Kubb is a lawn game, featuring several “kubbar” (“kubbs”, wood blocks) stood on end and a single “kung” (king) in the center of the field, as players take turns tossing batons in attempt to topple first all the kubbs and then the king. Kubb is a fun and interesting game, and making your own set is a relatively simple undertaking. The problem comes in documenting the game’s history. Kubb apparently became popular internationally after the introduction of a commercial version introduced in the 1990s, which included a rule book stating that Kubb, allegedly also called “Viking chess”, was a game developed in Viking Age Sweden, though this claim was not supported with any scholarly references.
As I continued searching for references, I began to suspect that this “Viking chess”, like so many other “Viking fu” phenomena, had originated in the 19th or 20th century as an attempt at recreating some ancient and poorly understood game whose surviving references were too vague to provide sufficient documentation. One source, a UK vendor, points to the University of Edinburgh’s Kubb Society, who states that the game was invented by Gustav Viksrom III in the year 1613. This is a much earlier date than I suspected, though still later than the Viking Age date alleged in most commercial sources. The Kubb Society article, which has since been taken down but can still be found on the internet archive, is certainly a problematic source. First, I can find no record of any Swedish king named Gustav Viksrom III, ever in the history of Sweden. Gustav II Adolf was King in 1613, but he was known as Gustav Adolf den store in Swedish, also frequently Latinized as Gustavus Adolphus Magnus, but he was never called Viksrom or associated with the ordinal III. Next, the article alleges that the game had been played as a means of settling legal disputes, placing the conflicting parties and their families/supporters on opposing teams to play the game, after which the losing team would be ruthlessly slaughtered. Only in the most fanciful of minds has any conflict ever been resolved in such a manner!
After examining the sources available on the internet, I feel that I have come no closer to identifying the origin of Kubb. But I will continue to support this game’s inclusion in Society for Creative Anachronism events, as it is – if nothing else – a creative anachronism.