Summertime is the season for outdoor activities—cookouts, picnics, camping and games. But instead of hauling out the badminton net or the croquet set, why not try something new this year? There are dozens of “backyard” games played around the world that are fun, easy to learn, and can be played by people of almost any athletic ability. Here are five alternatives to having the kids whack each other with croquet mallets after a match gets out of hand.
Despite its reputation in many parts as a game played by old people and snobs, bocce is actually quite a fun game, and is great for the more competitive types. Though it’s traditionally played on a large, flat court (27.5 m/90 ft long and 4 m/13 ft wide), the game can easily be scaled down to fit within a smaller backyard, and the natural imperfections of the grass make it a fun (if a bit unpredictable) game to play at a cookout.
The goal of bocce is to land your team’s balls closest to a small target, whose location changes each round. While the official bocce rules are complex and long, and have provisions for nearly every situation, the basis of the game is simple. Two teams of 2 to 4 people assemble on opposite ends of a designated court, a small target ball (the “petanque” or “pallino”) is thrown over the halfway-point of the court by one team. Then, the bocce balls are tossed underhand, from the ends of the court, in attempt to get the closest to the petanque. Knocking other competitors’ balls out of the way is allowed—but in my own experience, when I’ve tried to do that, I’ve ended up giving the other team the win by knocking them closer to the target!
Pronounced like “tube,” kubb has been gaining immense popularity in the Midwestern U.S. lately, and has long been played in the countries of Scandinavia. Its success has even led to a Kubb Kickstarter project blowing its funding goal out of the water! Known as “Viking Chess” and developed in Gotland, Sweden, kubb is best described as “a cross between bowling and horseshoes,” according to the Des Moines Kubb Club.
Kubb is played by two teams, on a rectangular field, with five pawns (“kubbs”) at the baselines on both ends, and a king in the center. The object of the game is to toss batons in an underhanded style (no “helicopter” throws) to knock over the opponents’ kubbs, and then, only after all the kubbs are knocked over, to topple the king in the center. If you knock over the king before the kubbs are toppled, you automatically lose! Considering that there are only six batons thrown each turn, and each team has five kubbs, it often takes strategy, luck, and a good aim in order to win.
3. Royal Quoits
If you’re a fan of horseshoes, or want to set up a safer and easier horseshoe-like game for the younger crowd, royal quoits is the way to go. Played with rope hoops and a set of five stakes with different point values, there are many variations on the game. The easiest version is often to simply set up the quoits set with a baseline to toss from, and have the players toss one ring per turn, and try to get above a pre-determined score. Since the stakes have different values, older players can have a bit of strategy involved, and since there’s more than one stake, the younger players have a much better chance of scoring – not to mention the chance to practice a bit of addition when it comes to their point values!
KanJam is a relative newcomer to the land of backyard sports, but is a worthy contender for your time. Developed by two guys throwing Frisbees into old metal garbage cans in the mid-1990s, the game has since been refined, mass-produced, and played at parties, campgrounds, and cookouts throughout the world.
Played in teams of two, with two “goal” cans situated 50 feet apart,the object of the game is to get the Frisbees inside the portable can, either on your own, or by having your partner (situated behind the can) deflect towards the goal. No catching of the Frisbee by the partner is allowed, but they can deflect it in whatever manner they see fit. Most games are played to either 10 or 21 points. One point is awarded for discs deflected by the partner that hit the goal can, two points are awarded for getting the disc into the can on your own, and three points are awarded for having your partner deflect the disc into the can. If you trust your throw more than your partner, there’s an “instant win” slot on the front of the bin – the Golden Snitch of KanJam.
5. Ladder Golf
This game is also called “hillbilly golf,” “Flingy-Pongy,” and at least a half dozen other names. Apocryphal origin stories tend to involve cowboys, dead snakes, and boredom while fixing fences, but the game seems to have been played in the Mississippi Basin longer than anywhere else. Origin aside, this backyard game has been gaining popularity at tailgating parties and picnics across the US, and is a simple enough setup that you can even make your own set at home.
Using one or two goal ladders, teams toss short bolas (string with weighted ends), and points are scored if your bola wraps around a ladder rung. Three points are awarded for the top rung, two points for the center, and one point for the bottom—scoring is done at the end of a round, so knocking an opponent’s bola off the ladder is fair game. An average tailgate game is played to an exact score of 21—if you score over 21, the number of points you would have scored is deducted from what you had at the beginning of the round!
This post originally appeared last year.