From the courts of ancient Rome to the modern-day backyard cookout, bocce ball has earned its place as one of history’s most beloved outdoor games. In the U.S. today, bocce ball typically falls into the category of yard games along with croquet, horseshoes and shuffleboard. The game is easy enough for anyone who can toss a ball, yet it can offer a challenge for advanced players who use strategic tactics to win.
If you’re looking for a fun way to pass the time this summer, bocce ball is a great way to get outside, enjoy others’ company and get moving. Read on to learn how to play and give it a try for yourself!
What You’ll Need
To play bocce ball, you’ll need to acquire a set. You can buy a set for as little as ten dollars, or purchase a higher quality set for thirty dollars or more. A bocce ball set includes eight one-pound balls (usually divided into two different colors) and one smaller ball called a jack.
You can play bocce ball with as few as two players or as many as eight. The different-colored balls represent each team. You can play with just one person on a team or two, three or four players on a team.
Traditionally, bocce ball is played on a long, narrow court, similar to shuffleboard, made of asphalt or packed dirt. However, you can modify the game to play wherever you have open space, such as a backyard or grassy area at the park. A traditional court is 91 feet long and 13 feet wide, but you can use whatever space you have available. You can measure out your own court with spray paint, chalk or corner makers, or opt to play without a court. (If you’re interested in drawing or building a traditional court in your backyard, you can find directions here.)
Rules of the Game
For the sake of tradition, we’re going to explain how to play on a bocce ball court. If you choose to play in open space, simply adapt the rules as you see fit (playing without a court can make the game easier).
1. Choose teams – Once you separate your players into two teams and select the color of balls you will use, teams should toss a coin or select which team will throw the jack.
2. Throw the jack – Toss the jack with an underhand throw to the furthest half of the court. It must land beyond the halfway point and within the court boundaries. (For open play, simply toss the jack an appropriate distance.)
3. Bowl – The team who throws the jack gets to go first. The first player will throw their ball underhand (called bowling), trying to land the ball as close to the jack as possible. The player can toss, roll or bounce the ball. They must bowl from behind the court’s fault line, or from an agreed upon place.
4. Second team bowls – The second team gets a chance to bowl next. The first player tries to get their bocce ball as close to the jack as possible.
5. Decide who bowls next – Once both teams have a ball on the court, determine which team’s ball is furthest from the jack. This team gets to bowl out the rest of their bocce balls.
6. Second team bowls out – To finish the frame, the other team bowls out the rest of their balls. Once all eight balls have been bowled, the frame is over, and it’s time to score points.
7. Scoring – Determine which team’s ball is closest to the jack. This team will score one or more points (the other team won’t score any for this frame). The scoring team earns points for every additional ball that is closer to the jack than the other team’s nearest ball. If there is a tie, no points are awarded.
8. Repeat – Switch ends of the court and begin another frame. This pattern will continue until one team scores the winning number of points. Traditionally, games are played to 7 – 13 points, but you can choose a different number.
Strategies & Variations
As with many yard games, plenty of variations for bocce ball exist. Feel free to adapt the rules to your own preferences, as long as all players agree! When playing without a court, you may throw the jack as close or as far as you like. Another way to switch up the game is to alternate team bowls, rather than throwing all three at once.
If you’re playing to win, there are some strategies you should know. On your turn, you can use your ball to knock the other team’s ball away from the jack. You can also hit the jack away from their balls to change the aiming point of the frame. If you’re playing on a court, you can also use the walls of the court to ricochet your balls into position.
Now that you know everything you need to start playing bocce ball, we hope you’ll get out and get playing! Grab a set, invite some friends over and spend the summer evenings enjoying some healthy competition.
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