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Boules! The chances are when you are in France you will either want to play boules or you will be invited to play boules whether you want to or not! The game is traditionally played with metallic balls on a dirt surface (as long as it’s flat and level) with a glass of pastis or wine at hand. Many villages throughout France have a boules playing area. It’s a social focal point for neighbours to meet, play or watch the world go by.
The French like nothing better than to give visitors a good thrashing on the boules pitch. Well that’s what they’d like but it doesn’t always work out that way since boules is about luck as much as anything else we find!
Boules or la pétanque as it is sometimes called is played by around 20 million people in France. Anyone can easily and quickly learn to play and enjoy this ancient game. It’s believed to originate from an ancient Greek game of tossing coins a two millennia ago.
The purpose of the game is to win by throwing your balls to land closer to the small ball (cochonnet which literally means piglet) than those of your opponent. Sounds easy but it isn’t always!
To help you here are the main rules for playing boules/la pétanque:
- The game is played between two teams of 1, 2 or 3 players. In singles or doubles each player uses 3 boules, in triples 2 boules per player. For leisure play it’s okay to use 2 boules per player of any number.
- To start, a coin is generally tossed to decide who begins the game and has the right to place the cochonnet (the small ball). If you haven’t got a cochonnet to hand, a stone or cork from a bottle is usual!
- A circle or area is drawn by the winner of the coin toss (or a member of his/her team). When throwing the boule, you must not step out of the ring. The circle should be about 0.5m in diameter and at least 1m from any obstacle.
- Any player from the coin toss winning team then throws the first boule. You’re aim is to get as close as possible to the “cochonnet” but without touching it. Both feet must stay together on the ground and within the circle while throwing and until the boule has landed. Although rarely practiced in friendly games, it’s good to know this rule in case your French opponents want to make the game more serious!
- The winner of the coin toss throws the cochonnet between 4m and 8m, or 6 to 10 paces from the circle in any direction. It must not be closer than 1m from any obstacle or you have to throw again.
- A player from the other team then steps into the circle. Their goal is to throw a boule closer to the cochonnet than their opponent. Or to knock the opponent’s boule away. You must throw within 1 minute of your turn starting.
- The winner or winning team starts the new round.
Usually someone produces a tape measure or some means of rule to identify who is nearest to the cochonnet if it’s not glaringly obvious. Without it there can be lively debate!
That’s pretty much it really. And you’ll likely find French opponents are happy to explain any “regional rules” as you go along!