Every bocce ball set will come with 8 large throwing balls, 4 per side. They're usually between 90mm and 114mm in diameter, heavy (made of molded plastic or cast resin), and in two team colors (traditionally red and green). Most sets have marking carved into the balls for players who want to divide into 4 players or teams.
There is also a smaller ball, called a pallino or jack. This is the target at which players will throw the remaining balls. It's usually made of the same material as the other balls.
The overarching goal of bocce is to throw your bocce balls closer to the pallino than your opponent. Players throw and roll their balls in turn in a fixed number of ends. An end is over when all 8 balls have been thrown at the pallino and the score is counted. The player or team with the highest number of points after 11 ends wins the game.
- In open bocce, the style that we play, the game goes wherever the pallino is thrown. This way, you don't need a set court, and the thrower determines the difficulty of the end. The jack is thrown by a player from the team that won the previous end (use a coin toss for End 1).
- The player who throws the pallino throws the first ball, trying to land as close to the pallino as possible.
- Play then goes to the opposing player, who tries to land a ball inside - closer yet to the pallino - the first. Player 2 will throw from one to all four of their balls, whatever number of tries it takes to be "inside" Player 1.
- Once a team is "inside," play goes back to the other team until they're "inside." Each team continues to throw until all 8 bocce balls are in play.
- The score is counted at the conclusion of each end. Only the "inside" team receives any points. See below for scoring detail.
- Your throw may be a toss, a roll, a bounce, a bank shot, or just about anything else. Overhand and underhand throwing are both permitted in open bocce.
- It's OK - encouraged, even - to "spock" an opponent's ball, or intentionally knock it out of play.
- If two balls are measured to be of equal distance from the pallino, no points are awarded to either team (they cancel out).
- When playing with 4 players, you can form 2 teams of 2 or all play each other using the cross-hatch marks on standard balls. 4-player bocce can be fun, but scores will be low so consider reducing the number of ends you play or otherwise shortening the game.
- Extreme Bocce, using hilly terrain, mixed surfaces, and natural obstacles, is encouraged (at least by this writer).
- Be cordial, respectful, and courteous throughout the game. Bocce has a proud and ancient history, and even the pope's been seen playing. It's OK to drink, and it's OK to measure closely, and it's OK to be competitive, but always play like your grandmother's watching.