What is the Difference between Petanque vs. Bocce Ball?8 min read

If you’ve seen the words “petanque” and “bocce ball”  used interchangeably, you may have wondered what the difference is exactly. Although some online articles claim that bocce and petanque are basically the same thing, that’s not entirely true. They both fall into the boules sport category, but there are several differences between the two.

In this post, we’ll be discussing the topic of petanque vs. bocce ball and learn a bit more about their main differences. But first, let’s start with a closer look at the two games as well as their similarities.

What is Petanque?

Petanque is a French bowling game. It involves players taking turns to throw a ball as close to a smaller target ball as possible. One of the first things you need to learn about the game is the petanque pronunciation. Since it originated from France, even the English petanque pronunciation follows the French pronunciation. It’s pronounced like “pay-tonk” and the phonetic transcription is pəˈtɒŋk.

The game was originally developed in 1910 as a variant of another form of boules called jeu provençal in the town of La Ciotat. A local café owner Ernest Pitiot came up with the idea so his friend Jules Lenoir, a former jeu provençal, could continue playing the game in spite of his severe rheumatism.

Since he could no longer run to throw a boule, they reduced the length of the court by roughly half and required a player to throw the boule while standing stationary within a circle instead of running. Due to this change, the game was called pieds tanqués, which means “feet planted.” And eventually it evolved into what we now know as petanque.

black and white bocce ball
Image Source: Pxhere

What is Bocce?

Bocce is an Italian bowling game. Like petanque, this too involves players taking turns to throw a ball as close to a smaller ball as possible. The English pronunciation for bocce is bŏchʹ-I and it is phonetically written down as /ˈbɑtʃi/. Bocce can be traced back to ancient Egypt, with a tomb painting that depicts two boys playing a game that looks similar.

The game has evolved over the years and was spread from Egypt to Greece and from Greece to Rome. The oldest known period that bocce was played using the rules we know today was during the Punic Wars in 264 BC. You can read more about bocce in our about bocce ball article.

Petanque vs. Bocce: The Similarities

Before we get to petanque vs. bocce ball, it’s important that we first learn the similarities first to understand why people often confuse the two. Both petanque and bocce fall under the same category of boules sport. Other sports under this category include lawn bowling, raffa, crown green bowling, and boule lyonnaise.

The biggest similarly between the two sports is that players in both games throw a ball in an attempt to get it as close to a smaller target ball as possible. And in both games, players use an “under arm” throw like in softball, as opposed to an “over arm” throw like in baseball.

The scoring rules for petanque and bocce are quite similar as well. In both games, one frame or end is completed after each player has finished throwing their ball. Once this happens, the team with a ball closest to the jack wins the frame or end and they get to score points. They score one point for each ball that they have thrown closer to the jack than the opponent team’s closest ball.

Petanque vs. Bocce Ball: The Differences

So what exactly is the difference between petanque and bocce ball? The primary differences in petanque vs. bocce are the balls and the throwing techniques used in each game. In bocce, the balls are heavier and more colorful and can be thrown like a bowling ball with a few forward steps. In petanque, the balls are lighter and made of steel and are tossed standing still.

Here’s a list of the other major differences between the two games:

  1. The balls used for playing petanque are smaller than the ones used for playing bocce. The size of a petanque boule is typically around 73mm, which is less than 3 inches, but the standard size of a bocce ball is 107 mm in diameter, which is around 4.2 inches.
  2. Petanque boules are made of steel and while the boules used in competitions are hollow, the ones used in casual play might be filled with sand. On the other hand, bocce balls are solid and are normally made of hard epoxy resin. You could also find cheaper-quality balls made of hard plastic or recycled material. The traditional ones were carved out of wood.
  3. Owing to the size difference and the hollow center, petanque boules are also lighter than bocce balls. Each petanque boule would weigh around 680g or 1.5 lb, and the standard weight of a regulation bocce ball is 920g or 2 lbs.
  4. Petanque boules are plain steel and the only way to differentiate between sets is through the different patterned grooves on the ball’s surface. However bocce balls tend to be more colorful. Each bocce ball set typically comes with eight balls of two different colors – four red and four blue. But the colors could also vary by set.
bocce ball lawn
Image Source: Pixabay
  1. Since bocce balls are relatively large and heavy, the game involves rolling the ball with the palm up like in bowling. As for petanque, the balls are smaller and lighter. So it involves throwing or tossing the ball with the palm down like in horseshoes. This is another major difference between the two games.
  2. The two games also differ in that bocce players take a few steps before they throw the ball, while petanque players throw the ball while standing still. Petanque rules require that players remain within a circle while they attempt their throw.
    Traditionally, they would simply draw this circle in the dirt at a diameter of 35-50 cm or 14-20 inches. But since 2005, they began using a red plastic circle with an inside diameter of 50 cm or 20 inches in formal games.
  3. Another difference in petanque vs. bocce ball is in the court size. While they are of approximately the same width (13 feet), there is a major difference in the length of bocce courts and petanque courts. While a world championship petanque court runs 50 feet long, a regulation bocce court should have a length of 91 feet
  4. Bocce courts need to be smooth and flat so the balls can easily run across the playing surface. But almost any terrain would be suitable for playing petanque even if there are trees and rocks in between. At the same time, bocce courts will be too smooth for playing petanque. The high lobs are likely to cause some damage to the court. An uneven terrain could make the game more challenging, which is preferable by many players.
bocce ball being thrown dirt
Image Credit: Man Vyi
  1. As a result of the large size and the need for a smooth surface, it can be time-consuming and expensive to build a bocce court. There’s also the fact that bocce courts are typically required to have sideboards that will prevent the balls from bouncing off court. And they require constant maintenance if they’re going to remain usable.
    On the other hand, it’s much easier and cheaper to build and maintain a petanque court, as it is more flexible. And you can play it on almost any terrain and adapt the size according to space availability.
  2. While bocce players are allowed to hit the pallino or jack, the jack would be considered “dead” if the same thing happened in petanque. And one end will be complete when this happens, even if there are players who still haven’t thrown their boule.
    In case this happens and there is only one team with remaining boules, this team will score one point for each of the boules they haven’t played. Otherwise, neither team will score a point for that end.
  3. Bocce can have up to eight players with four on each team. While you do see people playing bocce with three-player teams, it is typically required that you have an even number of players on each team. This is to ensure that each team member can have an equal amount of balls to throw.
    But in petanque, each team can have up to three players. In single-player and two-player teams, each player gets to use three boules. But in three-player teams, each player can only use two.
  4. A game of bocce normally ends when one team has scored 12 points. In some cases, this target score could increase to 15 or even 21. In petanque rules, the game ends when one team manages to score 13 points.

Conclusion

These are some of the main differences between petanque and bocce ball. As you can see, there are certain similarities when it comes to basic game structure and scoring rules. The main differences are in the balls and in certain playing rules. Both games are super fun and can be played by people across all age groups. So you should definitely give them a try and see which one’s more suitable for you.