5 Classic Lawn Games...Plus A Few New Ones Worth Playing

Jul 22, 2015

Tug of War, Capture the Flag, Croquet ... for many, these games are childhood staples: hours of outdoor fun until the fireflies come out and it's time for bed. We talked to Paul Tukey, co-author of the book "Tag, Toss, And Run: 40 Classic Lawn Games" about some of the classics and up-and-coming games. We compiled some random facts about five of our favorite games -- and links to rules, so you can play them!

We've also got a survey at the end of the post, tell us your favorite lawn game.

You can also hear our conversations with Paul Tukey​ and Elin Johannson​, Swedish native and resident Kubb expert. 

Credit Mark Kent via Flickr CC / flic.kr/p/dE5Nig
The Classics

1) Charles II of England played lots of the French version of Croquet -- paille-maille -- enough, in fact, that places were named for it. According to Tag, Toss and Run, he "played it so often in St. James's Park, London, that a nearby road, popular for walking, became known as Pall Mall. A 'mall' came to mean an urban area pleasant for walking, and now the meaning extends to shopping malls around the world."

2) Tug of War was an official Olympic sport from 1900 to 1920.

3) Capture The Flag plays off the symbolic ideals of staking a flag and claiming your territory, as well as forcibly removing your opponent's flag. As fun as it may be today, this game probably originated during the Civil War, when the Union and Confederate armies would mark their territories with flags -- and subsequently capture (and occasionally shred) the opposing army's flag.

Quite a few games are somehow based off of conflict, war, or military activity: Capture The Flag and Tug Of War, for example.

I do think that that's just something that people do like to talk about. Unfortunately, war is part of our collective history, our collective culture, and children like to play it out in an innocent way in their backyard. And that's why there is that imaginary connection to a lot of these games.

4) Bocce is the oldest game known on the planet. It was found in the Egyptian Tombs, and is estimated to be between 5 and 10 thousand years old, although it may be older than that. And as Paul told us, "Bocce is universal. Every culture plays bocce."

5) Like many lawn games, British Bulldogs (also known as Hill Dill, Seaweed, and Sharks and Minnows to name just a few) has its origins in war. Tug, Toss, and Run explains that "'Hill Dill' was originally derived from 'taking the hill,' a common battle reference, and from the Dutch chase game of Pekel, which translates as 'pickle.' Dill pickles were extremely popular with early American settlers as a food that could be consumed year-round!"

And while classic lawn games are always in style, there are some pretty great up-and-coming lawn games as well. 

Lawn Games Launching a Comeback
Credit Tobias Carroll via Flickr CC / flic.kr/p/4HLCMX

 Kubb is becoming increasingly popular, especially on college campuses. One University of Wisconsin student, Carl Schroedl received a Kubb set from a cousin in Sweden -- and is the instigator of what he called a "kubbolution." The point of the game is to knock down your opponent's Kubbs and then the central pin. There are two popular legends about the game: the first is that it dates back to the Vikings, who made their  Kubb pieces out of the bones of their victims; the second is that it originated with medieval Swedish woodsmen, who made the game for thier children. 

Mölkky is another game that involves hitting sticks with other sticks. Like lawn bowling, you must toss your throwing skittle (underhand) and knock down the pins. But the pins are numbered, and the scoring is what makes the game really interesting. Knock down one pin; receive the number of points painted on the pin. Knock down more than one? Receive one point for each pin knocked down. 

How about two lawn games you may not have heard of? Well, we thought of two weird but wildly fun ones.

The Obscure List
Credit Tom Simpson via Flickr CC / https://flic.kr/p/r77jbd

Calvinball. If you're familiar with the comic Calvin and Hobbes, you've likely come across Calvinball -- perhaps you've even played it. The only rule? That you can't play it the same way twice. 

Featherbowling. The basic point of this game is to land the balls closest to the feather that stands in the middle of the lane. This game is only played in one place in the U.S., though perhaps we can revive it.

So what's your favorite lawn game? Take our survey!