Key Differences between Petanque, Boules, and Bocce

Sometimes, Petanque, boule, and bocce are all used together to mean the same thing. We would be lying if we said we weren’t guilty of it ourselves, even in some of our articles here. This, of course, not only causes confusion but is also wrong for several reasons. This piece is dedicated to explaining some of the characteristics of each of these three terms. Let’s explain the differences.


Boule is French for ball, so it is logical to presume that playing boules means playing all kinds of ball sports. In this case, however, this means only the sports where the ball is thrown or bowled. That includes Petanque and bocce. To put it simply, Petanque and bocce are both games that belong in the boules category. They are like sets within a set.


Sometimes, people use the term boules to describe the sport. Metal balls, or boules, are thrown in a way that makes them as close as possible to the target ball. The game is played either one-on-one or in two teams, with the latter being much more common. The teams have two to three players each.

While the game can be played anywhere, similar to marbles, there is a way to mark the play area or terrain. This is done by taking a piece of string and nailing it into the ground or simply marking the area with chalk. Secondly, the teams choose their boules. One team throws the jack, or the cochonnet, from the terrain. One team goes first and they take turns in throwing the boules, depending on who has the lead. For example, if Team A throws the boule close to the jack, but Team B throws their boule closer, Team A must throw their boules until they take the lead or run out of balls. Teams are scored based on the proximity of their boules to the jack. The first team that scores 13 points wins.

To throw the ball, you must have both feet firmly planted on the ground within the starting circle. The circle will change position when the next round begins. You are also allowed to hit the opponent’s ball – this can prove to have strategic merit.


Bocce is the variant of the game played in Italy. It uses slightly larger and heavier boules. While in Petanque, the boule is thrown with the palm facing down, giving it a bit of a spin, in bocce, the palm is positioned up, so as to give the boule more rolling power.      

Regarding the terrain, both Petanque and bocce have terrains that are 13 feet wide, though they differ in length. Terrains for bocce are 91 feet long, whereas those for Petanque are 50 feet long. The official terrains in bocce are hard to build and maintain.

Another key difference is the number of players. In bocce, you can have up to 8 players as opposed to 2 to 6 in Petanque.

Bottom Line

Both Petanque and bocce are boules sports. They are very similar in nature and rules, so it is easy to confuse one with the other. The differences are in the size of the teams, the size of the terrain, and the throwing style.