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Bocce Ball: Rules, Court Size, Tips, and the Best Sets.

While walking through Central Park in Manhattan, my son noticed some people rolling balls on the ground and asked me what they were doing? I explained they were playing Bocce Ball.

Bocce ball was a popular game in Ancient Rome. It is played with Bocce balls and a jack or Pallino ball. The objective of the game is to throw the Bocce ball as close to the Pallino ball as possible. You earn points by being closer to the Pallino ball than your opponent.

Bocce ball is a fun, easy game that people of all ages can enjoy. This guide will teach you everything you need to know to play bocce ball, from its history, game basics, and strategy tips. So grab a partner and get ready to have some fun.

Picture of a bocce ball court.

In this guide, I cover:

Brief History of Bocce Ball

Italians gave the world pizza, pasta, and Chianti, but not many people know that they developed the modern game of Bocce Ball, also known as “Italian Bowling.”

Bocce (pronounced ba-chee) may be attributed to the Romans; however, the game of tossing a ball to hit as close as possible to a goal or target dates back to the early Egyptians. Ancient hieroglyphs depict Egyptians throwing balls on flat courts. 

Sure, the word bocce is the plural of the Italian word ‘boccia’ which means balls. However, experts believe that the word Bocce originates from bottia, the (vulgar)  Italian form of ‘boss.’ Which may have been applied because the head of state, like Emperor Augustus, often played the game.

The Greeks also played a similar game (Greek doctors believed Bocce ball to be a ‘restorative activity’). However, the Romans infused excitement and passion into the game and spread it all over Europe. 

The Roman nobility took to playing Bocce ball as well. As mentioned before, Roman Emperor Augustus loved it and encouraged everyone from his centurions to soldiers to adopt it as well. (It is believed that Roman soldiers may have played Bocce between wars as it helped them recuperate and re-energize.) 

Earlier, the Romans would play Bocce with whatever they could get their hands on; stones, wooden orbs, etc. But soon, they discovered that coconuts from Africa worked better in providing the necessary projectile motion, and that gave them the idea to use hard olive wooden balls. 

As the Romans conquered more and more parts of Europe, Bocce started spreading to neighboring countries. Locals began adding regional twists to the game; for example, France created the ‘pétanque’ (also called boules, French Jeu De Boules). They played it using metal spears.

Similarly, the Brits created lawn bowling which they played with weighted orbs. Through the years, many famous Italian names in history also enjoyed Bocce Ball: Galileo, Garibaldi, and Benito Mussolini, just to name a few. It was little wonder that Bocce became the Italian national pastime.

The first official Italian Bocce League was formed in 1947, and the first World Championship was also held in the same year in Geneva. Today, despite its colorful history, Bocce Ball remains more or less the same, although the balls have undergone several cosmetic changes.

For one, the projectile balls (Bocce balls) are harder and made of synthetic plastic. Their size is the same as a softball. The target balls or Pallino balls are more or less the same sizes as a golf ball.

How to Set Up Bocce Ball Court

Bocce Ball is a popular game that can be enjoyed by people of all ages. Like horseshoes and ringtoss, it is a great yard game to play outdoors, and it can be enjoyed by anyone who knows how to throw a ball. So, if you are looking for a fun new activity to enjoy with your family and friends, then read on to learn how to set up and play Bocce.

Objective

The game’s objective is to roll the Bocce ball as close to the Pallina or Jack. Every Bocce ball that lands closer to the pallina than the opposing team’s balls is worth 1 point at the end of the frame. The team to first score 12 points is the winner.

Facility and equipment

Balls

  • Bocce sets include four sets of two balls (8 Bocce balls in all) and a single smaller target ball called the Pallina or jack. 
  • Each 2-ball set is a different color – typically green and red. The jack or Pallino is of a color that is visibly distinct to the Bocce balls. The standard diameter of Bocce ball is 107mm and the standard weight is 920 g.
  • Regulation bocce balls and pallina balls are made with softwood. If you are playing indoors, substitute the bocce balls with softballs and pallina balls with tennis balls. 

Court

  • You can play the game outdoors on a large grassy area or indoors over a smooth surface. The recommended surface is clean masonry sand with a compacted subgrade. However, it makes for great yard games during parties.
  • Bocce courts do not have a standard dimension but vary in length and width.
  • The maximum length of the Bocce ball court is 27.5 m and the maximum width is 4m. 
  • The maximum size of a single bocce ball court requires about 1300 sq. ft. You can also add an additional 600 sq. ft perimeter. 
  • The sideboards surrounding the outside of the court are approximate 1ft. 6-inches tall. 
  • Standard/regulation bocce courts are about 12 ft x 60 ft or 3.7 x 1.8 m. 
Picture of bocce ball,

Bocce Balls Rules and Scoring

Teams

  • The game is played between two teams. Each team can have one, two, or four players.
  • For four-player teams, each player throws one ball, in two-player teams each player throws two balls, and in games with one-player teams, each player throws four balls.

Start of the game

  • Each game begins with a coin toss. The team to win the toss either throws first or gets to choose the color of the bocce balls they will play with.
  • The player from the toss-winning team gets to throw the jack/Pallino at any distance as long as it passes the centerline of the court and stays within the court boundaries.
  • If the player fails to toss the jack/pallino properly, then a member of the opponent team gets to toss the jack into play. If s/he fails too, then the turn to toss the jack goes back to the original or toss-winning team.

Bocce Ball Throws

  • The member of the team that wins the toss and manages to toss the jack properly gets to throw the Bocce ball first.
  • If they hit the first ball on the backboard (the end of each bocce ball court/shorter banks) without first hitting the Pallino, then they get to throw the ball again until the ball is in play.
  • The opposing team also throws all the Bocce balls until they are all exhausted or until they manage to get one ball closer to the jack.
  • The play continues until both teams have finished throwing all their bocce balls. This signals the end of one frame and points are awarded at the end of it. There can be multiple frames and the best of three is the match winner.
  • The teams then continue the game but this time they get to throw from the opposite end of the court.
  • The team that was awarded points at the end of the first frame gets to toss the jack or pallino into play.

Rules

  • All players should toss the balls underhand.
  • Players must release the bocce ball before the foul line. If a player steps on or over the foul line, they receive a warning. After the second foul, the team opposite receives points.
  • If a ball goes out of the court boundaries, it is considered a dead ball and removed immediately from play until the end of the frame.

Scoring

  • Scoring is decided only after all 8 balls are played.
  • For each ball thrown closer to the jack than the opponent’s team scores 1 point.
  • If each team’s closest balls are tied, then no team scores. They continue the game from the opposite end with the team scoring the point in the previous frame tossing the jack.
  • The team that scores 12 first wins.

Bocce Terminology

Advantage

The first person to throw the ball has an advantage.

Banking

Using the Bocce balls to hit the side rails and backboards.

Kiss

The term is used to describe the Bocce ball that touches the Pallino.

Live ball

An active Bocce or Pallino ball during gameplay.

Pointing shot

The pointing shot is the most common throw in the game. Players have to deliver this shot in a crouching position. Its objective is to get the Bocce ball as close to the Pallino/jack as possible without using too much force.

Players may use the Pointing shot when no other balls are blocking the Jack. They can also use it to block the opponent’s ball from hitting the Jack or setting up the balls so that their team members can later move into scoring position.

Hitting/smash/spok shot

A smashing shot is a strong underhand shot throw players execute as close to the ground as possible. They may use it to disturb an unwanted formation of balls on the court. To deliver this shot, players typically run a short distance from behind the foul line before releasing their Bocce ball.

Bank shot

Players use this advantageous shot to hit the Pallino when other balls are blocking it. They make use of the sideboards to bounce the Bocce towards the target. Players of the team that won the coin toss may also use the bank shot to place the Jack and follow this up with the Bocce ball at the same point.

Top 3 Affordable Bocce Ball Sets – 2022 Picks

#1. Winner: GoSports Backyard Bocce Sets

We recently went camping with a couple of families, and one of them brought the GoSports Backyard Bocce Set along. Boy, did we have fun with it! And since spring is coming soon we bought this set for our next party.

There are a couple of things I love about the GoSports Backyard Bocce set:

  • Primarily, it’s a very well made set yet almost $100 less than Perfetta’s Italian-made regulation set. So it gives you the feel of playing with a high-quality balls without the high price tag.
  • Secondly, it is very well-made. The balls are heavy and they have not cracked (as yet)- and we have been playing it for a while now.

The set also comes with clear instructions. Also, the colors are very attractive, so you can spot them easily. It also has more colors so more people can join in the play.

Here are the physical attributes and features of the Bocce Set from GoSports:

Features

  • Made with classic resin (the sets also come in light-up LED style and soft rubber).
  • Bocce balls are 90mm in diameter each and in 4 colors- red, blue, green, yellow. They weigh around 1 lb.11 oz.
  • The set also comes with a durable canvas bag for easily hauling on trips.

Benefits

  • Great for gifting
  • Sturdy
  • Durable

Drawbacks

  • Slightly smaller than other Bocce sets.
  • The bag does not have carrying handles which makes it tedious to carry..

Expert tips

  • You need to use a hand pump to inflate the balls if they get deflated.

How they compare

GoSports Backyard Bocce set is affordable, durable, and sturdy. They are bright and attractive. Compared to many sets, the GoSports Backyard Bocce set is cheaper and perfect for younger kids. The carrying case makes it convenient for travel. On the downside, the balls tend to deflate, and you need an air pump to inflate them from time to time.

#2. Best Budget Buy: Franklin Sports Bocce Ball Set

Make your next beach outing, BBQ, or outdoor party even more fun with this super affordable Bocce set from Frankin Sports. It contains everything you need to start the game and comes with a lightweight and portable carrying case.

Features

  • 90 mm Bocce balls in red, blue, green, and yellow and 40 mm Pallino.
  • Features advanced ball design for smoother rolling.
  • Made with all-weather molded PE

Benefits

  • Sturdy, all-weather construction
  • Attractive carrying case
  • Soft textured balls are safe for younger ones
  • Value for money
  • Lightweight

Drawbacks

  • The set is heavier than the case which could break under the weight.

Expert tips

Duct tape the outer case to enable it to bear the balls’ weight.

How they compare

Franklin Sports Bocce Ball Set is an affordable set under $25. Go for it to have a great time with family and friends!

#3. Best Water-Resistant Set: Play Platoon Beach Bocce Ball Set

Play Platoon Bocce Ball set is made with PVC that is soft and waterproof. It contains sand – making it lightweight and pop-resistant. If your kids are like mine and leave their games outside overnight, this is the set you need plus, they’re also great to bring with you to the beach.

Features

  • Premium poly resistant coating
  • Each ball weighs 1.57lb.
  • Low-impact soft PVC outer shell
  • Weighted inner sand filling
  • Durable rubber core
  • Comes with a carrying case.

Benefits

  • Specially made for the beach
  • Great for gifting
  • Sturdy
  • Durable

Drawbacks

The carrying case is small and unreliable.

Expert tips

Use another sturdier bag for carrying the balls when on the go.

How it compares

The Play Platoon Bocce set is ideal for outdoor use – the backyard and especially the beach. Its Bocce balls are water-resistant, and its price is similar to the winning entry above.

FAQs

What is the best size of Bocce set to buy?

Professionals use 107mm balls, but if you are a beginner at Bocce or play with young kids, the 90mm balls are ideal.

Can you play Bocce on grass?

Bocce is an ideal yard game. I suggest that you cut your grass low so the balls roll easily. Because Bocce is so versatile you not only on grass but also in the garage, on gravel, dirt, concrete, at the beach, and on hard-packed soil. Some people even play it indoors on the carpet.

Can you play Bocce by yourself?

Ideally, Bocce is best played between teams having one, two, or four players each. But there is no stopping you if you want to play it on your own! Make your own rules as you go!

Are bocce ball, lawn bowling, and petanque the same?

Bocce, Petanque, and lawn bowling are not the same but rather distant cousins. Their objective is the same, but the playing techniques and tools used may differ. For example, the balls used in Lawn Bowling are asymmetrical and in Petanque, you toss hollow metal balls at a wooden target.

Key Takeaways

Bocce ball is an excellent family game to play at parties or the beach. The game originated in Italy, but Egyptians may have played an earlier version. The Roman nobility helped spread the game through various parts of Europe.

Today, there are many attractive and affordable Bocce ball sets available to fit your family’s needs. I recommend the GoSports Bocce Set because it’s well-made, durable, attractive, and affordable. It also comes with a sturdy and convenient carrying case. Do check out my other recommendations as well.

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