If you’ve seen Mölkky tournaments listed at summer festivals, the key is to think bowling with Scandinavian ties.

While hosting tournaments since 2014, Clint Childers and Coleman Rydie of Nimrod formed the U.S. Mölkky Association to encourage people to play the game. The International Mölkky Organisation recognizes the association as the U.S. governance including meeting participation and voting rights.

The game itself is Finnish with similarties to Kyykkä, Kubb and Pétanque, which are different European outdoor games. In the United States, a tournament for the Swedish game Kubb is played in Eau Claire, Wis. and in Europe Mölkky has quickly become the No. 1 bestselling outdoor game.

“I think the biggest deterrent on it is the word Mölkky. You throw a word out there that nobody’s heard before or seen before so they don’t really understand, so we’ve marketed it as viking bowling,” Childers said. “We’ve always told everybody you play one time and you’ll get the game. It’s really easy at that point.”

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There are 12 pins that players throw a stick at to knock down instead of rolling a bowling ball. You don’t always want to get the most number of pins down like in bowling, though, because you are aiming for a score of 50 points. If you go over 50 points, then your score drops down to 25 and additional rounds are required.

While standing about 12 feet away, players are awarded points based on either the number of pins they hit, such as three pins for three points, or the number on top of the one pin they knocked down. For example, if the 12 pin is the only one knocked down then the player receives 12 points. After each throw the pins are set back up based on where they fell.

“Eventually the game, it spreads out quite a bit, which is advantageous because what you’re trying to do is get to the exact score of 50 points,” Childers said.

Ryan Johnson, left, and Caleb Ament, right, set up the pins for the next round at the Sebeka Mölkky tournament July 31, 2021.
Rebecca Mitchell / Pioneer Journal
Ryan Johnson, left, and Caleb Ament, right, set up the pins for the next round at the Sebeka Mölkky tournament July 31, 2021. Rebecca Mitchell / Pioneer Journal

The Mölkky pins are made of birch wood from northern Finland.
Rebecca Mitchell / Pioneer Journal
The Mölkky pins are made of birch wood from northern Finland. Rebecca Mitchell / Pioneer Journal

It’s also important to hit pins almost every time because if you get three strikes you automatically receive zero points for the round. Both children and seniors can’t receive strikes, though, to encourage more people to play the game, as Childers said. This rule and the settings around the line players stand behind are different than in Europe, which would be an adjustment if any of the players went to the Paris Open or the world tournament. Mölkky is popular in France, Estonia, Japan and Turkey.

With teams of two versus two, Childers said defensive moves can be helpful like using other pins to block a specific pin or getting it moved far away when your opponent needs the points.

“We’ve had people play for the first time and win a tournament just because it’s got that opportunity where, yeah, you might not be as skilled in the game but there’s always that chance where something opens up or something gives you a unique out to win that game,” Childers said.

The tournaments are round robin events that break off into brackets if there are enough teams. Childers said the event interest has gone well with tournaments in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan. There are also non-official tournaments in other states. Childers and Rydie have also connected with Finnish societies in the Duluth area, the Salolampi Finnish Language Village in Bemidji and started Finn Fest in Frederick, S.D.

Interested in playing?

The U.S. 2v2 Mölkky Championship started in 2015 with different years in Decorah, Iowa and Nimrod. Decorah hosts the Nordic Fest yearly as a celebration of Scandinavian culture and many Nimrod community members have Finnish heritage.

The next tournament is at Nimrod’s Jubilee Days over Labor Day weekend. The tournament is by the main stage on Sept. 5 at 1 p.m. Each team of two can enter for $10. You can register for the tournament by emailing usmolkky@gmail.com, messaging the U.S. Mölkky Association Facebook page or signing up at the event. The prizes include a payout with additional money from the Nimrod Boosters, trophies for first and second place and medals.

People from 8 to 80 years old are invited to play. There will also be a tutorial before the tournament.