The French Game of Pétanque

Pétanque is very similar to Boule, from which it stems, and also to Italian Boccia.


The first rules for a game of this type were written down in Scotland in 1849, where it was called "Bowls".

In 1894 the French laid out rules for what was called "Boule Lyonnaise".

Since Boule Lyonnaise involved some acrobatics as you had to step out of a drawn circle as far as possible with one foot, a physically disabled man named Jules LeNoir in a Southern French Town called La Ciotat laid out the rules for Pétanque in 1910.

The main difference between this new game and Boule Lyonnaise was that your feet had to be close together. Joined feet in French is "pieds tanqués", hence the name "Pétanque".


This game is quite cheap. All it takes to play is

  1. Three steel balls
    • 70,5mm - 80,0mm in diameter
    • with a weight of 650g - 800g
    • blank or with grooveS
    • cost anywhere from SFr.50.- (US$ 30.-) to SFr.500.- (US$ 300.-)
  2. One small wooden ball called cochonnet (little pig) with a diameter of about 3cm. Cost is SFr.1.-


There are basically three playing modes:


Playing Pétanque is fairly easy. The field is not limited to any specific size, nor is it prepared in any way. You just play on any terrain you encounter.

First you draw a circle with a diameter of 60cm in the sand.

The first player then throws the cochonnet anywhere from 6 to 10 meters away from the circle. He or she then tosses the first ball after the cochonnet, trying to get as close as possible. Usually the ball is thrown about two thirds of the way, while it rolls the last third.

After this the other team throw their balls until one of them is the closest. The teams then take turns until all balls are thrown. One can also attempt to shoot one of the opponents' balls out of the game. Some player specialize in becoming shooters. A good team has evenly distributed skills between throwing and shooting.

In this Doublette situation the green team scores two points because they have two balls closer to the cochonnet than their opponents' closest is. Points are cumulated throughout the game. Whoever reaches 13 first, wins.

Author: Thomas Voirol

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