petanque boules tossing ball game

The difference between boules, bocce and petanque explained

The difference between boules, bocce and petanque

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Author: Michael Li content contributor to GoNatureTrip


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Description: Boule is a becoming more and more popular in Sweden. But what is it and where do Swedes play?

Boules, bocce and petanque

There’s a common misunderstanding of boule sports. The difference between boules, bocce and petanque explained in simple terms is that boules is petanque, even though it is wrong.

You see boule is a french word meaning “balls”. Boules is a collective name for a wide range of ball games, including petanque and bocce. Normally it involves throwing or bowling the ball.

However, people uses boules as a synonym to petanque since both has a french origin. Depending on the region some uses boules as a synonym to bocce as well. Either way, boules isn’t a sport rather it is the collective name for ball sports.

Therefore, you only need to know the difference between bocce and petanque. The 2 games are quite similar with some differences, such as the scoring system is the same but not the techniques.

difference between boules bocce petanque explained

Similarities between petanque and bocce

  1. You need two teams. Each player has certain amount of boules.
  2. Toss a coin to decide the starting team.
  3. The starting team throws the the small ball onto the court.
  4. The starting team then tosses or bowls the first boule.
  5. Players use an “under arm” throw with their palm upwards and not an “over arm” throw with their palms facing down.
  6. The goal is trying to throw the boule close as possible to the small ball.
  7. You can knock the opponent’s boule away.
  8. The team with the closest boule to the small ball wins the round.
  9. The winning team starts a new round. The number of rounds is predetermined.

bocce ball bowl game color

1) The technique

The main difference between bocce ball and petanque is the playing technique. Bocce ball is a bowling game where you bowl the boule. Whilst petanque is more of a tossing game where you throw the boule.

Bocce ball players also take some steps before throwing, just like bowling. However, petanque players stand still without lifting any foot and throw within a designated area.

2) Number of players

In petanque you have 2 teams of 1, 2 or 3 players. You can play either in singles or doubles.

In bocee ball, you can have up to 8 players with 4 on each team. It is typically required that you have an even number of players on each team, however, you can have odd number of players in casual play.

3) The boules

The balls used in petanque are smaller than the ones used for playing bocce ball. Petanque boules are around 73mm in diameter, whereas a bocce ball is around 107 mm.

The boule’s material is also different. Petanque boules are made of steel and doesn’t have colors. Competition boules are hollow but leisure boules might be filled with sand.

On the other hand, bocce balls are solid made out of wood or resin. More casual boules would be made of hard plastic and is much cheaper.

4) The playing field

Petanque doesn’t technically require any dedicated playing area. It can be played anywhere, no matter the surface or environment. In fact, some prefer to have trees and slopes to make the game more challenging. Bocce ball, on the other hand, requires specific surface and space.

Bocce ball courts need to be smooth and flat so the balls can easily roll on the surface. Therefore, bocce ball can be played on a petanque court but not the other way around because throwing the boule can damage the bocce ball court.

Both petanque and bocce courts are the same in width, 4m, but bocce ball courts are longer. A competition petanque court is about 15m long, whereas a bocce ball court is 28m.

5) Hitting the “small ball”

In bocce ball, you are allowed to hit the “small ball”/jack/cochonnet. However, you can’t do that in petanque. If you do hit it then the game is over and the team who hit it loses.

petanque boules tossing ball game

You can become the shooter or pointer

When you first start playing the game, you either become the shooter of pointer. A pointer gets the boule as close to the small ball as possible and places their boules in strategic places. A shooter aims to knock the opponents boule away and get their advantageous position.

In short

There are many similarities between petanque and bocce. Such as, the scoring system and how players launch the boule. They are both in the family of boule sports, however, there are still some differences.

Such as:

  • The technique used,
  • Number of players
  • The boules used
  • The playing field
  • and hitting the “small ball”

Either way, both games are very fun to play and is suited for everyone!

Play boule in Sweden on your holiday

If you want to learn more and play petanque or bocce in Sweden it is a bit of an adventure. There are local clubs all around Sweden. As mentioned above, the climate makes it hard to play outdoors and many boule club re-opens the boule activity in the spring. The gravel field turns into a boule pitch for playing or a boule festival.

To play boule in Dalarna you have several options and local clubs arranging local boule festivals and activities in the municipality of in Rättvik.

If you spending your Swedish holiday in South Sweden you can play boule on the Swedish West Coast or in Småland.

There are also more and more Marina and ports that offer boule pitches to their guests. Boats and motorhome travellers can stay overnight in the Marina and enjoy playing boule or doing other sports

Playing boule in the winter

In winter-time many Swedes go to varmer countries such as Spain to play boule. Nevertheless there are boule bars and other boule indoor places if you come to Sweden and would like to play in the winter.