The object of the game is to get your team’s boules closer than the opposition’s to a small wooden target ball, known as the ‘jack’ or by its French nicknames of cochonnet (‘little pig’), bouchon or but.
Toss a coin to see which team goes first. A player from that team places a plastic throwing circle or marks a circle of 35-50cm diameter on the playing surface, stands within it (both feet inside) and throws the jack between 6 and 10m.
A player from the starting team throws the first boule, with the aim of getting it close to the jack. A player from the second team then stands in the circle and throws a boule to try and get closer or to move the first team’s boule.
The next boule is thrown by the team whose boule is not the closest to the jack. This is the basic principle which decides which team plays next through the game: the team which is further away from the jack has to throw and try to get closer.
When both teams have thrown all of their boules a score is agreed – see below – and a member of the team which won the ‘end’ just played draws or places a circle around the position of the jack. The jack is then thrown, again between 6m and 10m, to start the next ‘end’.
When all boules have been thrown, scores are counted from the number of boules which a team has closer to the jack than the other team’s nearest boule: three boules closer means 3 points, one boule closer is 1 point, and so on.
Measuring – using a tape measure – may be necessary to decide exactly how many points have been scored.
Once a score is agreed the boules are picked up and the team which has just gained points throws the jack to start a new ‘end’.
Boules which touch an obstacle or go outside the playing area are ‘dead’ and should be removed. If the jack is knocked out of play and both teams have boules in hand, or no boules left to play, there is no score. If the jack goes out of play and only one team is holding boules, that team scores as many points as it has boules in hand.
The first team to reach 13 points wins. (A score of 13-0 – one team does not score a single point – is known as a ‘fanny’: there’s a story that goes with it!)
Holding and Throwing the Boule
Boules are held with the palm of the hand on top, lightly gripped by the fingers but not supported by the thumb. They are thrown with an easy swing of the arm, releasing the boule so that it follows an arc in the air and lands between the throwing circle and the jack, rolling forward to stop close to the jack. This is known as pointing.
Boules can be thrown from either a standing or squatting position – remember to keep feet within the circle.
Boules can also be thrown to remove an opposing boule: shooting. The technique is the same as for pointing, but with the aim of hitting the opposing boule with enough force to move it or remove it from the playing area.
Coaching sessions for novice players will go through the elements of throwing technique. The Pétanque England website also includes a very useful coaching video which demonstrates these basics of the game: