Bocce provides a congenial blend of pool, shuffleboard, Italian cultural memories and social engagement for the players in its leagues, often attached to Italian-American restaurants or freestanding courts in parks. Each league and the U.S. Bocce Federation may have slightly different conventions, which further differ from international rules, so check the permanent rule board affixed on the side of the court.
Teams typically have one, two or four players. You can also practice solo if you like. Each side gets four regular bocce balls, of a uniform color. Each team's balls are a different color, such as green versus red, to track results.
Half the team's players -- typically two members of a four-person team -- gather at one end of a bocce court to compete for a round. The rest of the team waits at the other end for the next round to begin. The court is 27.5 by 4 meters if it's standard size with boards along the sides; that's around 30 yards by 13 feet. Court sizes can vary wildly for informal play. You can also compete on grass or the beach in an area marked by cones.
A coin toss determines which team goes first and what color balls they receive. One player tosses the small white ball, the pallino, which serves as a target, with an overhand grip halfway down the court. This same player tosses a full-size bocce ball toward the pallino and then yields a turn to the opponent.
In tournament play, the player or team with the ball farthest from the pallino (called "outside") on the first toss keeps repeating turns until he becomes the "inside" (closest to the ball) player, and then yields to the opponent. In recreational play, teams may alternate turns.
A team of four stations two players at each end of the court, and a team of two places one at each end. The players maintain their position for the duration of the frame.
Equipment note: The balls need to be at least 4 1/4 inches in diameter. A bocce court traditionally consisted of oyster shells and sand, but modern courts often are made of synthetic turf or sometimes clay. If you play on the beach, get a special set of lighter bocce balls designed to roll on sand. Youth and toddlers can play with smaller balls or ones made out of cloth.
You don't need any special shoes, uniforms or gloves for informal bocce, although you should avoid spiked shoes on clay courts. Championship tournaments may require jerseys that meet U.S. Bocce Federation specifications.
Your goal is to get your team's balls as close to the pallino as possible. On your first throws, attempt to toss your ball so it lands and rolls, coming to a stop near the pallino. You are permitted to bank the ball off the sidewalls.
Avoid tossing the ball far enough to hit the backboard, as this is a disqualification; that ball cannot point and is removed from the court.
If your opponent has three or four balls closest to the pallino, and yours are grouped farther away, attempt on your final toss to dislodge the pallino to a more favorable position. This maneuver is called "spocking." Skilled players try an underhanded throw with a high toss and a backspin to "pop" the pallino over rivals' balls and land it elsewhere.
You can also deliberately aim to group your first three tosses in a cluster away from the pallino to set up spocking. Another strategy, called "blocking," entails setting up a wall of balls in front of the pallino.
When both teams have tossed all four balls, the round, typically called a "frame," ends. To score, a neutral third party analyzes the closest four balls to the pallino. If for example, all four of the closest balls to the pallino are red, the red team gets 4 points. If the two closest balls are red and third closest is blue, then red gets 2 points. In other words, the scoring for the closest team to the pallino ends when a different color is in the second, third or fourth position. The team finishing second receives no points.
Choose the points required to win -- it can be 7, 11, 13, 21 or another arbitrary figure, and you can also require the winner having to draw ahead by 2 points.
To determine the distance from the pallino, you can eyeball the gap between balls, or use any measuring device of your choosing, including store-bought bocce-specific ones or homemade, bound-together chopsticks. Certain leagues provide tape measures, used to measure between the inside edges of the pallino and the bocce balls.
Roll, bounce, bank the ball off the sides or toss it however you like, as long as it stays inbounds and your foot doesn't cross the foul line before the ball leaves your hand.
If you are used to bowling tenpins or duckpins, note that bocce, a gentler activity, is dissimilar. Take the force off your bowls so you avoid breaking balls.