Everything You Need to Know on How to Play Bocce Ball

4 bocce balls and one small white ball

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There are a lot of obscure, yet fun games out there. Bocce ball is one of them, and it’s catching on for how easy it is to pick up. But while it is an easy game to play, you should still learn how to play bocce ball before you try it out.

This old game isn’t all that well known in the United States. However, it’s slowly starting to make its way into American culture. So don’t feel bad if you haven’t heard of the game until now, you are not alone.

What Is Bocce Ball?

Bocce ball is probably most similar to curling; only you aren’t playing it on the ice. The game involves you and up to 8 people taking turns trying to get your ball as close to the target ball as possible — the first person or team to reach a score of 12 wins.

The game itself, is a simple backyard game, much like that of cornhole or horseshoes. Because it is relatively easy to learn and pick up, it is commonly played at parties or barbeques. However, you may also find it in an indoor setting as well.

It is, in fact, one of the oldest yard games and the most widely played games in the world. However, it is best known in Italy, where you may commonly see a group of retired Sicilians playing an afternoon game in the town square.

History lesson

To learn how to play bocce ball and appreciate the game itself, you may want to know where it came from. The game goes back to before 5200 B.C. A painting of two boys playing the game was found in an Egyptian tomb by English Scientist Sir Francis Patrial.

While it’s origins supposedly start in Egypt, bocce quickly spread throughout the land. First finding it’s way to Palestine and Asia Minor. By 600 B.C. the Greeks began playing it and passed the ball over to the Romans. From Churches to castles, you could find people from all walks of life playing bocce everywhere.

However, in 1319 A.D. bocce ball started to become more exclusive to the wealthy and was prohibited to people of lesser nobility. It was felt that it distracted the people from their general duties and other essential tasks like hunting, war training, and such. Though by 1519, it was a public game once again, being played in Flanders, Holland, and Belgium.

It was the Greeks who brought bocce to Italy, and from there it just blew up. Guiseppe Garibaldi is responsible for popularizing the sport as it is known today, which we did while trying to unify and nationalize Italy. Bocce ball has spurts of popularity, which were followed by lapses as well over the years.

In 1896, during a surge in popularity, Athens, Greece had the first Bocce Olympiad and has been a part of international sports ever since. The popularity of the game in the United States has been on the rise ever since it took California by storm in 1989. Now, there are more than 25,000,000 lovers and players of the game in the states today.

How to Play Bocce Ball

The process to learn how to play bocce ball is surprisingly simple. Anyone can learn it, and certainly, anyone can play it, as it doesn’t require any severe exertion of energy or specific talents.

To learn how to play bocce ball, you’ll need a bocce ball set, which we’ll get into in a moment, two to eight players, and a court. You can also play just using grass, but having an actual court makes it much more manageable.

Each player gets either two or four balls, depending on how fast you want the game to last. To start, flip a coin to see who gets to toss the target ball or pallino ball down the court. The pallino ball is slightly bigger than a marble and is usually shiny, so you know what to aim for.

Once the pallino is on the court, each player or team will take turns “bowling” their ball down the court to get as close to the target ball as possible. You score points by being the closest ball to the pallino, and the first to 12 points is the winner.

Now, of course, you can alter those points to be higher or lower depending on how fast you want the game to go, as well as the number of balls you play with. Also, a court isn’t entirely necessary, but it makes the game a bit more manageable. In a pinch, you can play with just the balls.

Play by the rules

While a lot of games have rules that you can bend, when you’re as old as bocce ball, your standards are set in stone. However, there isn’t a whole lot of them to keep track of, which is excellent. This way, you can focus on just having fun with the game.

So, four balls, two to four to eight players, a pallino ball, and a coin toss. The rules of the game are whoever gets the ball closest to the pallino scores the point.

The team who first threw the pallino is also the first team to throw their bocce ball. However, they only throw one ball. The next group has to get their ball closer than the first team; otherwise, they continue throwing until they do.

This repeats until everyone is out of balls.

There are no rules against hitting your opponents balls or the pallino, so whack away. It can be a great strategy to use if you’re in a pinch. Just be sure not to hit your opponent closer to the pallino.

Only one team can score per round, and that’s whoever’s ball is closest to the pallino. Per round, you can score up to four points, but only if your ball is closer than your opponents closest ball.

This means that if any of your balls are further than your opponents closest ball, they don’t count towards that round’s score. Also, if your and the opponent’s ball is of equal distance from the pallino, they cancel out.

The team who didn’t score will be the first to throw in the next round.

What You Need

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Learning how to play bocce ball will mean nothing if you don’t have the necessary tools to play the game. Luckily, there isn’t a lot you are going to need for this game.

Along with a court and a bocce set, you’ll also need something to keep score, and if you’re picky, a measuring tape. You can use the measuring tape to challenge your opponent if you think your ball is close to the pallino, or if you think both are equal. If you’re competitive, that may be your new best friend.

The score counter can be an electric one, clicker, or just a pad and paper. Whatever you choose to use, that will be vital to keeping track of the game and who’s ahead. Unless you don’t care, but let’s be honest, everyone cares who wins.

Bocce ball court

While a court isn’t entirely necessary, it does make things a bit easier. You can use anything from turf, sand, or just grass, but using concrete not be enough resistance for the balls. A regulation size court is 13 by 91 feet, but you can change that depending on the space you have available.

For a pick-up game, you can mark the boundaries with flags and play like that. There aren’t strict regulations for the court itself.


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Learning how to play bocce ball will require you to get a bocce set. These sets give you all the base materials you need to play the game. Typically you’ll get eight balls, four green and four red (colors may differ set to set), and a pallino ball.

Some sets will also come with a measuring rope and a carrying case, but it all depends on the type of set you get. The balls will also differ in material, but most will be made from resin. Also, the size of the balls will usually vary between 90 and 100 mm.

To Bocce or Not to Bocce

3 persons infront of bocce balls

image source: pixabay

Learning how to play bocce ball now is a great way to get ahead of the curve. While the game isn’t trendy in the States right now, it’s continually growing. Showing this game to your friends and family would be a great way to keep the trend going!

Do you play bocce ball or know someone who does? Have you had any luck in the game? Let us know in the comments below!

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