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Afternoons in the yard getting dull? Looking for something everyone can play, without having to radically transform your outdoor space? Then your search might be over! Read on to find out more about bocce, what makes it such a popular pastime, and how to equip yourself for it. Spoiler—it doesn’t take much!
If you’re getting the impression the name sounds Italian, then you’re not far off: ‘bocce’ is the plural form of the word ‘boccia’, which literally means ‘to bowl’ (as in, the sport). It has some close relatives from other countries, such as the French ‘pétanque’. Worth noting that this is a completely official sport, with its very own governing body recognized by the International Olympic Committee: the Fédération Internationale de Boules.
Bocce is nothing if not accessible: it can be played on any area with a flat, level surface, it admits from two players all the way to eight (in two teams of two, three or four players each), and it doesn’t take a lot of strength to play, which makes it a good activity for all ages.
How It Is Played
First, choose your court. The standard size of a court for playing bocce is about 90′ long, and between 8 and 13′ wide, but you can make it as small as you see fit so as to adapt to the amount of space you have available; some courts are a mere 30′ by 8′. Once you have chosen your area, you might want to trace its borders; many professionally built courts are framed by wood planks, but you can use anything that will work for your choice of ground (gravel, cement, and so on). The important part is, it must be a level surface and decently firm.
The equipment you will need to play bocce is as follows:
- 8 bocce balls. They can be built out of anything—wood, clay, metal—, but their diameter should be between 100 and 115mm, and they should weigh 920g, equivalent to 2lbs.
- 1 smaller ball, the pallino, about 40mm in diameter. This one is traditionally white.
- A measuring tape or similar device—this is not required, but it may be quite helpful, as we will soon explain.
Ready to play? This is how a bocce match goes:
1. A coin toss or similar mechanic (rock-paper-scissor, etc) is performed before the game can start. The winning player or team goes first, and also gets to pick their ball color. The one with the first turn stands at the edge of the court, and throws the pallino, trying to get as close to the center of the court as possible. Then, that player rolls one of their balls as near to the pallino as they can.
2. That done, the opposing player or team takes their turn. The goal here is to get their ball even closer to the pallino than the opponent’s, so as to ‘better the point’. To do this, they can either knock the rival’s ball out of position, or hit the pallino so it will roll away. If they succeed, the opposing side takes their turn. If the effort fails, then the next ball is played, be it by the next member of the team or by the single player, until the shot succeeds or all 4 balls are played on that side. If this happens, then the other side plays all its remaining balls.
3. Once all balls have been rolled, the round ends and scoring is tallied. Only the side whose ball is the closest to the pallino gets points, according to the following scale:
- 1 point for every ball that is closer to the pallino than the opponent’s closest ball.
- 2 points if the ball is actually touching the pallino.
- If the closest balls of both teams are exactly the same distance from the pallino, then both teams get zero points. This is where the measuring tape can be of help: to be absolutely certain it is a tie and not just a close call.
- If, when making the first throw in preparation of the game, the player sends the pallino out of bounds or the ball strikes the board frame before it stops, then the opposing player of team gets to make the throw.
- If the pallino is displaced out of bounds during a particular throw, then it is returned to its original position before said throw. However, it can end up touching the frame, in courts that have it.
- Any ball that stops out of bounds during play, is ‘lost’ and removed for the remainder of the round. Same goes in case it touches the frame, unless it is also touching the pallino and the pallino is against the boards.
Getting The Gear
As you can see, it’s all fairly simple, which certainly helps explain its enduring popularity. Now, it’s time to check out some great sets, so you can begin playing as soon as possible.
1. GoSports Backyard Bocce Set, Soft
Among its potential merits, this one is not regulation size, which may be a point in its favor if you happen to be looking for something that will more easily accommodate younger players. Balls are 90mm in diameter and 1 ¼ lbs in weight, and they are made in rubber, making them easier to grip and exceptionally safe for kids. The balls’ colors—red, blue, orange and yellow—and overall look are also likely to be a good fit. Aside from the pallino, a bag is included for carrying the set around, as well as a measuring tape for deciding close calls.
- A great option for introducing younger kids to the game of bocce.
- Due to their material, they can be played on surfaces such as carpet, hardwood and the like, aside from the more usual grass, sand, concrete and so on.
- Due to their size and consistency, this set may be an ill fit for those who wish to seriously train in the game.
2. Perfetta Club Pro solid Bocce Set
This could be a good option for anybody who is looking to get serious with bocce, as it is made in Italy—the cradle of the game—by a company that has supplied professional teams for roughly two decades. Aside from rigorously adhering to official standards in terms of size and weight, it comes with a 10-year breakage warranty, something that most other manufacturers won’t come to matching. The laser-engraved surface on the balls features the company’s logo, as well as the legend ‘Made In Italy’, so nobody who comes near this set has any doubt as to its origin. Bag for carrying included.
- Might just be the choice of anyone who wants to get as serious as possible with bocce.
- Warranty offered goes way above average.
- Measuring tape is not included; if desired, it must be acquired separately.
- Given its origin and rigorous adherence to professional standards, it is rather expensive; this may make it an ill fit for those who only wish to play casually.
3. Triumph Competition 100mm Resin Bocce Ball Outdoor Game Set with Carrying Bag for Easy Storage
Although the balls are not the 107mm size that is the official standard for professional play, they are still within range, which means they can be used for serious matches. Same goes in terms of weight: manufacturer reports 2lbs, and several customers have stated they are hefty enough to feel up to standard, and to pose a suitable challenge during play.
The color scheme is more on the unusual side—black and red—, but this could very well be to their advantage, as it makes the balls more easy to tell apart during play. Within their color groups, the balls are further split in terms of their surface engraving, as two will sport circles, whereas the other two will come with squares. Bag for carrying is included.
- A decent option when budget is limited, due to its relatively low price.
- Good enough quality to warrant a repeat purchase for some customers.
- The finish on the balls may lose its gloss sooner than later.
- Bag material is reportedly thin, and known to rip with relative ease.
4. St Pierre Sports Professional Bocce Set, Green/Maroon, 107mm
It may not be of Italian making, but this one is still geared towards the aspiring professional: the balls feature regulation size and weight, the one deviation being the pallino, as it comes in yellow instead of the vastly more common white—though this is unlikely to be a detriment to your matches. Aside from the carrying bag most similar sets include, this one comes with a rulebook, to help those who are still new to the game in their learning journey. The bag in question is also remarkably strong, as it is made in 600D nylon, one of the sturdiest fabrics in use nowadays.
- Complies with official standards, at a decent price.
- A good point of entry for those who are learning the ropes and expect to eventually go pro, thanks to its included rulebook.
- Bag may flop when the set is within, which may make it harder to carry around.
5. Rally and Roar Bocce Ball Game Set – 8 Balls, Pallino, Carry Case, Measuring Rope – Multiple Sizes
This is a good stop in case you’re looking for a set with more options on offer, as this one comes in two color and size schemes: you can get it evenly split between green and red, or with the balls paired off in four colors (red, blue, green and yellow). The colors may be more sober, or brighter, as well, depending on your selection. Whatever the palette you choose, you can get it in 90mm or 100mm sizes, which helps you cater to just about any sort of player, be it the smaller ones or those who want their experience to be closer to the official game.
- Set versions available for younger players, or for more serious matches.
- There is no need to acquire a measuring string separately, as it is included.
- 100mm set is reportedly heavier than regulation allows; might require some caution for play depending on the user.
- Several instances reported of pellino ball missing from the package.
The One That Brings All To The Yard: GoSports Backyard Bocce Set, Soft
For fun on the lawn, this one might be hard to beat: its size and weight don’t stray too far from regulation standards, and it still manages to be safer thanks to its rubber make. In this way, it might just be the most accessible set out there, since it can truly be handled by players of all ages without the slightest fear of injury.
Should this particular material not be to your liking, this very same set is available in traditional resin—with a finish that is reportedly quite resilient against chipping—, and there is even an option with LED balls so you can play well past bedtime. Whichever version you go for, they all come with carrying bag and measuring string; and they are quite affordable, too.