How to Play Bocce Ball: Game Rules & Pro Tips

a nice and shiny silver bocce ball set

Did you know that the bocce ball originated in ancient Egypt? Yes, that’s right. Pharaohs and their children played this classic ball game. Even the Romans were a big fan. Emperor Augustus is said to have enjoyed playing a lot. 

Bocce ball first saw its present form in Italy. From there, it spread to many European countries and then to Australia. Now, it has a huge following globally. From Japan to China and both the Americas, everyone has gotten on the bocce train. And today, we’re teaching you how to play. 

It’s a great game because the rules are easy to learn and playing is a lot of fun. The only problem is that you can’t dive in headfirst. It would help if you familiarized yourself with the basics. This includes stuff like team formation, the court, and equipment.

If you’re thinking about buying a Bocce Ball set of your own be sure to check out my roundup guide to the 12 Best Bocce Ball Sets before you make your purchase. There are definitely some sets and manufactures that are better than others, and some balls to avoid.

Bocce Ball Equipment

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Before getting into the gameplay, you should know what you’re going to be using. 

Bocce ball doesn’t require a lot of equipment. All you need are eight large balls, known as bocce balls, and a Pallino. If you buy a set, it’ll typically come with both. This makes it the perfect game to take to the beach or on a trip. 

Bocce balls come in a range of sizes. You choose one depending on how old the players are and their skill level. Kids typically stick to the smaller ones, whereas adults and gameplay experts choose larger ones. The standard size for competitions is a 4.2-inch diameter and weight of 920g. 

Each set has balls in two colors, making it easy to identify them in a match when divided among the two playing teams. Typically, you’ll find balls in green and red, but others may be available as well. 

The Pallino, also called the “jack,” is a smaller ball. It’s used to represent the target for the bocce balls. 

Prices for these sets range from $20 to $100. Sometimes you might even find one costing more. You should know that you don’t need to pick a set in the higher range unless you want a professional set. A cheaper version will work great for a fun day at the beach with friends and family. 

Now, let’s move onto the first step of playing bocce ball: setting the court.

The Bocce Ball Court

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You don’t always need to have a designated game area; you can use any open space. However, it’s better if you make the extra effort and set up a court. 

Pick an area with a flat surface, such as grass or sand. Then mark out a 90 foot by 13-foot space. This is the regulation size, meaning it’s the ideal. But you can make it smaller or bigger in informal settings depending on how many people you’re accommodating.

You can draw these lines with any material. You can mark them by a string, draw them in dirt or sand using a stick, or mark them by placing various objects. Choose whichever works best for you. 

Professional courts have a raised edge of about 8 inches. You can put up a makeshift barrier or build a permanent one if you’re playing regularly. Again, you don’t need to do this when with friends, but it is vital for professionals. 

Next, you have to draw a foul line. This marks the spot beyond which players can not step. Any player who does so gets a red card and loses points. 

Some bocce game matches have a regulator peg in the precise center of the game area. The jack has to pass from this point when thrown at the very start of the game. While this isn’t a regulation demand, it does make the game more fun and is practiced by several people. 

Make Teams 

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You need to have at least two people to play bocce ball. The game can have up to 8 players. This versatility makes it great for large and small groups alike. 

The division into teams depends entirely on how many people are involved. Try to get an even number of players so that you can have an equal number on each side. But if that isn’t possible, one extra member on a team is acceptable. 

After forming teams, figure out how many bocce balls each player gets. If you’re a group of 4, everyone gets to “bowl” 2 balls. On the other hand, in a group of 2, one player “bowls” 4 balls. 

The logical next step is starting the game. However, since you’re a beginner, we’re going to go over the rules of gameplay. Here, we’ll discuss what a game looks like once it begins.

Playing The Game

Bocce games have a series of rounds called frames. You and your team get scored at the end of each frame. 

Throw The Jack

The player who starts the game by tossing the Pallino also sets the frame’s target. It has to fall behind the central line. Every player who follows has to try and get their bocce ball as close to the jack as they can. 

You can flip a coin to determine which team gets to throw the jack first. Whoever doesn’t get to throw it in the first frame gets the opportunity to do so in the second one. This is because you have to alternate this task between teams at the start of each new round. 

For games being played in a designated area, the jack needs to stay in the court. If a team fails to do so and throws it outside, the other team gets their turn. However, if you aren’t playing in a court, there isn’t a restriction. Toss it wherever you want. Just make sure it’s far enough for the game to be fun. If it’s close to the teams, the game will become too easy. 

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Throw The First Bocce Ball

The team who throws the jack gets to throw the first bocce ball. They have to try and get it as close to the target ball as possible. Players have to stand behind the foul line.

Throw The Second Bocce Ball 

Then the second team throws their bocce ball. One of their players will try to throw their bocce ball as close to the jack as possible. 

Throw The Remaining Balls

The rest of the frame is spent with both teams throwing their three remaining bocce balls. The team with the bocce ball farthest from the jack in the first attempt gets to throw theirs first. 

During the three successive turns, the team will try to get their bocce ball as close to the jack as possible. The balls must stay inside the court area. Additionally, they should be thrown from behind the foul line. 

If someone hits the jack, you can’t put it back in place. Instead, the rest of the frame will readjust their target. This can mean that a bocce ball that was previously close to the jack may be far away now. 

One frame ends when all eight balls have been thrown. 

Scoring

After a frame finishes, one team gets one or more points. Whoever has thrown their bocce ball closest to the jack gets them. If two teams have balls at the same distance from the jack, no one gets a score. 

Most times, you’ll be able to tell who’s closer by looking at it. But if there is any doubt, pull out a measuring tape. It might be an extra effort, but it ensures accuracy and precision.

If the team has more than one ball inside, they get one point for each. And if their bocce ball is “kissing” the jack, meaning it’s touching it, they get two points. 

The game will end once either of the two playing teams gets 12 points. You can, of course, reduce or increase this when playing in an informal setting with friends or family. 

How To Throw A Bocce Ball 

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There are a range of strategies when it comes to throwing a bocce ball. You should try each out and then pick the ones that suit you best. 

First, you can try bowling. This technique involves you using wrist action to almost roll the bocce ball. If you’ve ever gone bowling, all you need to do is transfer that skill here. Apply less force since this ball is lighter. 

The trick with this strategy is to include just enough air time. Alternate between high soft lobs and more decisive low throws. Review your performance with both and then pick whichever gives you the best result.

Second, throw it underhanded. Stand facing your target, cup your hand, and bring your throwing arm behind your back. Make sure you’re using your dominant arm, the one you use for daily tasks like writing. Since it is used more often, the muscles are stronger. 

Step with your opposite foot when you throw the ball. Release it between your knee and waist level. Anything above or below will give you an unfavorable result. Then just follow through to your target, and you’ll score well. 

Third, grip the ball with your palm under it. Rest your fingertips on the front of the ball. This gives you unparalleled control over its motion. Alternatively, you can grab it from above and place your fingers under it. The latter requires you to flick the ball forward with your wrist. 

The last and fourth strategy is about aim. Always aim just in front of the spot you want your bocce ball to land. 

Winning Strategies

As you’ve probably realized, bocce ball isn’t very complicated. So you can’t win by learning the rules and then using them to your advantage. Everyone will know them. You can, instead, find strategies that other people don’t have access to.

We’re going to give you two fantastic tips. If you can use them in a match, you’ll be the clear winner.

First, don’t just aim for the Pallino every time. Look at the game area every time before your turn and figure out if you’d gain more by hitting your opponents’ bocce balls. If they have one ball that is slightly closer to the jack than yours, aim for it and move it away. Sometimes this might be a better move. 

Second, always aim to win the frame. You might find the prospect of getting additional points attractive, but remember that you don’t get any points if your opponent’s bocce ball is closer to the Pallino. Prioritize the frame. It is okay if you only get one point and not more. The alternative is getting none, which is worse.

Try to guard your bocce ball with another one by throwing it in front of the first one. This way, even if your opponent tries to knock it away, they’ll have to use two out of their three tries to do so. And at the very least, this means they waste two shots. 

Practice different throwing techniques, and then choose the one which offers you the greatest control over the ball’s motion. Bocce ball is all about getting the ball to precisely the spot you want. 

Conclusion 

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Bocce ball is a fantastic game. It is super fun to play with friends and family. All you need is a yard and a set of 9 balls. The rules aren’t very complicated. 

But remember that this is a game and you’re playing to have fun. Competition is only enjoyable as long as both sides are calm and collected. 

Good luck!

Bocce Ball Quick Rules

  • Bocce Ball is played on a court so you will need to start off by marking out a court. This should be done on a flat piece of ground. The court should measure 90 ft long by 13 ft wide, but for a fun game at home, the dimensions can be approximate.
  • The court should be divided up as follows: You will be drawing or marking five lines (use string or chalk to demarcate the lines). There must be a center line and then the other lines are drawn four and ten feet from either end.
  • After winning the toss, that team or individual will get two chances to throw the jack into the zone (stretching from 16ft to 8 ft from the end section of the court).
  • Now it is time for the bowling to begin. The team that threw the jack gets to throw the first bocce ball.
  • Each player takes a turn to throw or bowl a bocce ball from behind the 10 ft line on the near side of the court. There are many different styles of bowling but the ball is usually bowled underhand as this gives the greatest combination of control and power. People develop their own favorite throws but must favor high and soft throws or low, strong throws. Have a little practice and see what works best for you and achieves the greatest accuracy. Knowing a little about angles could give you the edge, but this is not necessary for a fun, backyard game.
  • Now the second team gets a chance to bowl trying to get the ball as close to the jack as possible.
  • After that, the team whose ball is the furthest from the jack gets the chance to throw their three remaining balls in succession trying to get as close to the jack as possible. It is acceptable to hit the jack when bowling and if the bocce ball is touching the jack it is called a “baci” which means kiss in Italian and earns the team two points! At the end of the game, all eight bocce balls can be found resting in various places in the vicinity of the jack. Points are awarded for proximity to the jack and the team with the most balls close to the jack wins. If all the balls are an equal distance from the jack, there are no winners and a new frame is begun.
  • Each new frame should begin at the opposite end of the court to the previous frame.
  • Keep playing until a team gets to 12, 15, or 21 points.
a nice and shiny silver bocce ball set
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