How to Play Croquet: Great Backyard Games

croquet mallet ball

There's a certain elegance to croquet. If you're planning a summer picnic party, then croquet should be your lawn game of choice. So, mow your lawns, choose your mallet, and let's play, shall we?


This is the third game I'm featuring as a part of the Great Backyard Games series this summer. Don't miss my earlier posts on how to play petanque and badminton.

croquet wickets stakes

To play croquet, you will need mallets (for striking the ball), balls, wickets, and stakes. Croquet sets often include equipment for six players.

croquet balls

The Rules and Playing the Game:

Players choose a mallet color and a corresponding ball. The color choice indicates which player will go first as shown on the starting stake.

Wickets are placed in a double diamond formation with the starting stake at one end of the field and the turning stake at the other end. The United States Croquet Association has a diagram of how to set out your wickets as well as detailed rules of play.

We play singles style and prefer the game "Poison." It's different than regular backyard croquet because there is no scoring. I think it's simpler and more fun as well. Here's how we play.

Players must strike the ball with their mallet, aiming to move the ball through the two wickets near the starting stake. If the ball successfully makes it through a wicket, players win another stroke. Play continues with players hitting their ball through all of the wickets on the court.

If you hit another player's ball, you get two choices. You either automatically win an extra stroke or you can "send" the player, meaning that you can place your ball right next to theirs and hit your ball (usually with great vigor) to send your opponent as far off course as possible.

The goal is to be the first person to make it through the entire course. Once your ball hits the starting stake, you become poison, meaning that if you hit another player's ball, he/she is eliminated from play. It also means that the person who is poison comes out attacking with their sole goal being to hit each player's ball and eliminate them from play.

As other players move through the course and return to the starting stake, it is possible to have multiple poison balls out on the court, which makes play tricky and exciting. The winner of the game is the last player standing.

Where to Play:

A flat, grassy lawn (recently mowed) is the best place to play croquet. My family sometimes enjoys a hilly challenge, but really, who wants to chase croquet balls all day? Not me.

Where to Buy:

So many choices. As I mentioned earlier, croquet is often sold in a set for six players, and most sets come with a carrying case.

We have an Eddie Bauer croquet set that we bought from Target five years ago (it doesn't look like they sell this set anymore). It's definitely showing some signs of wear and tear, but overall, we've been happy with this set.

If you are looking to buy a croquet set, here are a few options:

An updated version of our Eddie Bauer croquet set ($48.99) is at Amazon.

Trademark Games Croquet Set ($54.99), which has positive customer reviews, is available at Target.

The Halex Croquet Set ($19.99) from Kmart is budget-friendly.

Etsy is a great place to find vintage croquet mallets and balls.

When you play croquet, do you play "Poison"?

Stay tuned. I'll be covering two more Backyard Games this summer.

 how to play croquet

Images via Shari Altman

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