I am SO PLEASED to have discovered this wonderful game. I can’t tell you how much fun we’ve had playing – usually after sharing a few glasses of Mirabeau with some friends. I always thought it looked really rather dull, but once my local friend Tom explained the rules, I was addicted. The only setback is that my children always want to play around us at the same time and these boules are seriously heavy and therefore potentially a little dangerous.
So, what’s it all about? Well, Pétanque is a form of boules where the goal is, while standing inside a starting circle with both feet on the ground, to throw heavy metal balls as close as possible to a small wooden ball called a cochonnet (literally “piglet”) or jack.
The game is normally played on hard dirt or gravel, and we are lucky enough to have our very own (and grand sounding) ‘boulodrome’ at our house. But almost any old patch of dirt will do.
The current form of the game originated in 1907 in La Ciotat in Provence. The English and French name pétanque comes from la petanca in the Provençal dialect of the Occitan language, deriving from the expressionpès tancats [ˈpɛ taŋˈka], meaning “feet together” or more exactly “feet anchored”.
Playing the Game (courtesy of Wikipedia)
Pétanque is played by two, four or six people in two teams, or players can compete as individuals in casual play. In the singles and doubles games each player has three boules; in triples they have only two. A coin is tossed to decide which side goes first. The starting team draws a circle on the ground which is 35-50 centimetres in diameter: all players must throw their boules from within this circle, with both feet remaining on the ground. The first player throws the jack 6–10 metres away; it must be at least one metre from the boundary.
Order of play
The player who threw the jack then throws their first boule. A player from the opposing team then makes a throw. Play continues with the team that is not closest to the jack having to continue throwing until they either land a boule closer to the jack than their opponents or run out of boules.
If the closest boules from each team are an equal distance from the jack, then the team that played last plays again. If the boules are still equidistant then the teams play alternately until the position changes. If the boules are still equidistant at the end of the game then no points are scored by either team.
The game continues with a player from the team that won the previous end drawing a new circle around where the jack finished and throwing the jack for a new end.
Play ends, and points may be scored when both teams have no more boules, or when the jack is knocked out of play. The winning team receives one point for each boule that it has closer to the jack than the best-placed boule of the opposition.
If the jack is knocked out of play, no team scores unless only one team has boules left to play. In this case the team with boules receives one point for each that they have to play.
The first team to reach 13 points wins.
The boule can be thrown at any height or even rolled depending on the terrain.
Boules are thrown underarm, usually with the palm of the hand downwards which allows backspin to be put on the boule giving greater control.