By Virginia Betz
Claiming a pedigree that traces back to pharaonic Egypt, the game of bocce is most closely associated with Italy, where its practice among the ancient Romans is better documented. From its inception, the appeal of bocce has crossed the lines of class and geography. This has also ensured that there have always been very many variations of the basic game. Sure, there is an International Bocce Federation and an official rule book (the Collegium Cosmicum ad Buxeas), but the fundamental simplicity of bocce means that versions can be easily invented and modified to suit the skill level of the players, the number of players, the desired rapidity of play or complexity of score-keeping. Master a minimum of terminology, learn a few basic rules, and you’re ready to give it a try.
What you need to play
A bocce kit consists of a set of eight same-sized balls (bocci), half of one color and the other half a different color. The two colors distinguish the balls for each of two teams of one, two or four players per side. A smaller ball, the pallino (sometimes called a “jack”) serves as the game’s target.
What you need to play on
Bocce is played on a long, flat, rectangular alley with banked sides. Regulation bocce courts are approximately 18.3 meters by 2.4 meters (60 feet by 8 feet), but recreational courts vary greatly in size and are often not so large. The surface of the court also varies; it can be raked sand, gravel, dirt or cropped grass. The balls, which are rather heavy, should not be able to roll around freely after they are thrown.“Foul areas” can be designated at each end within which the players can walk up to toss the bocce. Formally constructed courts are nice, but not necessary; a backyard facsimile would be easy to improvise.
How to play “open bocce”
If you want to make your head spin, you can check out bocce.org/rules.html to read the instructions for playing and scoring an array of codified games. In most versions, a game (or round) consists of a series of giros, in which the players take turns throwing their bocci with the goal of getting their ball closest to the pallino. The player who does so, scores a certain number of points. A bocce that actually touches the pallino is called a baci (kiss) and is worth a bonus. The giros will continue until one team reaches a predetermined number of points and that finishes the round.
One of the simplest versions of the game, called “open bocce,” begins with one player tossing the pallino at least over halfway down the pitch. This player then throws his first ball trying to get as close to the pallino as possible. The player whose ball is closest to the target is said to be “inside” and does not get another throw until another player gets a ball closer to the pallino. The player who is “inside” after all balls are thrown is given a point for the “inside” ball and any other ball that is closer to the target than any ball of the opposite color. A new giro begins with another player tossing the pallino, and so on until one player/team gets 13 points.
Greater complexity can be added by having the players call the intention of their throws beforehand. A punto is a attempt to land the bocce closer to the pallino than any other in the alley without hitting another ball; a raffa is a throw with the object of moving another bocce out of the way; and a volo is an upward toss intended to displace another bocce or the pallino. A different mix of strategies is required when applying the rule that only one team can score during a given giro. Are you getting it?
Before investing in your own bocce set (visit playaboule.com for good deals), you may want to try it out or watch others at play. Some Valley locations that feature bocce courts are listed here, and it’s likely that the list will get longer in the very near future as more Arizonans get acquainted with the world’s second most popular sport.
Where to play bocce
Features four lighted practice courts
7509 N. 12th St., Phoenix 85020, 602-944-3090
Hours: For non-members: Every Wednesday from 7 p.m.
Baci Italian Bistro
Baci’s is a family restaurant; outdoor bocce court is available through lunch and/or dinner hours
8830 E. Germann Road, Mesa 85212, 480-988-1061 or 480-988-1302
Hours: Tues. through Fri. from 11 a.m.; Sun. through Tues. from 4 p.m.
The Vig – Arcadia
Bocce lawn is by the patio
4041 North 40th St., Phoenix 85018, 602-553-7227
Hours: Mon. through Fri. 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.; Sat. and Sun. 10 a.m. to 1 a.m.
Features a bocce field 60 feet long by 10 feet wide with a crushed oyster shell surface
7330 N. Dreamy Draw Drive, Phoenix 85020, 602-944-1286
Hours: Mon. through Fri. 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.; Sat. and Sun. 10 a.m. to 2 a.m.
The Wigwam Bar at the Wigwam Resort
Bocce concourse has two lighted, regulation-size, outdoor courts
300 East Wigwam Blvd., Litchfield Park 85340, 623-935-3811
Hours: Sun. through Thurs. 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Fri. and Sat. 6 a.m. to 12 a.m.