How to Play Bocce Ball (Rules and Scoring)

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Learn how to play bocce ball for beginners with this guide to the rules, scoring, and field setup of this entertaining backyard game.

Bocce ball is a simple yet fun game to play in the backyard or the park. Over the years, I have become a big fan of bocce and have played many games with friends and family.

In this article, I will explain what bocce is, how the rules work, and how best to play this game in the backyard. Note that the rules below are for casual play, not official regulation play.

Ready? Let’s get into it!

What Is Bocce Ball?

The game of Bocce Ball is one of the oldest games in the world. Quite literally, because it was a popular game in ancient Greece and Rome, and even before that in Egypt.

Bocce ball, or just bocce, is a simple game that can easily be played at home. The name “bocce” is derived from the Italian word “boccia”, which means bowl. Bocce is simply the plural form: bowls.

You can think of bocce much like lawn bowling. Although, unlike in lawn bowling, bocce balls are spherical and evenly weighted. There is not much to the outdoor bocce ball rules, and the equipment needed is very minimal.

Bocce ball game with balls and jack
Play bocce ball

What’s great about at-home bocce is how customizable the game is. All you need is a strip of grass (or sand, dirt, or any surface that is soft and flat), a bocce set, and a set of instructions with bocce ball rules.

Read on to learn how to place bocce ball in the yard.

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Backyard Bocce Rules for Beginners

Picking up a new sport can seem like a daunting task. All those rules, strange equipment, and confusing scoring systems can put anyone off.

But bocce ball is surprisingly easy to learn, and here is a breakdown of all the aspects of this awesome backyard game.

To explain the game of bocce, I am going to walk you through the following topics:

  1. Equipment
  2. Game Setup
  3. How to Play
  4. Scoring

Let’s start with the equipment required to play this game!

1. Equipment

So you have decided to play bocce ball. To learn how to play bocce ball, you will first have to understand each piece of the bocce set.

There are four major components to a bocce set:

  • The jack:
    Also called the boccino (little bocce, or “little bowl”) or pallino (“little bullet”). It’s a little white ball that you need to start the game. Think of it as your target. It is what you are trying to get all the bocce balls near.
  • The bocce balls:
    These are the larger patterned balls that you bowl. There are eight; four for each team. The balls typically come in two different colors.
  • A measuring device:
    You can use a ruler, tape measure, or marked-out string. Some bocce sets include one, which is very handy.
  • The playing field:
    Any length of lawn or patch of soft ground will do.

Note that there is no need for an official court for casual bocce games in the backyard. However, if you’d like to learn more, read my guide on bocce court dimensions for a diagram with all the necessary lines and markers.

2. Game Setup

Begin by picking your teams. You can play bocce ball with two to eight players in one-on-one, two-against-two, or four-versus-four matches.

The number of balls each player can toss depends on the number of players: four each with two players, two each with four players, and one each with eight players.

Bocce ball set
Bocce ball set

It’s important to point out that professional bocce ball sets have balls in two colors. If you’d like to play with more than two teams (either as individuals or multiple people per team), it’s best to look for a set with balls in more than two colors. Or, otherwise, find a way to mark the balls.

To start the game, set a point to throw from. You can mark it out with a rope or something similar. All players must throw their balls from behind this line.

Next, pick a player to toss out the jack. Wherever it lands, that will be your target for this round.

Bocce play in action
Bocce play in action

Whoever wins this round will toss it out in the next. In each subsequent round, alternate which end of the lawn you are playing from.

This keeps the games fair and enjoyable, and can also help to prevent too much wear in one area of your lawn.

3. How to Play

Standard outdoor bocce ball rules are super easy to learn.

Once the jack has been thrown, the person who threw it will also throw their bocce ball first. The game’s objective is to land your team’s balls as close to the jack as possible.

It is important to note that you have to bowl the ball at the target. That means underhand tosses only.

Bocce ball grip
Bocce ball grip

After the first person tosses their first ball, each team takes turns throwing their bocce balls until all eight have been thrown. Knocking and moving the jack and your and your opponent’s balls is okay.

Once each player has thrown all of their balls, the score is totaled. The winner starts the next round.

If you’d like to learn more about ball throwing styles and techniques, check out my guide on how to throw a bocce ball, which goes through the stance, grips, and techniques so you can improve your skills.

4. Scoring

To score the game, you must determine which balls are closest to the jack. The team with the closest ball wins the round. They receive one point for that ball and an additional one point for every ball they got closer to the jack than the opposing team’s closest ball.

For example, if Team A has three balls that are closer to the jack than any of Team B’s, team A will receive three points.

If both teams have landed their closest ball the same distance from the jack, then the round is a tie, and no points are scored. This would be the perfect scenario to bring out that measuring device.

Colors of bocce balls
Bocce balls often come in two colors

Additionally, if agreed upon, bocce balls that are touching the jack at the end of a round are worth two points.

In this case, if team A has two balls touching the jack and one closer than team B’s closest ball, then team A would receive five points.

A game ends when one team has reached an agreed-upon goal. Common point goals are nine, eleven, twelve, and fifteen. The winning team must win by two or more points.

Are you ready to start playing this fantastic game at home? Check out my list of best bocce ball sets for some good quality and affordable options.

Final Thoughts

Outdoor bocce ball rules are straightforward for beginners and easy to customize to player preferences. The winning score, scoring specifics, team sizes, initial player, distance to the jack, and even playing field size are also easy to modify when playing bocce ball at home.

To summarize, you will need a bocce set and some lawn space. Each team has four bocce balls and takes turns throwing them toward the jack. The team that ends the round with the ball closest to the jack wins. Play continues until one team has beaten the other by two or more points.

This simple and casual game is the perfect way to pass an afternoon at home, and with all the possible variations, it is ideal for all ages and abilities. All you need is eight bocce balls, a jack, and a stretch of open lawn.


How to play bocce ball (rules and scoring)


Published: May 9, 2023
Updated: February 4, 2024


Thomas Dunnett

The backyard is the perfect place to bond with family and friends or to simply relax with a bit of sunshine and some fresh air. I've been passionate about the backyard lifestyle ever since my childhood, and with this website, I hope to share that passion with you.

  1. If you have a bocce court that is framed in, can players use back wall to bounce off their ball and try to obtain a closer ball placement to the white ball?

  2. Trying to clarify. If 2 on 2 is played, do all players throw from one and then walk to other end for next round or do two play from each end? Thanks.

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