It’s not far-fetched to say a game changed Markus Perria’s life.
It certainly changed his uncle’s.
Perria’s uncle, whom he’s called uncle Waynie since he was 4 years old, learned a game called Kubb when he was staying at an alcohol treatment center years ago. Kubb was introduced to the residents, and when uncle Waynie left the facility he made Kubb a substantial part of his life. Keeping his mind wrapped around the game helped keep alcohol at bay, so when his nephew, Markus, drove to Thief River Falls to join him one weekend, uncle Waynie became the teacher.
“When he came out that’s all we did all day,” Perria said. “We just played; we got hooked.”
Kubb, which is generally unknown to much of the Midwest population, became a game Perria’s uncle could fall back on. But Kubb’s therapeutic power has helped others, too, and that’s why Perria, 26, is doing everything he can to spread the word of a lawn game that involves 23 blocks of wood. To Perria and others, like uncle Waynie, it’s much more than a game. And the impact the game has had on their family goes beyond simple amusement.
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While Kubb started as just an activity for Perria and his family to play together, it’s built a strong bond among them, one they necessarily didn’t see emerging from a game.
About a half-dozen years ago Perria’s girlfriend, Tori Berge, became the foster parent of three of her cousins, all of whom were entering their early teens.
And, of course, Perria and Berge taught them Kubb.
“They hated it at first, but before we knew it they seemed to be doing better at school and with us,” Perria said. “They were able to listen better and able to see that, ‘Oh, OK, maybe now that he’s telling me what to do, this actually might work because it worked when we played the game.’ There were a lot of things like that that seemed to help. Most importantly it was just the encouragement part, seeing that there was someone who actually cared enough to show them a good time and show them how to be competitive.”
“We taught them how to play the game, and it was kind of therapeutic for them,” she said. “It got them thinking and interested and got them doing something other than fighting and arguing all the time. They thought it was weird at first but then once they started playing they liked it. And it was something nice we could do with the kids that wasn’t at the bar. It’s a nice way to get the whole family together.”
The same can be said for Perria and Berge’s adopted son, Logan. Logan, a well-spoken 10-year-old, might be the only football/wrestler/Kubb player in Faribault. He thinks that’s pretty cool.
“(Kubb) was weird at first, but as soon as Markus explained the rules I liked it; it was pretty good,” he said. “I got pretty used to it.”
His parents say Kubb has helped with Logan’s ADHD by improving his concentration, and it’s also helped with his sportsmanship.
Perria said Logan is quick to give compliments on the Kubb pitch, and already this season Perria has watched that carry over to the football field. In a game earlier this fall a player on Logan’s team missed a tackle, and Logan sprinted over to him after the play was over.
“Great job, man! You tried really hard!” he said.
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Although the exact period when Kubb, which many call “Viking chess,” originated is unclear, some believe it dates back to the Viking Age, when human skulls and femurs were used instead of the kubbs and batons used these days. It’s safe to say the game is no longer life threatening. (“I don’t kill anybody; I might gloat a bit though,” Perria jokes.)
Kubb is played with a king — the largest piece — placed in the middle of a rectangle outlined by four stakes. World Championship pitches are 5 meters by 8 meters. Five kubbs are evenly aligned on the shorter sides of the rectangle — the baseline — and teams of anywhere from one to six players stand behind the baseline and toss batons across the pitch at the opponent’s kubbs. The goal is to eventually knock down the king in the middle. It’s bowling meets horseshoes.
“It’s pretty easy and it’s fun,” Berge said. “It’s a challenge; it’s definitely a challenge.”
The U.S. National Kubb Championship was played in Eau Claire, Wis., this summer, and the Kubb World Championship is held on the island of Gotland, Sweden, every year.
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Perria, who owns about a dozen Kubb sets and plays in several tournaments, has big dreams and high hopes for the game, but he is learning first-hand how difficult it is to start trends.
For the past 11 Saturdays and counting, Perria, his girlfriend and a group of family, friends and just about anyone else who wants to join stake out a spot in the middle of Central Park. They bring snacks, sodas and lawn chairs, and they also bring Kubb.
There they set up their game between 9:30-10:30 a.m. every Saturday — rain or shine — and play under the sprawling shade of the trees above them.
Perria will soon have a large banner that reads “Faribault MN Kubb” staking their spot every Saturday, and his long-term hope is to begin a league in Faribault and have several tournaments. He welcomes anyone to come join on Saturday mornings and learn how to play the game. (You can also go to their Facebook page at Faribault MN Kubb.)
The farmers market held at Central Park on Saturdays has increased the amount of interest. (It also gives Berge a chance to buy fresh snacks for the day.) A few weeks ago Central Park held an International Festival and many of those who attended checked out the Kubb game. Some even joined in.
“Everyone was having fun and getting along and smiling,” Perria said. “That’s a big thing for me. This game can change the world someday, I’m pretty sure of it.”
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Sitting just north of the picnic table occupied by several family members and friends of Perria and Berge on Sept. 1, the Kubb pieces emerge from the fallen leaves to form a large rectangle.
Perria and Logan team up and start tossing the batons as two friends stand opposite them, carefully watching as they learn the game on the fly.
“Markus, I just combo-ed it!” shouts Logan.
As Markus and Logan explain rules and strategies to their opponents, a quick timeout is called as Neyamiah — Perria and Berge’s 2-year-old son, toting a sippy cup of chocolate milk — stumbles over to the king fixed in the middle of the pitch and kicks it over.
As the game goes on, an older man and two women walk by as they exit the farmers market. The man, trailing a few feet behind the women, has his hands in his pockets as he slowly walks and studies the foreign sport. With a perplexed look, he turns to those playing.
“What is this?” the man asks.
“Kubb,” says one of the players matter-of-factly.
“Kubb?” the man says.
Let Perria’s work begin.
Reach Sports Reporter Josh Berhow at 333-3119, or follow him on Twitter.com @joshberhow