Most people know how to play bocce ball. Or at least they know enough to get a basic game going with some friends.
But there’s more to this game than many players realize.
As a staple at picnics, potlucks and other gatherings, the game of bocce also has a long history and rich cultural heritage.
A member of the boules family of games, which also includes similar games like the French version Petanque and the British game of Bowls, Bocce may be one of the oldest games in living memory.
This simple yet compelling game pits two or more teams against one another in a game of skill and strategy.
And, although most of us have played a game or two of bocce, we think it’s worth it to take the time to really learn how to play bocce ball.
This guide will give you all the info you need, including bocce ball rules, court size and game set up, as well as some winning tips.
The History of Bocce Ball
The history of bocce ball is not as cut and dry as you might imagine it to be.
While bocce ball is commonly referred to as Italian bowling, the game did not begin in Italy.
There is some evidence that the origins of bocce ball date all the way back to about 5000 BC in Egypt.
Hieroglyphics have been recovered that depicts a game that looks similar to bocce ball.
These illustrations appear to show several figures rolling or tossing balls and then judging where they land.
There is also speculation that bocce ball was first played in ancient Greece around 600 BC. Hippocrates, who is often called the “Father of Modern Medicine,” praised the positive effects on a person’s health from playing the game.
While the origins of bocce ball are murky, the current form of bocce ball can be traced back to 264 BC.
This version of the game was created by Roman soldiers during the Punic Wars.
The joy of bocce ball was brought back to the homes of the soldiers following the wars.
Read this post for a deeper dive into the roots of bocce ball.
Where to Play Bocce Ball: The Perfect Bocce Ball Court
A bocce ball court can be created in any spacious area that can accommodate the size of the court.
While the game is most commonly enjoyed as an outdoor activity, indoor bocce courts have grown in popularity over the years.
Bocce ball is perfect for both small and large groups.
While the game is simple, there is some strategy involved, allowing teams to work together to achieve a well-earned victory.
Official Bocce Court Dimensions
Official bocce ball court dimensions are between 8’ to 14’ wide and 60’ to 91’ long. There is a great deal of variation from one court to another, but bocce ball courts will typically be within these dimensions.
13’ x 91’ is the current court recommendation from the United States Bocce Federation (USBF) regarding tournaments or open play.
A bocce ball court can be a smaller dimension than what is recommended by the USBF.
Indoor courts typically have smaller versions of the game due to space constraints.
A bocce ball court can be set up on several different types of materials.
These materials include grass, clay, dirt, sand, and stone.
Ideally, you will want to use a flat surface.
Building Your Own Bocce Ball Court
If you would like to create a bocce ball court in your backyard, you must first determine the amount of space you can dedicate to the court.
Bocce ball courts are lengthy. While you need not use official dimensions, your court should be much longer than it is wide.
Once you have a designated spot for your court, you will need to mark the court’s boundaries, foul line, and center court line.
There are several ways that you can go about this. More permanent courts can significantly benefit from wooden or stone siding.
For a temporary bocce court, you may be able to utilize stakes if you tie rope from one stake to the next.
Your center court line should be in the center of your bocce ball court.
For example, if your court is 60 feet in length, your center line should be placed at 30 feet.
Your foul line should be 10 feet from the end of your court.
The Equipment You Need to Play Bocce Ball
Once you have a bocce ball court to play at, you will need to get the appropriate equipment to play the game.
1. Bocce Balls
A standard bocce ball set will include eight bocce balls.
Generally, four balls will be a different color than the other four. In standard sets, the balls are often the same size, weight and made from the same material.
However, you can find sets that have varying sizes, such as those to accommodate child players.
In the U.S., tournament grade bocce balls have a diameter of 100 mm to 115 mm.
The average weight of a standard bocce ball is two pounds.
The pallino is a smaller ball that has a different color than that of the bocce balls.
In the United States, these balls are generally around 1.97 inches in diameter.
However, the average size of the pallino varies in different parts of the world.
The materials used in a pallino are generally similar to those found in a bowling ball.
Selecting the Right Bocce Ball Set
The best bocce ball set for you will come down to the quality and price of the set you wish to buy.
Bocce ball sets come in a variety of colors, materials, and costs.
Generally speaking, the higher the price, the more durable and denser the material used. At the height of quality, tournament sets are usually the go-to. However, these sets are often far more costly.
The best bocce ball set is going to be on that is made from a solid material and is, more or less, the size that it should be.
Colors or patterns of the balls within a set should be distinct from each other and the pallino.
Bocce ball is a game of throwing balls and hitting them against one another and the material of the court.
One obvious drawback to “cheap” bocce balls is that the force of these common impacts will break them over time.
Balls that are not made of an appropriate, solid material, will likely chip, ding, dent and become too damaged to play with.
So, when purchasing a bocce ball set, it is crucial that you review the materials that were used to make the balls and pallino.
Some sets use cheaper material as fillers, or some solid material that is filled with water, to give the bronco balls the weight they need. However, these balls will be the fastest to break, costing you more in the long run.
A higher quality set will use durable composites within the interior, such as phenolic resins.
When searching for a set, you should also consider if there are any children who might be playing bocce balls.
Standard balls are often too heavy for smaller children, so you may need to find a set that includes extra balls or purchase a separate set that children may use.
Playing Bocce Ball with the Right Amount of Players
Before diving into bocce ball rules, it is worth taking the time to learn about the ideal amount of players for the game.
Bocce ball is an excellent game for small and large groups alike.
You can play bocce ball with two to eight payers. While up to eight players are the recommendation, you can add additional players, so long as you have enough bocce balls.
The amount of players that you will have determines the size of each team and the number of bocce balls that will be in play.
Each team consists of one, two, or four players.
Each side will have four bocce balls that have a distinguishable color or pattern to set them apart from another team’s balls.
A team’s bocce balls are divided evenly among team members.
For example, if you are playing with a four-person team, each team member will get one ball. If you have two players on your side, each of you will have two balls.
Whenever a team has multiple players, a team playing rotation must be set at the beginning of the game.
How to Play Bocce Ball: The Bocce Ball Rules
It is important to review the bocce ball rules if you have never played before or if you need a refresher.
Once you know the number of players that you have assigned players to teams, you can dive into the rules.
1. Determining Who Goes First and Delivering the First Toss
Before you begin the game, you must determine which team will go first.
A coin toss is the easiest way to decide.
The winner of the coin toss can either choose the color or pattern of balls they wish to use or to have the first toss.
The team that is awarded the first toss can toss the pallino at any distance, so long as it lands within the boundaries of the court and passes over the centerline.
If a team fails to appropriately toss the pallino into play, the opposing team will have the opportunity to do so.
Should that team fail, the next group will have a chance to toss and so on.
When all groups have tried to toss the pallino and failed, the responsibility will revert to the first team.
Once the pallino is in play, the team that delivered it will have the chance to toss one of their balls.
The goal is to get your ball to stop as close to the pallino as possible while remaining within the court boundaries.
If the first team tosses their bocce ball after placing the pallino, but the ball lands outside of the bocce ball court boundaries, the next player on the team must toss.
This rotation continues until the first ball is put into play.
If the team fails to place any balls, the next opposing team will have the opportunity to toss.
Once both the pallino and the first bocce ball have been placed, you can continue with the game.
2. How to Throw a Bocce Ball
Bocce ball rules dictate how the bocce balls may be tossed.
You must throw bocce balls underhandedly.
However, using an underhand technique, you can choose to toss, roll, or bounce your ball.
The ball will be deemed “in play” so long as your ball stops within the court boundaries and you do not violate the foul line.
The foul line is a line on the court that you may not cross when tossing before releasing your ball.
3. Playing the Game
After the pallino and the first bocce ball are on the court, a new turn rotation will begin.
Whenever a team successfully gets their bocce ball closest to the pallino has the “in” ball where the opposing teams have the “out” balls.
The team that goes next in the rotation is always the team with the “out” balls.
Until the opposing team gets the ball closer to the pallino, while within bounds, that team continues to go until they have exhausted all of their balls.
This turn rotation continues until all of the teams have thrown all of their bocce balls.
Once this happens, the “frame” is over, and the winning team is awarded points.
In bocce ball, “frames” are the rounds of the game.
4. Dealing with Fouls
Each bocce ball court has a foul line that a player cannot cross before releasing a bocce ball.
The first time a player crosses this line, creating a “foul,” the player receives a warning.
On a second occurrence, the current frame ends immediately.
The team that was fouled against will be awarded points for the round unless the team declines the penalty and wishes to complete the round.
5. Out of Bounds
When tossing bocce balls, the balls must land within the court boundaries.
If a ball goes outside of the court boundaries, the ball is removed from play until the end of the frame.
If a pallino is struck and knocked out of bounds, the frame will conclude, and no points will be awarded for the round.
How to Play Bocce Ball: Scoring & Winning the Game
Now that you know how to play bocce ball, it is important to learn how to score frames and ultimately win this addictive game.
After each team has exhausted all of their bocce balls, the current frame concludes. The team that has the “in” ball, the ball closest to the pallino, will receive points for the frame.
This team will receive one point for every bocce ball that is closer to the pallino than the ball that is closest of the opposing teams.
If there is uncertainty over which bocce balls are closer to the pallino, measurements can be taken from the edge of each bocce ball to the center of the pallino.
The first team to reach 16 points wins the game.
Tips for Winning Bocce Ball
Winning bocce ball takes a little bit of luck, but the game is considered one of skill.
If you are having a hard time winning, try these tips:
- To Hit the Pallino or the Bocce Ball: Bocce ball rules allow players to toss their balls towards the pallino, to strike the pallino, or to strike another in play bocce ball. This ruling will enable players to formulate further strategies. Should you try to get one of your balls closer to the pallino? Knock another player’s ball away? Or strike the pallino in the attempt to end a frame prematurely after a poorly played round?
- Winning a Frame vs Scoring More Points: Remember, when a frame ends, only the winning team will be awarded points. If your opponents can get their bocce ball closer to the pallino then your team can, you will not score, regardless of how many balls you have that are close to the pallino.
Mastering bocce ball can take practice.
Sometimes, the hardest decision is simply where to aim your bocce ball toss as well as learning the amount of force that you need to apply to your toss to achieve your goal.
Bocce Ball: A Timeless Classic
Now that you know how to play bocce ball, you are ready to enjoy this timeless classic.
This simple, yet addictive game has withstood the test of time in ways that many other games have failed.
Despite its simplicity, you’re bound to have a ball with bocce ball.