Nordic yard game wows ’em in Eau Claire

If any of this makes sense to you, you’re probably from Eau Claire.

It’s Kubb, and it’s particularly popular in Wisconsin, perhaps because you can compete while drinking a can of beer.

It is “a game of mental skill and strategy, dating back to the Vikings,” according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which reported on last month’s U.S. National Kubb Championship, held in the city each year.

Here’s how the game works, according to the paper:

  • The game is played on a rectangular field known a pitch.
  • In the center sits the “king,” a 12-inch rectangular wooden block.
  • Ten smaller wooden blocks, about 6 inches tall, called kubbs are placed in lines on either side of the king.
  • Players use round sticks called batons, throwing them underhand to try to knock down the other team’s kubbs, which are lined up at the baseline on the other side. Opponents try to knock over the kubbs but must throw the batons underhanded and spin them end over end.
  • Kubbs that are successfully knocked down are then thrown onto the other team’s half of the pitch and stood on end.
  • Play then switches to the opposing team, which throws the batons but must first knock down any standing field kubbs. That’s called “drilling.” Any kubbs that are knocked down are thrown onto the other opposite half of the field and stood up. If either team leaves field kubbs 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 kubbs.
  • The goal is to take out opponents’ kubbs, and eventually capture the king.

Well, good, then.

No one actually keeps score. Teams just know when one has won.

Eau Claire loves the game so much, it teaches it in the city’s schools, the Journal Sentinel says.

For the championship games, teams arrived early on a Saturday morning to set up tents and canopies, spraying legs and arms with insect repellent until a mist hung in the air. Several contestants speared cupholders into the ground for beverages during play. A majority of teams, like Kubb Life from Milwaukee, wear matching shirts.

Steve Beyer of Pewaukee, Jeff Merryfield of Germantown and Alan Gardebrecht of Germantown are Kubb Life, a Milwaukee-based club. Merryfield’s brother-in-law introduced him to the game. No one has played bags since, Gardebrecht said.

This is the third year Kubb Life has entered this tournament. The fledgling club has fall and spring leagues, which have drawn as many as 22 members.

They’re trying to grow interest in the sport but have trouble explaining Kubb to prospective competitors.

“The most difficult thing is trying to tell people how to play,” Gardebrecht said.

One-hundred-twenty-eight teams from 12 states and four countries showed up at this year’s national championships. The winning team was from Des Moines and Eau Claire.