How to play pétanque: The rules of boules

July 20, 2017
Urban Adventures
pentaque balls on the ground

Yes, the game is as easy as this looks | Photo by Paris Urban Adventures

If you’ve yet to experience the joys of playing French ‘boules’ (or as the French call it, pétanque), then we suggest you get yourself some balls straight away. Oh yes, and learn the rules of the game. We promise it’s super easy. So easy that even after a few glasses of Pastis, you should still be able to remember how to play.

First step: Establish your playing area

Even if boules is more traditionally played close to the Mediterranean Sea (where the game first started), Paris offers several locations where you can enjoy a round. The most famous spots to play in Paris are along the canal de l’Ourcq, in the Arènes de Lutèces (the ancient Roman amphitheatre in Paris) or on Place Dauphine. This is where you’ll have the best chances to find opponents to challenge! Usually pétanque is played on uneven flat ground of soft gravel.

petanque balls and an Urban Adventures bag

Boules are heavy so you may just want to rent a set | Photo by Paris Urban Adventures

Second step: Get the set

You could go purchase a set from one of the sports stores in Paris (such as Decathlon), but as this is not the lightest thing to carry around, we recommend you just head to places that will lend you a set. The cute Basque restaurant Ma Salle à Manger on place Dauphine, or le Bar Ourcq along the canal will both offer all that you need for pétanque: drinks, and oh yes, boules, of course.

players throwing petanque balls

Optional step: Add some snazzy style to your throws | Photo by Paris Urban Adventures

Third step: Know the rules

There will need to be at least two of you to play. The game requires two teams of one, two or three players. It’s played in several rounds and the winning team is the first one to reach 13 points. Each round consist of a team throwing the jack (cochonnet is what we call it in French, meaning “little pig”) and the winner of the round is the team that ends up closest to the jack.

Fourth step: What’s the order of play?!

First, the jack must be thrown to a distance between 6 and 10 metres from the starting line. The first team (team A) that throws the jack also throws the first boule. Then, a player from the opponent’s team (team B) throws their first boule.

From that point to determine who plays next, we have to determine who’s the closest from the jack. If team A is winning, they hold the point, so team B will have to continue playing until they manage to get closer (possibly by knocking team A’s boule out of the way).

The round is finished when all the boules have been played. The winning team is the team that’s the closest to the jack. You get one point for each boule that’s closer than the opponent’s team. So if your team’s four boules are closer than anybody else, you win by four points. Easy peasy! And the winning team starts the next round, until you’ve reached 13 points for the ultimate winner.

players posing at petanque game

Be sure to flaunt your victory over the opposing team | Photo by Paris Urban Adventures

Last and more important step: Have fun!

Bring a group of friends, a bottle of wine or Pastis, and enjoy your evening with friends. Or join our Experience Bohemian Paris tour for a game with fellow travellers in the City of Lights.

Experience Bohemian Paris

Join a local guide to discover the enigmatic charms of France’s capital on this enlightening Paris city tour that pairs secret local hangouts with delicious food and wine – winning combo! Start this bohemian Paris tour on Sainte-Genevieve Hill, a popular spot with local university students that offers impressive views of the imposing Pantheon.