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The sun is out and everyone is itching to go outside and spend some overdue quality time with friends and family. But which outdoor games for the garden or park should you be playing?
Five Which? researchers got together to try out five popular garden games to see which ones they’d play with friends and family this summer.
Read on to find out how to play Swingball, Molkky, Quoits, Boules and Kubb, the pros and cons of playing each game, and which ones we’d recommend investing in.
The two best garden games according to our testers
Version we played: £24.99, available at Decathlon
How many players? – Unlimited
How do you play? – Molkky, sometimes called Finska, is a Finnish game of skill and chance, where the objective is to knock over wooden pins to earn points.
The wooden pins, each numbered from 1-12, are set up in a tight group on the ground. From three or four metres away behind a set line, players take it in turns to toss a throwing pin underarm to knock over the pins.
Knocking over a single pin will earn you the number of points listed on that pin. Knocking over more than one pin will earn you points for each pin you knocked over.
After a player throws, the pins must be stood upright in the exact spot they fell when they were last knocked over. This means that as the game progresses the pins become more spread out.
Pins that lean against other pins instead of being fully knocked over don’t count, and missing all of the pins three turns in a row will eliminate you from the game.
The first player to reach exactly 50 points wins. If you go over 50 points by accident, your score will be reset to 25 points.
What we liked – Our testers loved how straightforward this game was to set up and explain. It’s not too big or heavy either, so you shouldn’t have any trouble taking it in a bag to the park or on a camping trip.
Despite the apparent simplicity of the game, we found Molkky to be varied and competitive. Where the pins land after they’ve been hit has a huge impact on how the game runs, so fun and interest is maintained throughout.
We also found it fast-paced, rewarding and immensely fun to play. There is a fair amount of strategy and skill involved, but highly enjoyable regardless of skill level.
All of our testers said they would play Molkky with both their friends and family.
What we didn’t like – Keeping track of scores can be tricky if you’re playing the game passively, as you’ll need to keep adding up your points every time you take a turn.
Although the maths involved is very simple, its presence does mean there’s a limit to how much you can relax during play.
Version we played: £6.40, available at John Lewis
How many players? – Two or four players, or two teams of two, three or four
How do you play? – Boules is an ancient game with lots of different versions such as Bowls, Bocce, and Petanque. The principal is often similar though – try and throw or roll your ball (or team’s ball) closest to the jack.
We played the classic Bocce version, which is popular worldwide and dates back to Ancient Rome. When treated casually, Boules can be played on any flat surface where the jack and balls will roll and stop freely.
You should start by establishing the size of the play area and tossing the jack somewhere within it.
Players or teams then take turns to throw or roll their balls underarm towards the jack, with the aim of their balls stopping closest to it.
Once every player or team has bowled once, the player or team that doesn’t have their ball closest to the jack takes their turn until they either have no balls left or their ball stops closest to the jack.
Once all other players or teams are out of balls, the player or team with their ball closest to the jack then has the opportunity to bowl their remaining balls. If they manage to get several of their balls closest to the jack, they will earn a point per ball that’s closest.
Once points have been allocated to the winning player or team, the game resets for another round. The game is over once a player or team reaches a set number of points.
What we liked – We enjoyed the portability and ease of set up with Boules. You can play it on almost any flat surface, so there’s a feeling that you could whip it out for a game just about anywhere.
We appreciated how straightforward the game was to explain and during play it was surprisingly varied. Plotting the trajectory of the balls needed plenty of thought and strategy.
Our testers were also pleased with the versatility of the game. Not only are there several variants of Boules to be played with one set, there’s also options for adapting your game using the colours and patterns on the balls to suit the number of players or their ages.
What we didn’t like – There wasn’t much to complain about with Boules, our testers had a great time playing it.
We did however give it a go on fairly long grass, and that had a major negative impact on the game. It became very difficult to spot the jack or roll the balls with any momentum.
You’ll want to give your lawn a good cut before playing Boules in the garden.
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The other games we played
Version we played: £44.99, available at Decathlon
How many players? – Two, or four if you have extra rackets
How do you play? – Swingball, also known as Totem tennis, is a simple game where two or four players use rackets to hit a ball attached to a string on top of a pole. The pole is often set into a wide base filled with water, which keeps the pole in place.
Not all sets have a competitive element to them, though there are Swingball sets that have a coil at the top that makes the string move up or down depending on which direction it swings. Players can then compete to get the string to the top or the bottom.
What we liked – There is appeal to be found in the simplicity of Swingball, and unlike the other games we tried playing this one amounts to light exercise.
Although principally handy for developing hand-eye coordination, we also found this one easy to play absent-mindedly, which is an appealing quality if you want to have a good catch up during play.
What we didn’t like – Several of our testers found themselves losing interest in Swingball after a short period of time. Although younger children may be entertained for longer, they’ll also likely find it harder to play.
The restrictions on player numbers also make this game unsuitable for gatherings of more than four people, and one tester commented that player skill levels need to be evenly-matched for this game to be enjoyable.
Version we played: £10, available at Argos
How many players? – Unlimited
How do you play? – Quoits is a throwing game of British origin and there are several versions that are taken very seriously, with regional leagues competing all over the country.
We however played Garden Quoits, sometimes called Hoopla, which is a much more relaxed affair.
There are usually five or seven wooden poles arranged in a target shape on the ground. The objective is to throw rings from a set distance with the aim of landing them on the poles to earn points.
As it’s such a simple game there are plenty of variations you can make to the rules. Different poles can earn you certain numbers of points, or only rings of a certain colour will earn you points if you land them on a matching pole.
Quoits is a common fixture at fairs or local events, with prizes being given to players who succeed in throwing one or more rings over the poles.
What we liked – You’ll struggle to find a player who is unfamiliar with Quoits, Horseshoes, Ring toss or another variant of this game. Our testers were nonetheless confident that new players of all ages would have little trouble picking it up.
We also found it very easy to set up, and most sets collapse down to a small size so it’s handy for taking out and about.
You can decide whether or not to award different points depending on which poles your rings land. This could be handy for encouraging kids to practice simple maths.
What we didn’t like – Our testers found this game too simplistic to hold their attention for long spells of play, and didn’t feel a great sense of reward when they succeeded at getting a ring to land on a pole.
They also found the game surprisingly challenging despite its simplicity, and the rings were easily affected by the wind, so you should play in good weather to avoid frustration.
Overall our testers felt this game might appeal most to children, though you’ll likely need to make it easy enough for them to succeed at it.
Version we played: £35.99, available at John Lewis
How many players? – Two players or two teams of equal size
How do you play? – Kubb is a Swedish game that is somewhat similar to Molkky as players or teams compete to knock wooden blocks over by tossing batons.
However, Kubb is played on a larger scale and has many more rules to follow.
Each team stands outside a playing area of equal size. In the centre stands the king, the largest wooden block, and the closest edges of the play areas to each team (the baselines) are lined with a row of kubbs (smaller wooden blocks).
After a coin toss to see which team throws first, Team A must throw six batons across both play areas to knock over the opposing team’s kubbs. Throws must be underarm and end-to-end, so no sideways frisbee-style throwing allowed.
Any kubbs that are knocked over by Team A are then tossed by Team B into Team A’s play area, taking care not to hit the king, as that would result in an immediate loss. Those kubbs are then stood upright where they land.
The teams then swap roles, so all going to plan there should be some kubbs in both team’s play areas after a turn, as well as along each team’s base line.
When Team A plays again, they must knock the kubbs in the play area over first before attempting to knock over any more baseline kubbs. Knocked-over kubbs in the play area are then removed from the game.
If you fail to knock over all of the kubbs in the play area, the opposing team can treat their furthest forward kubb as their baseline for their next turn.
The aim is to eliminate all of the other team’s baseline and play area kubbs first. After succeeding at that, you can throw your batons at the king to knock it over and win the game.
What we liked – Our testers loved the team-oriented style of Kubb, and felt this was one of the better games for team-based strategy and bonding.
Kubb is also highly competitive and there’s a strong sense of risk during play, as you’re left on tenterhooks while your teammate makes a potentially game-changing throw.
Like several of the other games we played, Kubb is also great for developing hand-eye coordination, and our testers found it an engaging and involved game that includes all players at all times.
What we didn’t like – Kubb requires plenty of space and set-up takes care. You’ll need to ensure evenly-sized play areas and precisely measured baselines for the game to be fair.
There’s also a lot of rules to unpick, so we didn’t feel this was a game new players could easily get to grips with and play. We had to run a practice game with the rulebook in hand to ensure we were doing it right.
With six throwing batons, ten baseline kubbs, a king and four boundary markers, there’s also a lot of pieces to keep track of and the number of pieces might put you off from taking this game out to the park.
We enjoyed playing Kubb, but to get the most out of it you’ll need to have time, space and a group of players that are willing to commit.
What are your favourite garden games? Let us know and tell us if you’ve tried any of the games above.
How we tested garden games
- Five testers of mixed ages and genders, aged between 24 and 36, gathered outdoors and spent an afternoon trying out each of the five games listed above.
- Each game was chosen based on popular selections among online search results and suggestions from Which? colleagues.
- The five testers separately recorded their likes and dislikes about the games played, and noted whether they’d be interested in playing each game again with their friends or family and why.
- We bought every game and do not accept free gifts. You can be confident that our reviews of these games are independent and neutral.