Kubb is typically played on a rectangular pitch approximately 5 meters by 8 meters. The two shorter sides are the baselines and five kubb are evenly spaced along each baseline (there are 10 total). The king is placed in the middle of the pitch on the centerline. The area between the baselines and the centerline is called the field, and any kubb thrown in those areas are called field kubb.
The game starts when Team A throws the six throwing pins, from their baseline, at their opponent’s lined-up baseline kubb. Throws must be under-hand, and the sticks must spin end over end. Throwing sticks sideways or spinning them side-to-side is not allowed.
Kubb that are successfully knocked down are then thrown (under-handed) by Team B onto Team A’s half of the pitch (Team A’s field). Team A stands the kubb on end. These newly thrown kubb are called field kubb.
Team B then throws the pins at Team A’s kubb, but must first knock down any standing field kubb. (Field kubb that right themselves due to the momentum of the impact are considered knocked down.) Again, kubb that are knocked down are thrown back over onto the opposing team’s field and then stood.
If either team leaves field kubb standing, the kubb closest to the king now represents that side’s baseline, and throwers may step up to that line to throw at their opponent’s kubb. This rule applies to field and baseline kubb only; fallen kubb are thrown from the original baseline, as are attempts to knock over the king.
Play continues until a team is able to knock down all field and baseline kubb on their opponent’s side. If that team still has throwing pins left, they now attempt to knock over the king. If a thrower successfully topples the king, they have won the game.
It may seem like an overly simple game; all you have to do is knock over a block with a stick. But as any player can tell you, kubb is a nearly perfect combination of skill, strategy, and luck. We begged and pleaded with local players for their most closely guarded kubb strategies. We also promised (with our fingers crossed) that their secrets would be safe with us, so don’t tell anyone where you got these tips.
Composing the team
In the national championship each team needs to have at least two players, although you could play with more. However, nearly all the folks we talked agreed that a two-person team is ideal for domination in a tournament. The fewer people you have throwing the pins, the more practice each person gets, and the more easily he or she can fall into a rhythm and rely on muscle memory. It’s also a good idea to have the same person throw the kubb every turn. Each pitch is going to have its own characteristics that make the kubb bounce differently. Your neighbor’s backyard is probably going to be soft with plenty of mole tunnels and bumps, but the ground in Boyd Park is rather hard and flat, and the kubb will bounce a lot more when you’re trying to place them. Kubb also land differently in grass than in snow. If your team has one designated kubb thrower, they’ll learn the peculiarities of the pitch faster, giving you a huge advantage.
Throwing the kubb
The harder the playing surface, the more challenging it is to get kubb to stick where you throw them without bouncing all over the pitch. Anderson uses a technique he calls “drilling” the kubb. It takes practice, but it helps the kubb stick when they land. As you throw the kubb (under-handed of course), rotate your hand counter-clockwise if you’re right-handed, clockwise if you’re left-handed. This will make the kubb spiral like a football. This technique could really save your game on a hard pitch like Boyd Park.
Kubb placement in the field
By far the most strategy revolves around where you throw the field kubb. “If you can place the kubb well, it really does help,” said Manny Fernandez, who competed in last year’s tournament. “Getting them where you want to at the moment you want them is key.” Most players will tell you that you either want the field kubb close to the baseline or to the centerline, depending on what stage you’re at in the game. If you have a lot of field kubb to knock down, you generally want to throw them towards the back so if you can’t knock them all down the opposing team doesn’t get the huge advantage of standing close to the centerline to throw its pins. Avoid throwing the kubb in the middle of the field.
Even more importantly, aim the kubb so they land close together or in a line. You might be able to get two or three knocked down with the same throwing pin. Moves like this can really reverse the direction of the game.
Learn your own strategies
You’ll discover your own techniques with practice. Jessica Miller always aims to the left of where she actually wants the pin to go to compensate for an off-kilter throw. “If I look at my place and aim for it, I won’t hit it.”
Josh Miller knows only too well the fickleness of the kubb gods when he played in Duluth last year. “We had them against the rope, but a few bad throws can really change the momentum.” So don’t get cocky.
Totomi Kakegawa knows that it’s not just skill and strategy that will win a game. “There’s a lot of luck in it. I’m not too skillful, but I can still hit the kubb.” As for the strategy, she finds that it doesn’t take long to pick up enough tips to do just fine in a game.
And Fernandez had one last word of advice: “sunscreen.”