So Instead of War – How about a Game of “Gorodki”


“Gorodki” An Ancient Russian Folk Sport

Gorodki (Городки) is an ancient Russian folk sport whose popularity has spread to Karelia, Finland, Sweden, Ingria, Lithuania, and Estonia. Similar in concept to bowling and somewhat to horseshoes, the aim of the game is to knock out groups of skittles arranged in various patterns by throwing a bat at them. The skittles, or pins, are called gorodki (literally little cities or townlets), and the square zone in which they are arranged is called the gorod (city).


Today it’s an International Sport

Today this is an international Sport played by Belarus, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Moldova, Russia, Sweden and Ukraine as its members. In Scandinavian and Baltic languages, the game has many names, such as kurnilöömine, kriuhka, köllöi, keili, and miestučiai. The game is mentioned in the Old Russian Chronicles and was known in a form that is quite close to the modern one at least from the 17th century, since one of the famous gorodki players was young Peter I of Russia.

Played by Poets and Politicians as well

Although traditionally Gorodki is a folk game, it was played by such Russian historical figures as emperor Peter I, Generalissimus Alexander Suvorov, Vladimir Lenin, and Joseph Stalin, as well as cultural luminaries like Ivan Pavlov, Leo Tolstoy, Maksim Gorky, Nikolay Timofeev-Ressovsky, and others. Even Vladimir Putin has played the game. The game as it existed before 1923 had no rules per se. It was organized into a legitimate sport and its rules codified in 1923, when the first All-Soviet-Union competition was held, and it became an event at the first All-Union Olympiad in 1928.


Instead of Destroying real Cities how about


The game consists of throwing a bat from a predetermined distance at the gorodki, which are arranged in one of 15 configurations: cannon (пушка, pushka), fork (вилка, vilka), star (звезда, zvezda), arrow (стрела, strela), well (колодец, kolodets), crankshaft (коленчатый вал, kolenchatyy val), artillery (артиллерия, artilleriya), raquet (ракетка, raketka), machine gun installation (пулемётное гнездо, pulemyotnoe gnezdo), lobster (рак, rak), watchmen (часовые, chasovye), sickle (серп, serp), shooting gallery (тир, tir), airplane (самолёт, samolet), and letter (письмо, pis’mo).

Walk Softly and Carry a Big Stick

Like all good things the sport was included in a Russian Cartoon called Nu, pogodi!. Maybe a big stick is a good thing after all.


The Great Race 17

Additionally, Gorodki was featured in the popular CBS reality show The Amazing Race 17, episode 7, during a Roadblock challenge. Gorodki can be played on Wii Game System through the game disc REC ROOM released in 2009.


My Kingdom for a horse

Or Better Said,

My Land for Your Protection

The game was also featured on Schlag den Raab on 4 June 2011 and was a favorite childhood pastime of the eponymous protagonist of the novel “Pnin” by Vladimir Nabokov (p. 106, Vintage).


5 thoughts on “So Instead of War – How about a Game of “Gorodki”

    1. You know, I wish it was too! Wouldn’t it be nice if we could tell our politicians instead of war they should get their big sticks out and beat each other. I suspect we wouldn’t have as many wars as we do.

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