How to play Swedish Kubb or Viking Chess

Kubb is a great lawn game that hails from Sweden. It’s easy to set up and start playing in your yard or garden, and you can play with just two players or plenty more, in teams. It’s perfect for picnics, wedding lawn games, team building games and birthday parties and can be played by most ages. In this post we’ll talk you through deciding who can play, the equipment you need, and do an illustrated run through an example game.

What ages can play Kubb?

Kubb is pretty much all ages and we’ve played some great 3 generation family games. I’d probably put a lower age limit on Kubb at around 6 or 7 – younger than that and you might have some heavy wooden blocks flying at someone’s head (and heads that are closer to the ground), but you know your own kids!

When it comes to older players who might enjoy a game of Kubb at their birthday party, there is no running around or leaping about, but there is a little bending down to pick up clubs at the start of each turn. It’s less strenuous than a game of bowls, boules or botch, which is so popular with the elderly folk around the world. So I’d say: encourage Grandma and Gramps to have a go, and possibly provide a chair on the sidelines for when it is the other team’s turn, so they don’t have to stand about too long if they don’t want to. Then treat them like the grown ups they are and leave them to it.

How easy is it to play Kubb?

While Kubb looks as easy as bowling or skittles, there is a surprising amount of both skill and luck involved, which is what makes any game super fun to play. I first learnt to play it on a visit to my cousins in Sweden (hej där Sverige!) and I’m pleased to say the South African contingent were able to hold their own! It’s no fun to play a game that only involves skill, or that sports jock guy or tennis champ girl is just going to wipe the floor with you. A bit of luck makes things more entertaining.

What equipment do you need to play Kubb?

Like croquet, this game does involve some layout if you want to get started. You need a nice wooden Kubb set, and then you are all set to go. Once you have got your hands on a set, it is one of those games you can play pretty much anywhere where there is a nice stretch of relatively flat lawn or even sand.

Kubb sets are made of wood and are not too difficult to make for yourself if you have the skill and tools. You can find various how-tos on the interwebs, or if you are in a country lucky enough to have direct access to good old Ikea… head online and you’ll probably be able to find a set. Various peeps make Kubb sets for sale like this one on Etsy as well as people get to know what it is. If you just want to use one to try it out or for a wedding, birthday party or team building event, then you can also hire one.

A set consists of:

  • 10 knights (rectangular blocks)
  • 6 clubs (cylindrical batons)
  • 1 king (like a knight, but with a crown on top)
  • Wooden stakes, or other markers, to peg out the corners of the field and measuring string (optional)

Setting up a Kubb game

Once you have a nice Kubb set, you can head outside and set up a game. The field needs to be roughly 5m wide and 10m long. You can measure this out with special stakes and string provided in the Kubb set, or if there aren’t any, pace it out and put a pebble or something to mark the four corners.

Each team lines it’s 6 knights up along their baseline (the short edges of the 5 x 10 rectangle you have just marked out). They should be more or less evenly spaced.

How to play a game of Kubb

The aim of the game is to knock over ALL of the knights in the other team’s half of the playing field, and the king, in one turn.

IMPORTANT: Avoid hitting the king until the right time. He’s like the king in chess or the black ball in snooker. Hitting the king ends the game immediately, so if you hit him by mistake in the middle of your turn, the game ends, no one wins, and you have to start over.

TEAM ONE, first turn:

Team one attack!

Team 1 stand on the baseline behind their knights, and throw all 6 of their clubs at the knights on the other team’s baseline. The team can decide how many clubs each team member is going to throw, but they must throw all six.

You have to throw underarm and straight. No sweeping the club around your body like a frisbee or baseball bat, and no overhand or overhead throws allowed. Think of your classic bowling alley roll movement and it’s something like that. This ups the challenge level, because… well, you’ll see… and scream… the club will turn over and over and sometimes cartwheel right over that knight you were just inches away from hitting! It also stops any overly exciting clubbing of the opposite team, which is important, even if the word ‘viking’ sounds like an invitation to do battle.

Important safety note: the other team should stand away from their baseline to avoid being in the line of fire!

So in the illustration example, team one threw all 6 clubs, and hit knights 2, 4 and 5. Only 2 and 5 fell over, so 4 sadly does not count.

At the end of their turn, team one can take the fallen knights (2 and 5) over to their side of the field. They can place them wherever they like. They can be nasty and put it just behind the king, but it must be at least one club length away.

TEAM 2, turn 1

The start of team 2’s turn.

Team 2 in this example now have 7 targets and only 6 clubs, so you can see the game is getting more complex. They can stand and throw from the baseline, OR from wherever a club has fallen on the field.

If a club has fallen outside of the field, then they have to go back to the baseline with it (so if someone in team one had a really bad bounce and the club landed on their own side, team 2 could not throw from the other side of the king).

Team members take turns to hit as many of the knights on the other side as they can, until they have thrown all 6 clubs.

In the example below, team 2 are annoyingly good and knock over one knight for each of their 6 club throws. Sadly, they are still not allowed a go at the king to win the game, because knight 2 is still standing when they run out of clubs.

Strategically, putting a knight right behind the king should make life hard for the other team, but in this example the one club fell just the other side of the king. This means team 2 can stand right there and just pick off knight 5 behind the king, without much danger of accidentally knocking him over.

Team 2 are annoyingly good, but can’t win in one turn. Ha!.

Team 2 then take any fallen knights over to their side of the field, and position them in a way to make the other team’s life as difficult as possible for their turn.

TEAM 1, second turn:

Team one now have another go. There are more targets to hit, but two clubs can be thrown from a bit closer, and the knights might be close enough together for a lucky double hit.

Team 2 have moved all the fallen knights from their turn over to their side of the field. Team one have their work out for them!

THE GAME CONTINUES UNTIL…

The game continues until one team have only 5 or fewer knights to knock down on the other side, and one club left to get the king. If they hit all the knights in the other team’s half of the field, and the king at the end of their turn, they win!

If they miss the king, or have hit all the knights on the other side, but don’t have a club left to hit the king with, the other team still have a chance to turn things around. It can get pretty tense, I tell you!

final rule: The king has to be hit and knocked over with a club thrown from the baseline. This is the one time you can’t throw a club from wherever it landed on the last team’s turn.

How long does a Kubb game last?

How long is a piece of string? So much depends on the skill of the players, and factors like invisible unevenness in the grass that can make the clubs bounce sideways. It is impossible to say for sure. Games can last for 5- 10 minutes, with super skilled players on one team only, but that’s rare. On the other hand, games don’t tend to go on so long that you miss your dinner.

Kubb is a great game to play at a wedding while the bridal couple are off having their photo session, or at a picnic or birthday party, because you can play several quick rounds and keep mixing up the teams, or play a championship league of teams, tallying up scores on a chalk board, and go for the best of 3 or best of 5 games. Sometimes you have one epic, longer game.

As with any great game, no two games are alike, and you never know when grandma will get her eye in and her elbows warmed up and give you a surprise run for your money (I speak from hard experience here)! Best of all, people with experience are not necessarily at such an advantage that it makes much difference. The average Jo with no special sporting ability stands a good chance of winning too if they get their game on, while the sporty types will find it just challenging enough to be fun for them too! Win win!

We hope you find this useful and clear. If you have any questions, or more information about Kubb, please let us know in the comments! If you’re keen to have a go before making or buying yourself a set, give Simply Sparkles a call and hire one!

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