Since it first made its way from Europe to the United States, the Finnish game of Mölkky has gradually grown from a niche curiosity to one of the best-selling lawn games in the country, proving a hit with kids and adults alike.
Whether you’re fed up of playing cornhole for the millionth time and looking for something different to play at your next summer barbeque, or whether you’re just trying to find out why so many people seem to be going Molkky-mad this summer, here’s everything you need to know about how to play Molkky, this ever-popular outdoor game.
What You’ll Need
Like most yard games, the great thing about Mölkky is that you don’t need much to get started. In fact, all you need is a set of pins and something to create your throwing line.
A standard Mölkky set contains twelve wooden pins that should be of at least similar -if not identical- dimensions, as well as one larger pin known as the molkky. Each pin features a different number from 1 – 12 on its top surface.
Though it’s possible to make your own, it’s far easier to buy one online or from your local toy and game store.
The Throwing Line
In official competitions, players stand behind what’s known as the mölkkaari. This is a simple piece of equipment made from four interconnected blocks of wood which mark out the throwing area.
Again, this can be bought from the same place as your Molkky kit, but it isn’t actually necessary. You can simply create your own throwing line using anything from a piece of wood to rope, string, or even the kind of spray paints they use to mark lines on sports fields.
Setting Up Your Game
To set up your game, you first need to arrange your pins in a specific formation as outlined by the game’s rules. This formation isn’t too dissimilar to that used in bowling, with the number of pins featured in each row increasing from top to bottom. However, unlike bowling, the bottom row starts with two pins and the top row features three.
Remember we said that each pin has a number? When you’re setting up your formation, each row should always feature the same numbered pins, as follows:
Row 1: 1,2
Row 2: 3,10,4
Row 3: 5,11,12,6
Row 4: 7,9,8.
Another way to think of the formation is this:
Starting with the number 2 pin on the bottom row, all the even-numbered pins go in ascending order around the right-hand side of the formation, and all the odd-numbered pins go around the left-hand side from 1 – 7 with the remaining numbers (9-12) in the middle.
Where to Set Your Throwing Line
If you were playing in an official Mölkky competition, then your mölkkaari would be set exactly 3.5 meters (11.5 feet) from the pins, but if all you’re trying to do is have a little fun with friends at your summer BBQ, then there’s no need to waste time with exact measurements.
A distance of roughly 12 feet is good enough.
With that, it’s time to let the game begin.
At first glance, the rules can seem a little complicated, especially when compared to simple games like horseshoes that you’re already well familiar with.
Spend a little time with them, however, and those rules won’t take long to master.
Though it’s possible to enjoy a game with just two players, Molkky is often more fun if you get your friends involved and divide up in two teams.
After deciding who goes first, players from each team take turns to try and knock over the pins by throwing the main molkky pin at them. While the game is commonly played with underhand throws (like in a game of Kubb), there are no official rules with regards to throwing styles.
If you prefer to pitch the throwing pin like a baseball or launch it like a shot put, there’s nothing to stop you.
If a player knocks down one or more pins, their score is counted (more of which in a moment), and those pins are then stood back up wherever they fell. In other words, you don’t return them to their original formation. As you can imagine, this makes it more challenging the longer the game goes on.
If a player fails to knock any pins down at all after three attempts, then they’re eliminated from the game altogether. The game ends with the winner being the first person (or team) to reach exactly 50 points.
If all players are eliminated, then the last person still in the game is declared the winner.
How Scoring Works in Molkky
Here’s where things do get a little complicated.
There are two ways to score points in this game.
1. Knock down one pin.
The number written on the top of that pin is your score for that round. So, for example, if you knock down a pin that has the number ’10’ written on it, you get ten points.
2. Knock down several pins
If you topple two or more pins, then rather than adding up all the numbers written on them, you simply get one point for each pin. So, for example, you’d get two points for knocking down two pins, three points for three pins, and so on.
Remember, the aim of the game is to be the first to reach exactly 50 points. Score anything over 50, and you’re penalized by having your score knocked back down to 25.
Naturally, this all contributes to the fun and challenge of the game. Imagine, having clocked up 45 points for your team, putting all of your skills to the test to knock down just the one single Number Five pin, or the triumph of managing to knock down exactly five pins.
Or how about the heartbreak of being just one pin shy of 50 but accidentally knocking two pins over. There you were, so close to victory but now, as a result of scoring 51, you’re knocked back down to 25.
What Constitutes a Knocked-Over Pin?
The rules of Mölkky are pretty strict when it comes to what does -and doesn’t- constitute a knocked down pin.
For a pin to count towards your score, it has to have been knocked completely to the ground. If it was knocked off balance but is resting against another pin (including the throwing pin) or a natural element of your surroundings (such as a tree or plant), then that doesn’t count.
However, if you knock it and it rests against something man-made such as the bottom of a garden chair or a garden border, then that can count as a point.
Of course, if you’re only playing for fun, then you might decide not to be so strict when it comes to enforcing that rule. If that’s the case, you’ll find it better to ensure everyone agrees about what you’ll class as a fallen pin before you start playing as that could affect the scores.
Worse yet, what started as a light-hearted day of yard games could soon descend into an argument if there’s any disagreement or uncertainty.
Playing Mölkky in Rounds
Though you can, of course, play a single round in which the first person who scores 50 points is the ultimate winner, most Mölkky games are usually in a best-two-out-of-three rounds situation.
After deciding who starts the first round (usually via coin toss), the winner of that round gets to throw first in the second round, and the winner of that round will throw first in the third round.
How to Determine the Winner in the Event of a Draw
Though they may be rare, an even-draw can occur in a competitive game of Mölkky between talented players.
When it does, the first solution is for each team to total up the points they scored across the rounds, with the person or team who scores the most being declared the winner. If both teams score the exact same number of points, then a tie-breaker round known as a mölkkout is played.
In this situation, all of the even-numbered pins are laid out in the following order with the length of the length of the mölkky pin between each one.
For teams of one or two players, each player is required to throw the mölkky pin twice. For teams of two or more players, each player gets one throw each.
The same rules for scoring the game apply as in the standard game and, once all players have taken their turn, the team who scores the biggest number of points wins the game.
If things are still even after all that, then you get to experience all of the excitement and drama of sudden death.
Each person takes one more go until finally, one team scores the most points.
Frequently Asked Questions About Molkky
What Does Molkky Mean?
With its roots dating back hundreds of years to the traditional throwing game of kyykkä (basically the Finnish version of Skittles), Mölkky has been steadily growing in popularity since it was first invented by Finland-based company Lahden Paikka back in 1996.
Yet despite its ever-increasing appeal, many of the game’s fans remain confused about what it’s name actually means.
That’s because it doesn’t actually mean anything.
Unlike other European lawn games such as bocce where the name is an actual word in the country of origin (bocce means ‘bowls‘ in Italian), Molkky is a word entirely made up by its creators.
While some suggest that it is based on the word pölkky, the Finnish term for a block of wood, Molkky refers to nothing more than the game itself.
How do you say Molkky?
It’s often said that the most difficult thing about Mölkky is saying it right. It’s such a strange-looking word (especially with that weird ö in there) that you’ll hear people calling it everything from “molky” to “mulka.”
We’ve even heard people pronouncing it as “milk-eh,” though to be fair, they’re probably the closest.
The name is actually pronounced [ˈmølkːy], with the o sounding a bit like the “eu” sound in words like pseudo and the y making an “uh” sound. So, to say Mölkky correctly, you’d actually say “Meulk-kuh.”
Is Finska the same as Molkky?
For the most part, yes, the Finska game you may already be familiar with is the same as Molkky.
So why the different names?
Basically, it all comes down to branding and copyright law.
In 2016, the game’s inventors sold all of their manufacturing and intellectual property rights to a company called Tactic.
The Finnish company now owns the registered trademark on the name MÖLKKY, but other manufacturers continue to sell similar versions under various brand names such as Finska.
While the rules and scoring are the same in both games, the only noticeable difference between Finska and Molkky is in the layout of the pins. Both have a specific formation, but the latter has the pins in a different order to the former.
Final Thought: Taking Your Molkky To the Next Level
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, a large part of Molkky’s appeal is that it’s the perfect outdoor game for all ages, providing just as much fun for an afternoon of BBQ and beer with your buddies as it does for quality family time with the kids.
Still, while it might be an entertaining way to spend an afternoon, there’s no denying that the game can get pretty addictive. In fact, for many people, what starts out as a way to pass the time on those long summer days soon turns into a serious hobby, with associations and tournaments cropping up all over the world.
In America, the United States Molkky Association organizes competitions in their home state of Minnesota and across the country.
If you find yourself drawn in by the game, why not get involved with the US Molkky Association and pit your skills against the best players in the land at the next big Molkky tournament?
Better yet, you could always start your own association, tournament, or competition in your home state and help others discover exactly why Molkky is fast becoming one of the most popular outdoor games in the country.