The rules of Petanque

Petanque is similar to many other games which involve balls or ‘boules.’ What distinguishes these games from others, however, is the rules by which they are played. This does not necessarily mean only the scoring or ‘turns’ that each team gets, but also refers to the technicalities such as the way a player throws their ball, or the type of ball that is used. Petanque uses a certain type of ball which is completely metal. Players must throw the ball using a flick of their wrist, with their palms facing towards the ground. To learn how teams score, and other rules associated with the game, please follow our guide below.

  • Before the game

First, you need to choose a pitch or ‘terrain’ as to where your match will be located. In Petanque, there are no strict rules about where matches can be played: you just need to find a flat surface which is relatively firm. The most common playing locations for Petanque are public parks or hard gravel pathways although many players also use beaches and private gardens.

Before the game starts, you will need to ascertain which version of Petanque you will be playing, which is determined by how many players you have. The golden rule is that there should be 2 sides participating and therefore you can either choose between a single match (1 v 1), doubles (2 v 2) or triples (3 v 3). During a single match, each player receives 3 Petanque boules, whereas during doubles and triple matches, each player receives 2 boules each. A coin is tossed to decipher which team is due to go first.

Having won the toss, the side to throw first must create a circle or ‘cercle de lancer’ which is 14-20 inches in diameter and must not be within 3 feet of any obstacles. Teams must stay within the boundaries of this circle, when throwing and are not allowed to leave until the ball has landed and is in a stationary position. In addition to creating this circle (which can be made out of anything available – chalk, rope, string, etc), the team must also throw the jack which has to land in between 6 metres and 10 metres from the cercle de lancer.

Once these formalities have been taken care of, the game can begin.

  • The game

In simple terms, the game has been won when one of the teams reaches 13 points. In order to reach this figure, the match is carried out in a series of rounds or ‘menes.’

The first team throw their boule towards the jack. After they have done this, the second team step up and have two choices. They can either try to knock the first boule away (this is called a ‘shoot’) or they can try and throw a boule to land closer to the jack (this is called a ‘point’). If they land closer to the jack than the first team, the play switches back to the first team, who have the same options: to shoot or to point. If, however, the second team have not landed a boule closer to the jack, they have another go and continue to throw until they have either landed nearer to the jack, or run out of boules.

Once they run out of boules (or land one closer to the jack), play reverts, once more, to the first team.  They then have to follow the same steps and either land a boule closer to the jack or keep trying until they run out of boules. This process is repeated until both teams run out of boules to throw.

Once the boules have run out, the mene is complete. Participants (or an umpire if you are playing more seriously) walk to the boules and work out which team wins the meme. The boule nearest to the jack is the winning score and the mene is awarded to that team. However, they are also able to earn additional points if their second closest boule is nearer to the jack than all of the other teams. Furthermore, if their third closest boule is also nearer to the jack than the other team’s closest boule, they win another point. And so on. Be aware that only one team can score points during each mene. The aim of the game is to get to 13 points, at which point the match has finished.

Whilst these are the basic rules of Petanque, there are (as with virtually every other sport!) other rules which come into play during certain circumstances and these should also be clarified.

Playing area

If playing in public, or as part of a larger playing surface, your terrain is marked out using a rope or strings which are nailed down. This indicates the outside of the playing area, and if a boule goes beyond these lines, it becomes out of bounds.

Illegal events

When playing socially, it is a good idea to decide before the game begins, as to what happens with illegal events. There are certain events that happen, beyond the rules of the game, such as:

  • A player picks up an already-thrown boule (or even the circle) before all of the boules have been thrown.
  • A player moves one of the already-thrown boules, or the jack when there are other boules left to be thrown (or the scores haven’t been announced).
  • A moving boule or jack hits a competitor’s (or a supporter’s) foot.
  • A boule is thrown illegally (out of turn, or with the wrong technique)

How these are handled, is up to the competitor’s agreement, though there are certain standard ways:

  • The mene is cancelled and should be re-started.
  • Remove the illegal event and pretend it never happened (try to put things back into the same position as they were in previously).
  • Leave everything as it has ended up, and carry on.

Depending on the seriousness of the game, will depend on the way the illegal event is handled. However, it is recommended that the cause of action is agreed, prior to the start of the game.