This article is from the Italy FAQ, by Gianluigi Sartori firstname.lastname@example.org, Paolo Fiorini email@example.com with numerous contributions by others.
Last modified: January 12 1995
Richard Palmieri <firstname.lastname@example.org> writes:
Some time ago, someone asked for the rules of bocce, a bowls game played
with nine balls, eight heavies and one small "pallino". This is a lawn
game usually associated correctly with Italy, but it is closely related
to a number of other European games of bowls. One suspects the Romans
carried the game with them in their conquests.
In any case, while there may be some official "rules" of the game,
practice is quite variable from place to place in Italy. For example,
competition may be played on a formal bocce field, but most persons
simply play on any expanse of available land which can be lawn or
hard-packed clay. In more formal play, the field is long and narrow and
surrounded with a slightly raised curb which keeps the balls in play.
In other words, bocce is usually played casually. The object of the
game is to get as may heavies as close as possible to the pallino
without allowing the balls of opponents to interpose themselves.
Usually, the heavies are marked in some way, four for one team, four for
the other. Thus, from two to eight players can play, one to four on
A toss of a coin determines the team that throws out the pallino to
start the game. The player who throws the pallino must throw the first
heavy. A player from the other team then tries to get his heavy closer
to the pallino than the first ball. If successful, other members of
the opposing team throw their heavies until one of them interposes thier
ball. When this occurs, the opposite team begins to throw (and so forth
and so on).
After all the balls (heavies) have been thrown, the team with one or
more balls closer to the pallino than the other team's closest heavy
scores one point for each ball. Thus concludes a "frame" and other
frames are played, usually until a team reaches 21 points.
While I have used the term "throw", it is quite usual to simply roll the
heavies into position (age may be a factor here). And while the object
of the game is to position your heavy closest to the pallino, there is
no rule against trying to knock away an opponent's ball, leaving the
throwing team in scoring position, or to strike the pallino, thus moving
it closer to the attacking team's heavies. In fact, much of the fun of
this game is associated with just these sorts of play.
Any sort of measuring device can be employed to determine scoring
position and disputes over this effort also make the game peculiarly
Italian! If it is determined that two heavies, one from each team, are
equidistant from the pallino, no score results from that frame.
The team that scores in a frame has the honor of throwing the pallino
out in the next frame.
Generally, a line is drawn on the ground beyond which a player may not
step in throwing (or lobbing) his heavy; but this, too, is a local
ground rule which varies from place to place and team to team.
Lobbing to any height is acceptable as long as the heavy remains in
play. Backward spin can be given to the heavy to make it stick when it
lands. Almost anything is allowed so long as it doesn't result in
profanity or tempers too hot to permit enjoyment.
I remember very well my uncles playing bocce on Sunday afternoons out in
the backyard while my mother and aunts were inside cleaning up after a
monumental meal. Even now, one of my favorite pastimes is playing bocce
with my elderly father who continues to surpass his son in technique and
I should add that, while I have never before thought of it, I have seen
only men play this game. Women seem never to play it with, perhaps, the
sole exception of little girls who pick the game up after the men are
Bocce ball sets are available in sports shops; I bought mine in an
Italian hardware store in a Little Italy where I grew up.