Also known as Viking Chess, Kubb is a Scandinavian yard game originating in the Gotland region of Sweden. Legend has it that it has its origins in Vikings playing the game with the skulls and thigh bones of their conquered enemies. However, it is more likely that it was played with the offcuts of firewood. After all, “kubb” means “wooden block” in the Swedish dialect of Gutnish.
If you’ve finally got your hands on a kubb set but you’re not sure how to set it up, this article is for you! We will go over exactly how to set up kubb and then provide a brief overview of the rules of the game.
Let’s get right into how to set up a kubb game, then we’ll go over the rules of kubb briefly.
Essential equipment for playing kubb:
- Ten kubbs
- Six batons
- One king
Optional but nice-to-have:
- Tape measure
- Six stakes to mark the corners and centerline
- String to mark out the field
The objective is to be the first team to knock down all of the opponent’s kubbs (and field kubbs), then topple the king and win the game!
Number Of Players
Kubb can be played with anywhere between 2 and 12 players, but always two teams.
Most people don’t have a kubb field nearby, so you’ll probably have to set up your own. Luckily, there are many kubb sets you can buy online or you can even make your own. Then all you need is a level playing surface. You can play kubb on:
- Even snow!
However, kubb is typically played on grass.
Once you have your spot, you can measure out the field area. The official kubb dimensions are 5 x 8 meters (16’ x 26’). However, for informal play, you can designate your own dimensions to suit players’ ability levels and the available space. You might start with a field of 3 x 6 meters (9’ x 19’) and go bigger once you get the hang of it.
You can also make one half of the field shorter to provide advantage if you have younger players on one team.
Whatever dimensions you decide on, stick in four stakes to mark the four corners and the two that mark the centerline. If you don’t have stakes, you can improvise with rocks or bricks.
If you want to make all the boundary lines clear, you can do so with string. Tie a loop at the end of your string and attach it to a corner stake. Then wind the string around each of the corner stakes to make a rectangular pitch, ending back at the first stake. However, do not use string to mark the centerline as this will get in the way of the king – keep this as an imaginary line.
Next, set up all your kubbs. Line up five kubbs on either end of the field, just outside the boundary line. Make sure the kubbs are laid out evenly and that they are at least one baton length from the corner stakes. These are called baseline kubbs.
Lastly, place the king in the center of the field. Now you are ready to play!
You can find more detailed kubb rules here, but for now we will just go over the basics.
First, a player from each team tosses a baton toward the king. The team who lands the baton closest to the king may throw first. However, if it knocks the king over, the opposing team throws first.
Now play can commence! Each turn consists of three stages:
The Baton Toss Stage
Team A begins by dividing up their batons between players. Players take turns to throw their batons, trying to knock down each baseline kubb belonging to team B.
The baseline is also the throwing line, so players must stand behind it when they throw their batons. Batons must be thrown underhand so that they rotate end-over-end – “helicopter” throws are not allowed.
The Kubb Tossing Stage
In this stage, team B picks up all their baseline kubbs that have been knocked over and throws them onto the opposite half of the field. If a kubb does not land within the other team’s side, the player can throw one more time. But if they fail again, the other team may place the kubb anywhere they like on their side as long as it is at least one baton length from the king and the stakes.
The Kubb Setting Stage
Once team B has tossed each toppled baseline kubb, team A must stand them up, keeping one edge on the ground and using it like a hinge.
These are now called field kubbs. When team B moves to the baton toss stage, they must knock over all the field kubbs before they can attack the opponent’s baseline kubbs.
Winning The Game
If a team knocks over all the field and baseline kubbs, they may go for the king and if they are successful, the team wins!
Be careful! If the king is knocked over and there are any baseline or field kubbs standing, the offending team automatically loses.
The Game Variants
As well as the basic kubb rules, there are a few interesting variants that are popular in regional tournaments.
2 4 6 Opening
In this variation, the first team must throw only two sticks at first, the second team must throw four, then it moves onto six for the rest of the game. This rule was introduced in order to minimize the advantage of playing first.
4 6 Opening
Similar to the 2 4 6 opening, here the opening team throws four sticks while the second team can throw all six.
The Sure Shot
This variation levels the playing field a little when it’s time to go for the king. Players aiming for the king must stand with their back toward him and throw between their legs.
Differing Field Dimensions
We mentioned that the pitch can be made smaller if you’re playing with younger children, but kubb can be played on pitches of many different sizes. A popular tournament size is 26’ x 33’ (7.9 x 10 m).
Double Knockdown Elimination
One way to make a kubb game go more quickly is to use the double knockdown elimination rule. This means that if a field kubb is knocked down once by both teams, it is eliminated from the pitch.
This rule states that a team may only attempt to knock down the king once per turn. If a player from team A misses the king, play moves to team B.
Tower Of Kubbs
According to this rule, if a player knocks down a standing field kubb during the kubb tossing stage, the kubbs are placed on top of each other. Each additional kubb which knocks down a field kubb tower is added to it.
Frequently Asked Questions
The best wood to use to make a kubb set is poplar. Other good options are pine, cedar or fir. Essentially, what you want for a game of kubb is a hardwood. If your wood is too soft, the resulting kubbs will be too light and easily damaged. You want a wood that is very hard and strong, but not too heavy.
You can play kubb on concrete if that is the only level surface available. A concrete playing surface is likely to damage the kubbs and batons slightly when they are thrown. However, there are no rules against it and you might accept a little damage if the only other option is not playing kubb!
A kubb field is 16’ x 26’ (4.8 x 7.9 m). These are the regulation dimensions according to the official rules of kubb. However, if you’re playing a casual game, you can make the pitch smaller if you’re playing with beginners or larger if you want it to be more difficult.
Now you know how to set up kubb! Once you have your own kubb set, you can play the game anywhere you can find a playing surface. While the rules seem complicated at first, once you’ve played a few games you will get the hang of it – and you’ll probably even be considering your strategy!