– to be pronounced “pay-tank”-

Created in 1910 in La Ciotat, in Provence, in southern France, Petanque is by far the most popular Boule game in France and maybe the world.

It mixes dexterity and strategy yet it is very simple and fun. Petanque is a form of boules where the goal is, while standing inside a starting circle with both feet on the ground, to throw hollow metal balls as close as possible to the “Jack”. Similar games are bocce and bowls. The English and French name petanque comes from petanca in the Provençal dialect of the Occitan language, deriving from the expression pès tancats, meaning “feet anchored”. The casual form of the game of petanque is played by about 17 million people in France, mostly during their summer vacations.

Split up into two teams

Pétanque is played with two teams. Decide which players will be on which team. There are three ways you can play:

  • Doubles (2 players per team). Each player gets three boules. This is the most common way to play.
  • Triples (3 players per team). Each player gets two boules.
  • Singles (one against one). Each player gets three boules.

Select the boules

Both teams select their boules. Each team’s boules should have  Groove Patterns that distinguish them from the other side’s boules: that way, they will be easy to identify when counting up points. 

Decide who goes first

Toss a coin to see which side goes first.

Draw a circle on the ground wherever you’re playing the game

The circle should be about 20 inches (50 cm) in diameter. Whenever any player is playing they must stand in the circle, and both of their feet must be planted on the ground.

Flip a coin to see which team goes first

One team calls heads or tails before the coin is tossed. If the coin lands on that side, that team goes first.

Have a member from the first team stand in the circle and toss the jack

They can toss the jack “Cochonnet” in any direction. It should land between 20-33 feet (6-10 meters) away from the circle, and it should be at least 3 feet (1 meter) away from any object (like a tree) that might interfere with a player’s swing.

After throwing the jack, have a member of the same team throw the first boule

They should stand in the circle and try to get their boule close to the jack “Cochonnet” and (preferably) in front of it.

Have a member from the second team stand in the circle and throw a boule. The goal of the second team is to end up with their boule closer to the jack. They will either “point” (try to roll their boule close to the jack) or “shoot” (try to hit the opponent’s boule away from the jack.)

  • If the second team succeeds, then they will have the boule that is closest to the jack—they will “have the point.” The team that does not have the point (that is, the team that does not have the closest boule) must play the next boule, and must keep playing until they have the point or run out of boules.
  • For example, if Team B tosses a boule and it doesn’t land closer to the jack than Team A’s boule, then Team B would have to toss another boule. This would continue until they get a boule closer to the jack than Team A’s boule or run out of boules.

Change teams when the throwing team gains the point

If a member of Team A tosses a boule and it lands the closest to the jack, then Team A has the point and it would then be Team B’s turn to throw. If Team B then tosses a boule and it lands closer to the jack than Team A’s boule, then Team B has gained the point and it is Team A’s turn to throw. This continues until both teams are out of boules.

Keep going until both teams have thrown all of their boules

This ends the round. If one team uses all of their boules before the other, the other team throws all of their remaining boules. The round is over once all of the boules of both teams have been tossed.

Count the score for the winning team

After all boules have been thrown, the team whose best boule is closest to the jack wins the round. The winning team gets one point for each of their boules that is closer to the jack than the losing team’s closest boule. The losing team doesn’t score any points.

Start the next round

To do this, the team that won the last round draws a new circle on the ground, around the place where the jack was in the last round. They also throw out the jack. The new circle is now where all players must stand to toss their boules. The winning team from the previous round goes first.

Continue playing rounds until one team reaches 13 points

Etre Fanny / faire Fanny : if a team loses 0 to 13,

meaning they didn’t score a single point over the whole game, they are said to be/make “fanny”, in reference to an old custom where the losers must kiss the naked buttocks of “Fanny” a woman – or rather her representation as an image or a small sculpture. (Gross, I know….It represents the humiliation of losing the whole game!)