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Petanque vs Bocce: The 6 Fundamental Differences

Petanque vs Bocce: The 6 Fundamental Differences

Pétanque, bocce, boccia, rafa, boules lyonnaise… There are many different types of boules games, and their similarities make them easy to confuse. France and Italy share a lot and those two games are quite similar but not really. 

Today, we’re going to tell you all about the rules and specifics of the best-known boules games, starting with the difference between bocce and pétanque.

Petanque vs bocce is on!

What are the differences between pétanque and bocce?

The world’s best-known boules sport, pétanque is a French game that originated in Provence. The word “pétanque” comes from the Provençal “ped tanca”, where “ped” means “feet” and “tanca” means “planted”. Literally, pétanque is known as “pieds-plantés” (planted feet), due to the rule that you are not allowed to move when throwing the boules.

Petanque balls in a game
Petanque balls in a game @French Iceberg

Bocce is an Italian bowls game particularly popular in the Piedmont and Liguria regions. Its name comes directly from the Italian language. “Bocce” is the plural of “boccia”, meaning “ball”. It is therefore common to use the plural to refer to it. The game comes straight from the time of the Roman Empire and gradually spread to various regions of Europe, but also to South America (known as “bocha” in Brazil or “bolas criollas” in Venezuela) and Africa (known as “bochas” in South Africa).

Although at first glance the two games appear to be quite similar, in reality they’re not. Let’s take a look at the main differences between bocce and pétanque.

  1. Technical terms

As you’d expect from their different origins, each game has its own vocabulary. To begin with, the small target ball that players try to hit with their balls is called “cochonnet” in pétanque and “pallino” in bocce.

Secondly, throwing techniques also have their own particular names. Petanque is known for its two types of throw: pointer, which designates the action of throwing the ball towards the jack, and tirer, which designates the action of clearing the opponent’s ball.

In bocce, there are three types of shot: the volo, which consists in hitting the opponent’s ball or the pallino with the help of the court; the rafa, which consists in hitting the opponent’s ball or the pallino without the help of the court; and the point shot, which consists in bringing your ball close to a reference point.

Bocce court
Bocce court @Getty Images
  1. Throwing technique

The first fundamental difference between the two games lies in the throwing technique. As we saw above, pétanque is a static game. The player throws the boule in a bell shape through the air, so that it lands as close as possible to its target.

Throwing petanque balls
Throwing petanque balls @French Iceberg

During a game of bocce, the player takes a few steps before the shot, just like a bowler. The throw is also closer to bowling (or even curling) than to pétanque, as the player rolls the ball along the ground until it reaches its target.

  1. The calling system

In bocce, you have to call out your target before each throw, otherwise, the point cannot be validated. The player will then have to call whether he wants to make a point throw, a volo throw, or a rafa throw. This differs from pétanque, where at no point does the player have to communicate whether he’s shooting or pointing.

  1. The points system

Another difference between bocce and pétanque lies in their respective rules. Although the aim of both games is similar – to be the team with the balls closest to the jack (or pallino) – the way in which points are scored is very different.

In bocce, you only win 1 point per end (2 if the ball is in direct contact with the pallino), whereas, in pétanque, you win as many points as you have winning balls.

  1. Balls
Pétanque balls
Petanque balls and a cochonnet @French Iceberg

Ball material: Bocce balls are traditionally made of wood, but can also be found in metal, clay or plastic. They come in two main colors (red and blue), to which are added green and yellow balls when more than two players compete. Petanque balls are made of metal (carbon, stainless steel, or a mixture of the two) and are generally not colored.

Bocce balls
Bocce balls @Getty Images

Ball size: Bocce balls are considerably larger than petanque balls. While the latter has a diameter of between 71 and 78 mm, bocce balls average between 90 and 107 mm.

  1. The field

Type of pitch: Bocce is traditionally played on a dirt or asphalt pitch. The game requires a particularly smooth surface so that the balls can roll without being slowed down by the unevenness of the ground. Petanque can be played on all types of terrain, although the surface of the boulodrome (the preferred playing field) is generally a mixture of gravel and sand.

Field dimensions: Bocce is played on a field of variable length, up to 27.5 metres long (90 ft) and 4 metres wide (13 ft). Petanque is played on a smaller court, between 12 and 15 metres long (39 ft – 49 ft) and 3 to 4 metres wide (9 ft – 13 ft).

What’s the difference between boules and pétanque?

As mentioned above, “pétanque” is the name given to the most popular boules game in France. “Boules” is a French common name for the metal spheres used in pétanque and other boules games.

However, the term has more than one meaning in French. In the south of France, it’s not uncommon for it to be used as a synonym for pétanque: “On se fait une partie de boules?”. More generally, “boules” refers to spheres filled with some kind of material. The term is also used in many other disciplines: boules de billard (billiard balls),boules de bowling (bowling balls), boules de croquet (croquet balls)…

What’s the difference between boccia and bocce?

Bocce has two main variants: bocce volo (a version of bocce much closer to pétanque) and boccia. It’s not unusual for the latter to be confused with bocce. And with good reason: boccia is the name given to the handisport version of bocce.

As you’d expect, boccia differs from bocce in a number of ways. To name but a few, boccia is played with leather balls (rather than wooden ones), indoors, and on a much smaller pitch (12.5m x 6m vs. 27.5 x 4m for traditional bocce). Depending on their handicap, boccia players may also need to use a ramp to make their throws.

If you’d like to learn more about boccia, you can find all the rules about boccia on the official Paralympic Games website.

We hope this article about pétanque vs bocce has given you some insight into the international jeu de boules landscape, and a better understanding of the differences between bocce and pétanque.

If you’d like to broaden your French culture, we highly recommend taking a look at our section dedicated to sports in France.

Translated into English by Sacha

Abdul Samad khan

Wednesday 12th of July 2023

Very informative information great