How to Play Petanque: Great Backyard Games

All photos by Shari Altman
With summer comes lingering daylight and the perfect opportunity to venture back outside after supper for a lawn game or two. Outdoor games also make for perfect entertainment at backyard barbecues and summer parties.

This summer I'm featuring a small series on Five Great Backyard Games. Have you heard of petanque? It's one of my family's favorite backyard games.


Petanque is a French game that's easy to learn and fun to play! While similar in some ways to bocce, it differs quite a bit too. According to the Petanque America website, petanque is all about tossing and bocce is more akin to bowling. Petanque uses metal balls while bocce uses wooden balls, and petanque players must toss their balls standing still unlike bocce players.

piglet target ball petanque
The piglet
The equipment:

Our OBUT set from France has six metal balls or boules (three of each pattern) and one smaller, wooden ball called the cochonnet (piglet). I've seen sets online that also have eight balls and two piglets.

boules petanque
Metal boules with different patterns
The rules:

Petanque America has a wonderful website complete with illustrated rules. You can opt for the basics or study up on the official rules.

Where to play:

We like to play outside on the lawn. Short mowed grass is best and a hilly surface adds to the challenge.

The game:

I love that petanque is versatile and can work with either two players or a pair of teams. The object of the game is simple. Each team gets three metal balls that share the same pattern design. A coin is tossed to see who throws the piglet first. Once the piglet is thrown, the goal is to simply try and throw the balls closest to the piglet. Teams alternate throwing based on whose ball is the closest. The team who is the farthest away gets the chance to throw either until one of their balls is the closest to the piglet or until they run out of balls. When the players/teams are out of balls, the scoring for the round begins.

Game over. Time for scoring.

Only one team scores points -- the team with the ball that is closest to the piglet. One point is awarded for each ball that is closer to the piglet than the losing team's closest ball. The game continues until a team reaches 13 points.

Local chapters:

If you find that you enjoy the game, there are Federation of USA Petanque chapters in many states.

Where to buy:

There are many petanque sets available on the market for a range of prices.

Playaboule offers a six metal ball petanque set for $27.95.

Pentaque America offers a French set (by OBUT) with six metal balls for $37.95.

You could also try looking for an older petanque set at a thrift store.

Stay tuned. I'll be covering four more fun Backyard Games very soon this summer.

Have you ever played petanque?

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