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Introduction  |  Rules and Strategy  |  Helpful Terms  |   Equipment for Boules  |   History of Boules  |   Additional Resources


France Cassis boules game
Pétanque and Boule Lyonnaise are two of the most-played boule games in France. The point of the game is to get orange-size, heavy balls as close to the cochonnet or "jack" as possible. It is very popular in France where it may often be seen played in any open space in villages and towns, or in larger cities such as Paris along the Champ-de-Mars esplanade under the trees to each side.

Pétanque is a form of boules where the goal is, while standing with the feet together in a circle, to throw metal balls close to a small wooden ball called a cochonnet or piglet, or "jack". It is also sometimes called a bouchon (cork) or le petit (the small one).

The game is normally played on hard dirt or gravel, but can also be played on grass, sand or other surfaces. The current form of the game was developed by Jules le Noir in 1907 in the town of La Ciotat near Marseille in the region of Provence and the first tournament was played in 1910.
France La Ciotat Jules Lenoir petanque sign

The English and French name pétanque comes from la petanca in the Provençal dialect of the Occitan language, and is derived from the expression pès tancats meaning feet together or feet anchored.

The casual form of the game of pétanque is played by about 17 million people in France. There are nearly 375,000 players licensed with the Fédération Française de Pétanque et Jeu Provençal (FFPJP).

In recent years, pétanque clubs have formed in cities throughout the United States with .
Federation of Pétanque and Pétanque America

Boule lyonnaise - is probably the oldest of the French boules sports. It follows the same rules as the Italian Bocce game. The current version of the game developed during the 18th-century around the area of Lyon. Pé

Rules and Strategy

boules and cochonnet
1. The game can be played with two teams of one, two, or three players on each side. With teams of one or two, each player has three boules. With games of three people on each team, each has two boules. There can be no more than 12 boules on the ground.

2. Each team should have suitable measuring equipment to determine which boule has the point if there is any question. In most cases a tape measure is adequate but calipers or other measuring devices may be needed.

3. To decide which team throws first, a coin may be tossed. A player on this team chooses where to draw a circle or position the ring on the ground and each player will stand there to throw their boules. The circle should be about 1/2 meter (50 centimeters) in diameter and at least 1 meter from any obstacle such as a wall, tree, edge of playing area.

4. The player throws the cochonnet or "jack" between 6 and 10 meters from the circle in any direction. It must not be closer than 1 meter from any boundary.

5. The player then throws the first boule, trying to get it as close as possible to the cochonnet. Both feet must stay together on the ground and within the circle while throwing and until the boule has landed.

6. A player from the other team then steps into the circle and tries to place a boule closer to the cochonnet than their opponent. They may knock the opponent's boule away from the cochonnet and secure the point. The boule nearest to the cochonnet is said to be "holding the point".

7. The players on the team that are not holding the point continue throwing until they place a boule closest to the cochonnet, and so on. Players on the same team do not have to take alternate throws. When a team has no more boules to be played, the players on the other team throw theirs and try to place them as close as possible to the cochonnet.

9. When both teams have no more boules, the end (round) is over and points are counted. The winning team scores one point for each boule closer to the cochonnet than the opponent's. Only one team can score points in each of the thirteen ends.

10. A player from the team that won the previous end throws out the cochonnet from a new circle drawn or positioned around the cochonnet's last position. The winner is the first team to reach 13 points.

11. A boule hitting a boundary is dead and is removed from the court or piste until the next end.

12.The boule can be thrown at any height or even rolled depending on the terrain.

13. Boules are thrown underarm, usually with the palm of the hand downwards which allows backspin to be put on the boule giving greater control.

14. Boules must be made of metal and competition-level boules must meet the following guidelines:
- Bare engravings indicating the manufacturer's name and the weight of the boule.
- Have a diameter between 70.5 and 80 millimeters.
- Have a weight between 650 and 800 grams.
- Not be filled with sand or lead, or be tampered with in any way.
- A boule may bare an engraving of the player's first name or initials.

Pétanque Frenchman cartoon
A successful pétanque team has players who are skilled at shooting well and can point (getting the boule close to the cochonnet) as well as players who can point and when necessary shoot. Pointing is when a player focuses on positioning their boule near the cochonnet to secure a point for that end. A shooter or shooters are typically held in reserve in case the opponents place well. In placing, a boule in front of the jack is more valuable than one at the same distance behind the jack, because intentional or accidental pushing of a front boule generally improves its position closer to the cochonnet.

At every play after the very first boule has been placed, the following team must decide whether to point or shoot. The decision may be influenced by either how close to the cochonnet the opponents' best boule lands or how many boules each team has yet to play.

Helpful Terms

Boules and cochonnet

* À carreau - A special feat in which the shooter knocks the opponent's boule out while leaving his boule at or very near the point of impact.

* L' Arbitre - The Umpire.

* Bon Homme - A compliment given to a particularly good player.

* Boulodrome - An indoor place for playing Pétanque. Composed of 4 or more courts.

* (les) Boules Cloutées - The old kind of boules which were made by hammering large-headed nails into boxwood cores.

* (les) Boules Lisses - Boules that have no rings or stripes cut into their surface. Many shooters favor this kind of perfectly smooth boule for an easy release. A lighter boule with a smaller diametre also helps a shooter reach their target.

* (les) Boules Quadrillées - Boules that have a large number of stripes or rings cut into their surface. This kind of boule is often favored by pointers. They have been nicknamed "pineapples" and with a certain amount of backspin can stop right in front of the cochonnet if placed well.

* (un) Bras d'or - (golden arm) - A compliment given to a good player.

* Doublette - Game composed of 2 players per team, with 3 boules per player.

* Faire le bec (to give a light kiss) - Targeting one of your team's boules already in play and knocking it toward the jack.

* Game on the Ground - One team is lying in a match-winning position while an end is still in progress and will win unless their opponents change the situation.

* (un) Gratton - A stone or bump on the piste (court) which deflects an otherwise well thrown/rolled boule.

* Have the point - To have one or more boules placed closer to the cochonnet than those of the opponent(s).

* (les) Kiply - A measuring tape device, which also sometimes has a built in score recorder.

* La Graphique - The desk used by the organizers during a competition.

* Le Cochonnet - The small target ball. The word literally means little pig or piglet.

* Le Couloir - The shape formed by a group of spectators standing round a game in progress. The word literally means corridor.

* Le Rond - The throwing circle, traced in the ground or formed by a plastic ring.

* Le Terrain - The piste or court.

* (les) Lignes Tracées - Pistes which are marked out with lines - sometimes of string.

* Mettre fanny - (to fanny) To beat one's opponents 13 to 0. The figure of a bare-bottomed gal named Fanny is ubiquitous in Provence wherever pétanque is played. It is traditional that when a player loses 13 to 0 it is said that il/elle est fanny (he/she is fanny) or il/elle a fait fanny (he/she made fanny), and that he/she has to kiss the bottom of a girl called Fanny. There is usually a substitute picture, woodcarving, or pottery so that Fanny's bottom is available. More commonly and fun, the team which made "fanny" has to offer a beverage to the winning team.

* Pile (ou face) - The French for Heads or Tails. The person tossing the coin often calls either "Pile" or "Face" him/herself before throwing it in the air and catching it on the back of their hand and covering it. Sometimes, if he/she is being particularly polite, they will give the other side the call.

* (la) Piste - The part of the terrain on which the game is to be played. A court if made with man-made materials.

* Plombée - To throw one's boule in a high arc so that when it lands it only rolls minimally, preferably taking the point nearest the cochonnet.

* Pointeur - A player who specializes in pointing or placing his boules as close as possible to the cochonnet.

* Pointing - To throw one's boule with the intent of stopping near the jack also called placing.

* (un) Porte-Boules - a carrier for a set of boules.

* Quadrette - Game composed of 4 players per team with 2 boules per player (not official per FPUSA).

* Shooting - To throw one's boule at one of the opponent's boules to knock it out of play and away from the cochonnet. This is often done when the opponent has pointed their boule very close to the cochonnet.

* Le (les) Striage, Stries, or Striations - The rings, stripes or design cut into the surface of boules to make them grip the ground better depending on the spin cast by the player.

* Tête-à-Tête - One player playing against another; a singles game using 3 boules per player.

* Triplette - Game composed of 3 players per team, with 2 boules per player.

* Un Mène - An "end" or round. There are as many ends as necessary to reach thirteen points and win the game.

* Un Milieu - An player whom can point or shoot equally well.

Equipment for Boules

Boules and cochonnet

Boules must be made of metal and competition boules must meet the following guidelines:
1. Bare engravings indicating the manufacturer's name and the weight of the boule.
2. Have a diameter between 70.5 and 80 millimeters.
3. Have a weight between 650 and 800 grams.
4. Not be filled with sand or lead, or be tampered with in any way.
5. A boule may bare an engraving of the player's first name or initials.

The diameter of the boule is chosen based on the size of the player's hand. The weight and hardness of the boule depends on the player's preference and playing style. Pointers tend to choose heavier and harder boules, while shooters often select lighter and softer boules.
Leisure boules do not meet competition standards but are often used for informal or backyard games. They are designed to suit all ages and can be made of metal, plastic or wood.

Competition cochonnet must be made of wood or a synthetic material, carry the maker's mark, and have secured confirmation by the F.I.P.J.P. that they comply exactly with the relevant specification. They must also have a diameter of 30mm with a tolerance + or - 1 mm.

History of Boules

Roman and Greek eras
The ancient Greeks played a game resembling pétanque which involved tossing coins or flat stones, and later stone balls or spheristics. The Romans later used wooden balls covered with iron nails and were most likely the inventors of the cochonnet or "jack" which provided a smaller target ball that had to be approached with the boules. The Greeks favored brute strength and threw their boules as far as possible to achieve distance, while the Romans preferred skill and finesse.

Barbarian and Middle Ages
During the Migration Period (Barbarian invasions) that ushered in the Middles Ages, boules disappeared then reappeared with great popularity in the Middle Ages. During this period, boules players were called bouleurs. During his reign, King Henry III of England (1216-1272) banned the playing of the game by his archers. It became very popular and in the 14th-century, Charles IV, then Charles V forbade it, forcing their subjects to spend their time in more useful pursuits such as archery. During the reign of Pope Julius II in the early 17th century, the ban on boules was lifted and players once again popularized the sport.

Return of boules to France
Boules returned to France with the Franco-Italian wars. The French satirical writer, doctor, and Rennaissance humanist Rabelais was quoted as saying: Neither rheumatism nor any other malady can prevent anyone from playing this game. It is suitable for all ages, from the very young to old age.

Boules continued to grow in popularity, especially in France and Italy. Already, differences in play were appearing and as an example, the French studded the traditional wooden boules with nails, whereas the Italians varnished theirs. In 1629, boules was perceived as a threat to other sports and the manufacturers of paumes, a precursor of tennis, conspired and succeeded in having the game forbidden. The ban on the game was circumvented and people met to play boules in secret, especially in monasteries. In fact, the monks were the first to build covered pétanque pistes!
By the 19th century in England, the sport had become known as bowls or lawn bowling. In France, it was known as boules and was played throughout the country. The French artist Meissonnier created two paintings showing people playing the game (photo), and Honoré de Balzac described a match in his La Comédie Humaine.

boules game in Nice France
In the South of France, boules had evolved into jeu provençal, similar to modern-day pétanque, except that the field was larger and players ran three steps before throwing the ball. The game was played in villages all over Provence, usually on squares of land in the shade of plane trees. Matches of jeu provenšale at the turn of the century are memorably described in the memoirs of novelist Marcel Pagnol as well as in his novels, Jean-de-Florette and sequel Manon des Sources.

The current form of the game was developed by Jules le Noir in 1907 in the town of La Ciotat near Marseille in the region of Provence and the first tournament was played in 1910. The English and French name pétanque comes from la petanca in the Provençal dialect of the Occitan language, and is derived from the expression pès tancats meaning feet-together or feet-anchored and there are no steps nor running before releasing the boule.

Additional Resources for the Game of Boules

BBC language-learning pétanque game
Aoyama Pétanque (Japan)
Confédération Mondiale des Sports de Boules (CMSB)
Fédération Française de Boules (FFSB)
Fédération Internationale de Boules (FIB)
Fédération Internationale de Pétanque et Jeu Provençal (FIPJP)
Federation of Pétanque USA
Finnish Pétanque Federation (w/ videos)
La Boule Bleue
Obut boules
Obut Boules- How a boule is made
New Zealand Pétanque Club
Pétanque America
Pétanque on Facebook
Pétanque in Great Britain
Pétanque Directory
Pétanque-Kaohsuing (Taiwan)
Playaboule (leisure series of boules & accessories)
Prospect Pétanque (Australia)
United Kingdom Pétanque Portal
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