Bocce Ball is possibly the oldest game in history. It’s certainly the oldest still played today. Some historians speculate that it’s been played as far back as 5000 BC.
Despite the relative simplicity, Bocce Ball is a game with surprising depth. Let’s look at some of Bocce Ball’s basic rules and terminology, and then some more in-depth information.
What Do You Need To Play Bocce Ball
One of the great appeals of Bocce Ball is how easy it is to start. However, there are a few non-negotiable elements. They include:
A Bocce Ball Set
An official Bocce Ball set can be purchased at just about any sporting goods store, or any large store that has an outdoor recreation department.
A Bocce Ball set consists of 9 balls total, divided as follows.
- 8 Bocce. The larger balls are called bocce and are where we get the name of the game. In a regulation Bocce Ball set, the balls are 107mm (or roughly 4.2 inches) in diameter and weigh 920 grams (or about 32.5 ounces, just over 2 lbs).
For reference, that’s slightly smaller but much heavier than a regulation softball.
- 1 Pallino. (Sometimes called a Pallina). The international regulation size pallino is 40mm (1.6 inches) in diameter or roughly the size of a golf ball. The Bocce Standards Association notes that the pallino can be anywhere from 40mm (1.6 inches) to 60mm (2.36 inches). That’s because both teams use the same pallino, and it’s not as big a part of the core gameplay.
The pallino in most sets sold in the US is squarely in the middle of that range at 50mm (1.97 inches)
Interestingly enough, there is no regulation weight or material for the pallino.
All this aside, you don’t actually need an official bocce ball set to play bocce ball. You can improvise with other sports equipment. The bocce balls are close enough in size to a softball that you could use them instead. The pallino is almost identical to a golf ball, so you could easily use one of those or replace your regulation pallino if it got lost.
Check out the best bocce ball set to get you started!
A Bocce Ball Court
While the regulation sizes for the official Bocce Balls are so precise they’re measured in millimeters instead of inches, the court is much less precise.
Most official courts are 13 feet wide and 91 feet long. However, most official sources note that Bocce Ball can be played on any court that is between 8 to 14 feet wide, and from 60 to 91 feet long.
For the sake of round numbers and reasonable measurements, most casual courts and homemade spaces are 10 feet wide, and 60 feet long.
But again, Bocce Ball can be an extremely casual game. You can have a great time playing in any space that’s roughly that size. You’ll just need some way to mark off a foul line (more on what the foul line is for later).
What The Court Looks Like
A bocce ball court has the same features on both sides since, throughout the course of the game, the balls will be through from either end of the court. The notable features are the following:
- Backboard: Regulation courts will have a backboard, usually a piece of wood or similar barrier that marks the edges of the court. If you’re playing in a park, or your backyard, you might not have a backboard or sideboard. If that’s the case, simply ignore all references to it going forward.
- Point Foul Line: This is similar to the foul in bowling. With a few exceptions, this marks the farthest point you can go while making a throw. It is typically 6 feet from the backboard.
- Hit Foul Line: In certain circumstances, you can go past the point foul line and up to the hit foul line. This line will mark how far forward you can go in those circumstances. It is typically 10 feet from the point foul line or 16 feet from the backboard.
A Couple Other Things
There’s a couple of other things that aren’t necessarily essential to the game, but can make it run smoother.
- A Coin: The first throw of the game is decided by a coin toss, so having a coin is helpful.
- A Tape Measure: Scoring is determined by distance from the ball, so having a tape measure can easily settle any disputes over throws that are too close to the eyeball.
Basic Bocce Ball Rules
We’re going to break the Bocce Ball basic rules into four categories: Teams, Throwing, Scoring, and Penalties.
One of the appeals of Bocce Ball is that it can be played in even-numbered teams of anywhere from 1 to 8. Let’s look at how your teams should be arranged in those cases.
- One: If there’s one person on each team, you each throw from the same side, and walk to the opposite end.
- Two: If there are two people on each team, one player from each team stands on each end of the court.
- Four: If there are four people on each team, then two players from each time will be on either end. They will throw two balls each when the balls are being thrown from that end of the court.
- Six: Having six people on each team gets a bit complicated. Three players stand on each side and take turns on whether they’ll throw one ball or two.
- Eight: Eight players to a team is a simple configuration. There are four players to each end, and they each throw one ball.
You can even play with odd-numbered teams by working out a system where players take turns changing which side of the court they’re throwing from.
The first throw of the game is the pallino (the small, golf-ball sized ball). Teams toss a coin to determine who throws the pallino first, and alternate from that point forward.
The pallino must be thrown underhand from behind the point foul line. It must end up past the half-court line, and at least one foot away from the backboard and sideboards. (Again, you can ignore this part if you’re not in a regulation court).
Once the pallino has been thrown, players throw the bocce (the larger, softball-sized balls). The person who threw the Pallino throws the first Bocce. Then a person from the opposing team throws a bocce.
This continues alternating until all 4 bocce have been thrown, at which point the round is scored, and a new round begins from the opposite end of the court.
Bocce are thrown underhand from behind the point line.
The goal of a point throw is to land the bocce as close to the pallino as possible without hitting the backboard or going out of bounds.
You can try to knock other bocce out of the way, or knock your own bocce closer on a point throw. You can also attempt to hit or move the pallino.
If you would like, instead of throwing the bocce to score points, you can throw it to knock your opponent’s bocce further from the pallino. This is also called “spocking.”
To do this, you must announce that you are attempting a hitting or “spocking” throw. Once you have declared this, you may go past the point foul line, all the way to the hit foul line, and make a hard underhand throw.
If you throw a ball to hit, it is removed from the court, and not counted for scoring this round.
At the end of a round, the team with the bocce closest to the pallino is the only team to score. They earn 1 point for each bocce that is closer than the next closest bocce of their opponent.
To make this more simple, first, determine whose bocce was closest. That earns 1 point. Then pick up that bocce, and the nearest opposing bocce. Find the next two closest bocce, determine which is closer and award one point if it belongs to the winner of the round, then pick them up. Repeat until all bocce have been picked up.
Once scoring is finished, a new round starts and the pallino and bocce are thrown from the opposite end of the court.
Games can be played to any number of points, but 12 is the standard.
There are a few common penalties that can occur during a game of Bocce Ball. They all need to be called during the throw or before the next throw, and all result in the ball being removed from court and not counted for the scoring of the round. They include:
- Crossing the foul line: if you cross the point foul line during a point throw, or the hit foul line during a hit throw.
- Lofting: if the bocce is still in the air past the half-court line, the throw is a penalty.
- Hitting the backboard: if the bocce strikes the backboard without hitting the pallino or another bocce.
- Double throws: if a player throws more than one bocce at a time, or more than one bocce before their opponent can throw.
That might seem like a lot of rules, and there are more still if you were to play in an official league match, but I want to stress again that bocce is a very simple game, and can be played as casually as you like.