North American Bowling News


The Game of Petanque (Photo courtesy '')

In earlier issues of the North American Bowling News, we reported on other variations of the bowling game—bocce (Issue 8) and lawn bowling (Issue 5). In this edition, we'll discuss a similar game that is popular in France, as well as numerous other locations in the world—the game of Petanque. The main difference between bocce and lawn bowling vs. petanque is that in the prior two variations, balls are normally rolled, while in petanque, the balls are primarily thrown, but with a backspin technique similar to that of the French Canadian version of the rubberband duckpin game. 'Rolling a ball' is allowed, but not done nearly as often as the 'lobbing' motion—a motion that oftentimes in high-profile stadium competition exhibits a loft of 12-15 feet in height.

The game of boules, otherwise known as pétanque, is perhaps the sport that is closest to French hearts. Similar to British lawn bowling or Italian bocce, the French version is traditionally played with metallic balls on a dirt or fine gravel surface, mostly outdoors. Like our bowling alleys, the local 'bowladrome' is a social focal point for gatherings in southern France.

The object of the game is to throw your balls, usually with somewhat of an arched backspin so that they land closer to the small object ball (cochonet) than those of your opponent, or strike and drive the object ball toward your other balls and away from your opponent's. Unless you've played, or seen the game played, it's difficult to grasp the concept of the reason for using backspin on a dirt surface. It should be emphasized that the balls are mostly thrown, and not rolled. The backspin effect almost makes the game more like horseshoes than bowling.

Tournament play is extremely fascinating. Accuracy is of paramount importance in the game of petanque.

Only one team gets points per round, and the teams play as many rounds as it takes to arrive at 13 points. The first team to arrive at 13 points wins.

In competition, you can either play 1 vs. 1 (3 balls per player); 2 vs. 2 (3 balls per player); or 3 vs. 3 (2 balls per player). The teams flip a coin to see who starts. The starting team draws a circle in the ground, then throws the target ball, or cochonet, out to a distance of 6 to 10 meters. The starting team then throws its first ball, trying to get as close as possible to the cochonet. Then the 2nd team's player stands in the circle, and tries to get its team's ball closer to the cochonet than the opposing team. As mentioned earlier, a common strategy is to aim at the opposing team's ball to knock it away from the object ball. If a team does get a ball closer than any of its opponents, it's called "having the point", and then the opposing team has to take the field and then attempt to get a ball closer to the cochonet. The team which does not have the closest ball to the cochonet keeps throwing balls until either they get closest, or they run out of balls to throw.

When all balls are thrown, only the balls of the one team that are closest to the cochonet are added to the running score. For example, if team A "has the point" and has 2 of its 3 balls closest to the cochonet than any of the opposing team's balls, then team A gets 2 points added to their score for the round.

The team which "had the point" in a previous round starts the new round, drawing a circle around the position of the cochonet and uses that as the new throwing circle. There can be lots of strategy used when playing Petanque. Defensive "walls" of balls in front of the cochonet may block an opponent from "getting the point".

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