Game of the Month: Boules and Bocce

by Dagonell the Juggler

Oribase, a Greek physician around 300 A.D. wrote of a game played by throwing balls at a stationary target. Although he did not give a name to the game, the rules are nearly identical to the French game of Jeu de Boules. It is believed that the game spread across Europe because the soldiers of the Roman Empire played it for entertainment and exercise.

An official Boules court is a stretch of hard, bare earth thirteen by three meters, roughly forty-three by ten feet. For informal games, any stretch of bare ground will do, however if the cochonnet is first tossed within two feet of an obstacle, it must be re-tossed. The cochonnet, or 'jack' in England, is a small wooden ball about one and a half inches in diameter. It is the target for both teams. Each team has three Boules, or iron balls about three inches in diameter. For informal games, croquet balls or softballs may be used.

The first player, or team, draws a circle with a shoe heel just outside the playing field. From within the circle, the cochonnet is tossed towards the other end of the field. It must travel at least six yards, but no more than eleven yards. This ball becomes the target for the rest of the game.

The first player then tosses a boule at the cochonnet. Being the only ball in play, it is the closest to the cochonnet and their turn ends. The second player, or team, tosses their boules until they succeed in putting one closer to the cochonnet, or 'get best ball'. As soon as they have 'best ball', their turn ends.

When a player throws an boule, he may toss the ball close to the cochonnet, strike an opponent's ball away from the jack, strike an earlier ball of his own closer, or simply move the cochonnet itself. If the cochonnet is moved, it is not restored to its former position. Anything that results in having his ball closest to the cochonnet counts as best ball.

If a team runs out of balls without getting best ball, they lose their turn and the other team gets a chance to better their score. When all boules have been tossed, the game is over. The winning team gets one point for every boule of theirs which is closer to the cochonnet than the closest boule of their opponent.

The winning team then draws a new throwing circle at this end of the playing field and throws the cochonnet towards where they stood previously. Thus, games are played alternately up and down the court. A match is played until one team reaches a predetermined score, generally fifteen points.

Bocce is the Italian version of Boule. Variations are as follows: The field is eight feet by sixty feet. The cochonnet is called a pallino and must be tossed at least thirty five feet. There are four boules instead of three and players alternate turns. There are three kinds of throws; a straight throw, a called throw and an aerial throw. If a straight throw displaces balls, they are restored to their original place and the throw is disqualified. For a called throw, the player must announce which ball he intends to hit. If he does, the results remain. If he misses, his ball is disqualified. An aerial throw is a called throw which is shotputted rather than rolled. Scoring is the same as in Boules. A two player game is to fifteen points, a team game is played to eighteen.