Sport & Activities

How to play boules – the Complete pétanque guide

Is there a more quintessentially French scene than a leisurely game of pétanque taking place in a picturesque town square?

Pétanque (boules in French), is a game that can be enjoyed by all the family. The beauty is that anyone of any age or ability can pick up the ‘boule’ and enjoy this authentic French game.

The only thing holding you back from your first game of ‘boules’ are the rules of play. Read on to find out all about pétanque, and how to play this French ball game.

The court

This versatile game can be played on nearly any level surface, but thin gravel or sand is most appropriate. Specific pétanque courts are usually around 3m wide by 12m-15m long. 

A number of OVO Network chalets have added great pétanque spaces to allow you to play to your heart’s content. Beautiful Chalet Roses des Alpes is the latest chalet upgrade their outdoor space to include the fantastic court in the above image. Click the button below to see all of our chalets with pétanque courts.

The teams

Pétanque can be played with three different team setups. The most common is two vs two, but the game can also be played three vs three or ‘tête à tête’ which is one vs one. 

The pétanque set

To play pétanque you will need metal ‘boules’ which are the balls you will throw, and one smaller, wooden target ball known as the ‘jack’ or ‘cochonnet’. There should be six ‘boules’ per team, and only three if playing ‘tête à tête’. 

Starting your game

To choose which team goes first a coin is flipped. Whichever team wins the coin toss gets to go first. 

The name pétanque comes from ‘pieds tanqués’, which means ‘feet planted on the ground’. This relates to one of the fundamental rules, boules must be thrown with both feet planted on the ground. 

To make sure everyone throws from the same point you must draw a circle on the court around 50cm in diameter. Then play can begin.

Book a chalet with a pétanque court

Step 1 – A member from the first team should stand in the circle and toss the jack. It can be tossed in any direction and should land six to ten meters away from the circle. It should be at least one meter away from any object (like a tree) that might interfere with a player’s throw.

Step 2 – A member from the same team should now step into the circle and throw the first boule. You can throw the boule with your palm facing down or up, but down gives you more control of the spin. The aim is to get it close to the jack and ideally in front of it, to make it more difficult for the other team to get close.

Step 3 – Now it’s the second team’s turn. The goal is to get their boule closer to the jack than that of the first team. They can do one of two options:

    1. They can ‘point’ – try to roll their boule close to the jack
    2. Or they can ‘shoot’ – try to hit the opponent’s boule away from the jack

Step 4 – If the second team succeeds in having their boule closer than that of the first team then they will ‘have the point’. The team that does not have the point must throw next, and continue to throw until they are the closest, or they run out of boules. 

    1. If, each time a boule is thrown, the player succeeds in getting their team’s boules closest to the jack, play will alternate between the teams until there are no boules left to throw.
    2. If one team runs out of boules before the other, the other team must throw all of their remaining boules.

Step 5 – The round is finished once all of the boules have been thrown. The winning team is the one with a boule closest to the jack. They earn a point for every boule that is closer than the opposing team’s closest boule. The losing team does not get any points.

Step 6 – Next, start a new round. The winning team draws a new circle where the jack was in the previous round and that is where both teams must now throw from. The same team will toss the jack and throw the first boule. 

Step 7 – Repeat this process until one team reaches 13 points. The first team to reach 13 points wins the game.

And there you have it, all you need to know about how to play pétanque. And where better to play your first game than at an authentic chalet in the French Alps

And if that’s not enough to whet your appetite for a trip to the Alps remember that there’s so much more to do in the mountains. Many of our chalets are close to some amazing golf courses, bike trails for all levels and awesome dog-friendly hikes.

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