How to Play Petanque


Pétanque (pronounced “pay-tonk”) is the French equivalent of Bocce, only with some minor differences: the balls (called “boules”) are made of metal and are about the size of an orange, while the playing surface is like a baseball infield (dirt, gravel, hard-packed sand) and may or may not have a boundary.

The object of the game is to stand in a circle drawn in the ground, and roll, lob or throw your ball as close as possible to a target ball (called the “cochonet”). Only one team gets points per round, and the teams play as many rounds as it takes to arrive at 13 points. The first team to arrive at 13 points wins.

Below is a guide on how to play, just in time for our upcoming Bastille Day celebrations, which will feature petanque, French cuisine, and of course, great wines.

How to Play:

1.   Divide the players into two teams. You can play:

1 vs. 1 using three balls each (6 total)
2 vs. 2 using three balls each (12 total)
3 vs 3 using two balls each (12 total)

2.   Flip a coin to see which team will start.

3.   The starting team (Team A) draws a circle in the ground and one player from this team stands in the circle and throws the target ball (cochonet) out to a distance between 20 to 30 feet. All players must stand within this circle when throwing their balls.

4.   Team A then throws its first ball, trying to get it as close as possible to the cochonet. Next, a player from Team B throws its first ball, trying to get even closer to the cochonet than the ball from Team A.

5.   The team that got its ball closer to the cochonet is considered to “have the point.” This is a term to define the team in possession of the ball closest to the cochonet.

Suppose after the initial throws, Team A was closer. Team A “has the point” and now Team B must continue throwing balls until it either gets closer to the cochonet than the ball from Team A or until it runs out of balls.

If Team B gets closer before running out of balls, then it now “has the point.” Team A must then try to regain the point by throwing until it got a ball closer than Team B or until it runs out of balls. If Team A regains the point again, then this cycle would continue until all balls have been thrown.

Note: Once a team runs out of balls, the other team must throw their remaining balls, regardless of who “has the point” at that moment.

6.   Scoring: Once all balls have been thrown, only the team who “has the point” will now actually receive game points based on how many balls they have closest to the cochonet.

Suppose Team A “has the point” at the end of the round. Team A will receive a point for every one of its balls that is nearest to the cochonet than the closest Team B ball. So if Team A had two balls near the cochonet than the next closest Team B ball, Team A will receive 2 points toward the 13 point threshold needed to win the game.

7.   The team that received points begins the next round by drawing a new circle around the cochonet and restarting the game by throwing the cochonet from within this new circle in the opposite direction as the previous round.

8.   Continue playing until a team reaches 13 points.

Some Tips and Tricks:

  • Players are allowed to move opposing players’ balls with their own while in play..
  • After the initial throw of the cochonet, a ball (while being played) can move the cochonet by coming into contact with it.
  • Balls are usually thrown with the palm down to give it a backspin that can help keep the ball from rolling too far.