Pétanque is a game where players thrown steel boules towards a wooden coche to be the nearest or sometimes to knock out the opponents boules. It’s a game that’s sociable, slightly energetic, easy to learn but has deeper subtle aspects and includes an element of luck.
Players of all ages and abilities can compete together and you can be as sociable or as competitive as you want. Equipment is not expensive and most clubs will lend you some boules and teach you the rules to get you started. Once you get the bug you can buy your own boules and start getting better. One day you might even win a game!
The game itself is called Petanque and it comes from old French words meaning feet anchored. There are many different versions of a game where steel balls are lobbed at a wooden jack; some say Francis Drake was playing boules when the Armada was sighted.
The version played most often started in 1907 when a player who was getting a little too old to play an energetic version where you ran up to launch the boule so he created a version where you stood still and the length of the game was shortened to between 6 and 10 metres. Now millions of people play this version called Petanque.
How do you say it? Pay – Tonk.
The game starts when a player draws a circle and then stands in the circle to throw a coche (also called a cochonnet or le petit) a distance or 6m to 10m. Then he throws the first boule of the game. The opposing team plays their first boule and whoever is not winning throws again until they are winning then the other team attempts to do the same.
In pairs each player has 3 boules, in triples each player has 2 boules. It is possible to play singles as well. The game continues until each team has used all their boules and then scores are decided. Only one team scores each end. They can score a point for each of their boules nearer the coche than the opposition. This can be anything from 1 to 6 points. Several ends are played until one team reaches 13 points and wins the game. It usually takes 30 to 45 minutes for a game, depending on how strategy & tactics are used.
This sounds quite sedate but there are different styles of shot. Pointers try to place their boules near the coche, shooters try to knock opponents boules out of the way by hitting them hard. There’s the chance for deep strategy and clever tactics and often the end isn’t decided until the very last boule is thrown.
Some call it chess with steel balls and when you watch experts playing you begin to see why.
Boules are individual despite the first impression that they are all the same. Old boules were nails embedded in a wooden centre. Modern technology has created boules which have a hollow centre and have markings (stries), differing weights and diameters so everyone can buy a set that suits their hand. The boule weighs between 690g and 800g. There are different diameters and if you are buying some there is usually guidance on what size to buy. Markings differ from one stripe to two or three or sometimes four. You can also find circles. Now and again you find other patterns.
Modern boules now are engraved with diamonds, moons, stars but these are frowned on by aficionados but loved by youngsters. Competition boules have on them the maker’s name, their weight and a unique reference number.
Most clubs will have a few spare you can try to get the feel of what you want to buy.
There are a few words that can be used to describe what you play on but generally in the UK it’s a terrain. It can have more than one piste (or lane) and the majority of clubs have several pistes/lanes on a terrain. One piste/lane can host a game for 4 or 6 people. If a club is started they’ll need several pistes/lanes to grow.
A Terrain has approximately 6 to 8 inches of filling material (limestone or hoggin) which is well compacted with a thin layer of surface gravel on top. There’s usually a solid surround such as railway sleepers.
For casual play nothing more is needed. When tournaments are held the pistes/lanes are often separated by strings and the dead ball line is also created about 10cm from the border.
Types of games
You can play singles, doubles or triples. Most players have 3 boules but triples means each player has 2 boules. UK clubs generally play either melees or snakes.
A melee is an individual tournament where several rounds are played (from 3 to 6) and players are drawn with a new partner every round. It’s mostly pairs but now and again triples. You can arrive late, miss a round or leave early – the organiser will adjust every round.
Singles, Pairs & Triples tournaments can last 3 or more rounds but you keep the same partner all day. Often Singles events have a handicap allocated (like golf) so players of different abilities can play together.
A Snake is used for Singles, Pairs & Triples as it is impossible to play all the teams in a 20 team tournament so you play a selection of them. The organiser will give each team a list of who they play.
Sometimes in an all day tournament leagues of 4 will be played in the morning and winners progress to the main KO competition; second places progress to a Plate competition, and other teams play in the Consolage. This way every one has a chance of a winning something and are not eliminated early on.