Mölkky gains ground at home and abroad.

Consider it a Finnish answer to pétanque. It’s gentlemanly, relaxed and can be played by anyone, almost anywhere. It can be played in teams or with just two players. But like any good game; it is also deceptively challenging.

Mölkky is based around a fairly simple principle: a dozen, numbered sticks are placed in a cluster, and each player attempts to knock them down by tossing another stick, called the mölkky (pin), at them. The combined numbers on the sticks knocked over are then tallied for each player. The sticks are then set upright again in the position where it landed, and the players take aim again. As the sticks scatter further out the game gets harder, especially as a player must score exactly 50 points to win.

“I started playing around five years ago,” Tony Vuori, club secretary of the Helsinki Mölkky Club explains. “We were at a barbeque, and a friend told me he had got a new game. The kids came along and we all had fun with it. I thought it was great and started telling other friends about it. The logical next step was to set up a local club.”

Interestingly enough, not all of the local players are Finns. Ollie Good hails from Brittany in France, and was introduced to the game by some German guys he met when they couch surfed through his place en route to the world champs in Lahti. Amazingly enough, his first ever game took place at that same world championships.

There are around 500-1000 regular players in Finland, scattered across 11 local organisations, the biggest of which is in Lahti. “The game is actually bigger in France,” Good explains. “They have maybe 20 clubs there now, and a lot of players.”

Although the game has ancient roots in Karelia, as recently as 1998 there were no written rules or club structure. No one is too sure how widespread the game is, but Vuori and Good list some 11 countries they know which use similar equipment, made locally by the Tuoterangas company, and follow similar rules. Elsewhere, it is usually called Klopp or Finska, and the rules may vary a little from place to place. “In North America they just arrange the pins in any order. Here we try to make it a little harder by ‘hiding’ the bigger numbers at the pack of the pack.” Tony informs.

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World Championship events can draw up to 250 teams and 1,000 players, with all participants assured several games and a good time. “Mölkky is a very friendly game. It’s about being with friends and family. Most players don’t take it too seriously,” Vuori assures.

The Helsinki club plays every Thursday evening at Katri Valan Park in Sörnäinen, and new players are always welcome.

David Brown