They are games with unusual names such as Kubb and Mölkky, and they originated in various parts of the world. And you can have fun playing them on your lawn as an alternative to the more familiar games of badminton, croquet, horseshoes and boccie.
These games also can serve as unusual gifts. And for people handy with woodworking, some of the game pieces can be crafted at home. (Do-it-yourself instructions for many of the games listed below can be found by typing the name of the game and the phrase “make your own” into a search engine.)
Six wonderful lawn games that you may not have heard of…
Kubb (pronounced “koob”) is an ancient Swedish game sometimes called “Viking chess.” Unlike actual chess, it’s played on a lawn or a beach, not on a small board.
Ten rectangular wooden blocks, known as kubb, are placed upright, five on each opposing side of a rectangular playing area measuring approximately 16 feet wide by 26 feet long. A slightly larger wooden kung, or king, is placed upright in the center.
On each side, two players position themselves behind a row of kubb and take turns trying to knock over the blocks on the other side by tossing six wooden casting pins, or kastpinnar (pronounced “cast-pin-yor”), at them. When a kubb is knocked down, a player closest to the fallen kubb tosses it onto the other side of the field, where it’s placed upright in its landing spot. This player must then knock down that kubb before attempting to knock down more of the regular kubb targets.
When one team has knocked over all the kubb on the opponents’ side of the field, they can try to win the game by knocking over the king. Knocking over the king too soon is an automatic loss.
Kubb is somewhat known in Wisconsin and Minnesota but is only now starting to appear elsewhere in the US. Visit USAKubb.org/rules for additional details. Old Time Games (OldTimeGames.com) sells a hardwood Kubb set made to world championship standards for $79.99 plus $15 shipping. There are lower-priced sets on other sites.
Mölkky (pronounced “Mole-kuh”) is a Finnish game in which bowling meets billiards. A dozen skittles—numbered one to 12—are placed upright in a cluster. Skittles are wooden dowels six-to-eight-inches long and two-to-three-inches wide with angled tops. Players take turns tossing a foot-long dowel at these skittles from about 12 feet away. They earn one point per skittle knocked down—unless only one skittle is knocked down on a toss, in which case they earn the number that is printed on that skittle.
Knocked-over skittles are righted after each throw in the spot where they fell, not in their original location, so the cluster soon spreads out. Three consecutive nonscoring throws knock a player out of the game. You need to score exactly 50 points to win—go over 50, and your score resets back to 25. Visit Molkky.com for additional details.
Quoits (pronouned “koits” or “kwoits”) is an ancient ring-toss game similar to horseshoes, except players throw metal O’s instead of U’s. That difference in shape changes the strategy significantly. Ringers—getting the ring around the target stake—are rare in quoits, so there’s greater emphasis on playing defense by blocking or knocking away opponents’ quoits. Originally used as weapons of war, quoits showed up in the form of a discus throw at the Olympic Games in ancient Greece around 200 BC.
Quoits is a better choice than horseshoes for small lawns because the three-to-four-pound rings generally are thrown from just 21 feet away in the traditional American version of the game, versus 40 feet for horseshoes.
Players typically earn three points for a ringer, two for a quoit that’s touching the stake and one for having the closest quoit. The first to reach 21 points wins. (You might encounter slightly different quoits rules and equipment in parts of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, England and Scotland.)
You can purchase a quoit set that comes with four quoits and two stakes at QuoitsDirect.com. The sets range from $50 to $143. The site offers sets of regulation four-pound quoits, three-pound quoits or rubber quoits.
Ladder golf, sometimes called ladder toss or ladder ball, actually isn’t much like golf. Players take turns tossing bolas—pairs of golf balls connected by a short rope—at a ladder (three horizontal poles positioned above one another like rungs) from five paces away. Points are earned for getting bolas to hang from this ladder—three points for the top rung, two for the middle and one for the lowest. The first player to reach exactly 21 wins.
Well-made sets are available from Ladder Golf, Inc. (LadderGolf.com) for $69.95. Shipping rates vary by location.
Cornhole, a beanbag toss game, is becoming popular among parking lot tailgaters because it can be played safely in relatively crowded areas.
Two wood boards measuring 24 x 48 inches are positioned 27 feet apart. There’s a six-inch-diameter hole cut into each of these boards nine inches from the top. Legs elevate the back of each board one foot off the ground. The front of each board is elevated just three to four inches so that the board is angled at around 20 degrees.
Players (or teams) stand next to one board and try to toss beanbags through the hole of the other. They earn one point for each beanbag that ends up on the wood surface, three for any that go through the hole.
“Cancellation” scoring is sometimes used, meaning that after each round, the player or team with the most points subtracts the opponent’s score and earns the resulting number of points. The first to reach 21 wins. Visit the site of the American Cornhole Organization to learn more (AmericanCornhole.com).
Well-made sets are available through the American Cornhole Organization, but prices tend to be $150 or more per board, including eight beanbags, and shipping can be expensive. Local toy stores and sporting-goods stores are increasingly likely to offer cornhole sets at more reasonable prices.
Cherokee marbles, an ancient Native American game originating in what is now Oklahoma, is somewhat comparable to golf or croquet, only without most of the equipment.
A five-hole “course” that is similar to a golf course is laid out on a lawn or gravel road. Traditionally, this course forms an L shape, so it might start in a side yard, then cross a front yard.
The holes need not be as deep as those on a golf course and can be dug with a bulb planter. Set the plug of turf aside so that it can be reinserted without damage to the lawn when the game is over.
Each player tries to roll a ball the approximate size of a billiard ball into each hole of the course in order, alternating turns with his opponents as in croquet.
Also like croquet, players then turn around and roll the ball into the holes in the reverse order. Whoever gets back to the first hole wins. After the second hole, players can earn an additional roll by hitting an opponent’s ball with theirs—with the added advantage of sending the opponent’s ball off into the distance. (No more than two opponent-ball hits per player per hole.)
Polished stone balls are what the Cherokees traditionally used, but these typically are found only in Oklahoma museums these days. I don’t know of any merchants selling these balls. Billiard, lacrosse or field hockey balls, available in any sporting-goods store, work well in their place.