this sport actually is. Kubb is often thought of as a hybrid sport between bowling and horseshoes made up of teams of anywhere from one to six players.

While it has never been proven, many claim that the game of Kubb traces back to the Viking Age, when it is said to have been played using felled enemies’ skulls and femurs – explaining how it gained the nickname, “The Viking Game.” Today wood blocks and batons are acceptable equipment. The area where the game has thrived most is the Swedish island of Gotland, where records show Kubb-like games being played as early as 1911.

Gotland first held a World Championship for the game in 1995, and it has been held there annually ever since. There are also now Kubb tournaments held across Europe and North America.

As in most sports, there are certain aspects of Kubb that differ depending on the country or region, however the primary objective of the game is to, when it is your turn, knock over all of the opposing team’s kubbs (wooden blocks) with six wooden batons. When those six blocks, also called “Knights” are knocked over, a player wins the game by knocking over the “King,” a larger wooden block at the centre of the playing field. Kubb requires about as much space as horseshoes, making it an ideal backyard game for barbecues and other outdoor gatherings.

The kubbs or “Knights” are lined up along a baseline, an equal distance apart from each other. The “King” is placed in the middle of the pitch. When a team knocks over an opponent’s “base” kubb, the opponent throws the knocked over block into the throwing team’s half of the field. Wherever it lands, it is stood up in that spot, and it becomes a new “field” kubb for the team who knocked it over.

When it is their turn to throw, a team cannot knock over any “base” kubbs until all the “field” kubbs have been knocked over. So, strategically, if you have more than one of your kubbs knocked over, you will want to throw them back over as close as possible to each other, so it is easier for you to knock them down with your batons. But, beware, if you can’t knock over all the “field” kubbs when it is your turn, your opponent’s new baseline to throw from becomes the closest field kubb to the king. On their turn, they can advance to that spot and throw their batons from there. Batons must be thrown underhand, end-over-end – no side arm “helicoptering” allowed.

If a kubb is thrown back and goes out of bounds, then the opponent who received the kubb can place it anywhere they choose, provided it is at least a baton’s length from the king. If, on later turns, you are able to strike a field kubb with another kubb you’re throwing over, your opponent must stack those kubbs on top of one another, which should make it a little easier for you to knock them over on subsequent throws. Field kubbs must be thrown over from behind the baseline, and attempts to knock over the king must also be done from behind the baseline.

Teams cannot knock over the king until all of the base kubbs and field kubbs are knocked over, or they will immediately lose the game – like sinking the 8 Ball too early in billiards. Teams must knock over all of the field kubbs, base kubbs and the king in the same turn.

It is a game that few people know and even less have actually played. However, as it gains popularity, you may not only start to see it grow in Canada, but you might even start seeing some Kubb games being played right in your neighbourhood.

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