Culture

The beginner's guide to the greatest pastimes: Crokinole

A Canadian made game loved by all ages around the world.

A Canadian made game loved by all ages around the world

(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

Along with Euchre, Crokinole is one of the all-time hardest games to spell. It is a straightforward game of skill, simple but not simplistic. To play, players take turns flicking wooden disks along a smooth wooden board with pegs or bumpers around the centre. The discs make satisfying sounds as they glide across the board, collide, and sometimes, slide onto the twenty-hole in the centre. In game play, it's quite similar to curling as well as to the Asian game of carrom. It is more stationary than either of these. According to the rules, players cannot get out of their seats or move their chairs. This official stillness belies the high drama and emotion of competitive crokinole, which is artfully captured in a series of promotional YouTube videos by @crokinolecentre.

Crokinole was invented in the late 19th century in southern Ontario, which remains the game's heartland. If you doubt it's Canuck bona fides, consider this: the World Crokinole Championship is held in the town of Tavistock Ontario, in a dried out hockey rink. It's as Canadian as Anne Murray eating a butter tart on the Canadian Pacific Railway. The only way to make it more Canadian would be to combine it with curling, which a group of Manitobans did in 2017, inventing crokicurl.

Crokinole is a distinctly Canadian game, but it has developed an international following. They play it down the east coast of the United States, as well as in Europe, and even in Asia. The WCC typically draws upwards of 400 players. It is also a game for all ages. Registered players in the WCC range from 7 to well above 80 years of age.

History

The first crokinole board was built by Eckhardt Wettlaufer in 1876 in Sebastopol, Ontario. Wettlaufer was a woodworker and wagon-maker and made the board as a birthday gift for his son. The relic currently hangs in the Joseph Schneider Haus Museum in Kitchener, ON.  It is unclear where Wettlaufer got the idea from the game, but it's likely that it is derived from the Asian game of carroms by way of British colonists. Carroms is also the ancestor, purportedly, of pocket pool, knips-brat, and pichenotte (associated with Quebec). The name "crokinole" is derived from the French 'croquignole' which means 'flick' or 'small biscuit'.

Before long, the game caught on and was being distributed commercially by mail-order giants such as Sears-Roebuck and Montgomery Ward and Co.. Crokinole soon became one of the  most popular games in North America. It was very popular in particular with Mennonite and Amish groups, as the game had none of the shady associations of billiards or card-playing. The Montgomery Ward Catalogue refers to this squeaky-clean image when it describes crokinole as "a new and intensely interesting game for everybody, with no objectionable features."

What you need to know to get started

Crokinole is a very easy game to learn, and this guide can get you started. For a full account of the rules, click here. In a two-player game, each player gets twelve discs ("biscuits") of one of two colours (often red and black).

The board consists of three concentric circles worth five, ten, and fifteen points from outer to inner. At the very centre, there's a disc-sized twenty-hole in the middle (which makes four concentric circles if you want to be fussy). The inner circle is protected by pegs which make shooting more difficult. The outer circle is divided into four quadrants.

(Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The first player places the disc on the outer line of the board in the segment somewhere within his or her quadrant. It may touch the line. The player then flicks the disc, usually aiming for the twenty hole. The players then take turns flicking their biscuits. If an opposing discs are on the board, then the player who is shooting must make contact with an opposing disc, often hoping to send it careening off the playing surface. If the player fails to do so, the disc they just shot is removed from the board ("ditched"). If one of the player gets his disc completely in the twenty-hole, it is removed and put in a bowl apart from the game called "the twenty bowl".

When all the discs have been shot, each player counts their points. The lower sum is subtracted from the higher, and the remainder is awarded to winner of the round. The score is marked, and the process begins again, ending when one player reaches 100 points.

Four player game can be played with teams of two. Each team splits the twelve discs between them and takes opposite quadrants. Play proceeds clockwise from the first shooter.

What you need to have to get started

You'll need a crokinole board and discs (or "biscuits"), a pen and paper to keep score. Relatively cheap boards are available at your local toy store and on Amazon. However, you could also splurge on a handcrafted board which, at the higher end, are real works of art.

Crokinole Wooden Game, $97.77, amazon.ca

For a rundown of some of the finest crokinole craftspeople check out knipsbrat.com ("knipsbrat" is a German name for Crokinole). One renowned board maker who has been at it for more than 50 years explains that the most important element of his craft is "To acquire good wood.... Twenty-five years ago, I could get wood almost anywhere. Now it is really difficult." Russian Birch or Canadian Maple are considered the best materials for crokinole boards.

DIY is also an option for those with woodworking skills. Carl and Stan Hilinski who make and sell boards have posted detailed instructions on the building process here.

What you need to do to get started

Set up your table on a flat surface, and decide who goes first by any chance method. Start flicking your biscuits. If you want to have a couple of practice rounds on a video game version to see how it works, there's an online simulation.

Top tips:

  • Try to place your discs behind the bumpers where they will be more difficult for your opponents to hit.
  • If the sliding action on the board is not consistent, add some gliss powder to help the discs slide more freely.
  • Combination shots and carom shots: You don't need to hit your opponent's disc directly. You may hit one of your own discs first provided either one of your discs hits your opponent's disc. Be careful though, if you miss all of your discs that moved during the turn will are ditched.  
  • "One cheek rule": the shooter's behind must remain in contact with the chair while they are shooting. All four legs of the chair must also stay on the floor.

Clifton Mark is a former academic with more interests than make sense in academia. He writes about philosophy, psychology, politics, and pastimes. If it matters to you, his PhD is in political theory. Find him @Clifton_Mark on Twitter.