Zombie-ish boules

Players are often puzzled about what to do when confronted with the following situation.

Boule A crosses the dead-ball line and comes to rest a few centimeters beyond the dead-ball line. Perhaps boule A just rolled to a stop, or perhaps it was stopped by some object such as a sideboard.

Boule B rolls toward the dead-ball line. It is clearly on course to go out-of-bounds, but by chance it hits boule A and stops. The resulting situation is shown in the diagram (below).

The question is — Is boule B dead?

The answer is — No.


Elsewhere I have blogged about “zombie boules” —

A zombie boule is a boule that is knocked out of bounds, hits something, rebounds back onto the terrain, and moves or deflects still-living balls (boules or jack). That is, it is a boule that has died and then come back to life to attack the living.

In the kind of situation we’re discussing here, we are dealing with a boule that is not a zombie, but is sort of zombie-ish. Boule A is a boule that has died, and stayed dead, but still succeeds in messing with the living.

What’s puzzling is that players find zombie-ish boules puzzling. After all, for boules still alive in the game, a dead boule (such as boule A) is merely another object on the ground, like a rock or a tree root. A boule (such as boule B) that hits a dead boule and is prevented from crossing the dead-ball line is no different than a boule that hits a rock on the ground and is prevented from crossing the dead-ball line. The boule simply didn’t make it across the line, so it is still alive.

What causes players to be puzzled by zombie-ish boules, I think, is that they conflate zombie-ish boules with boules that are true zombies. They remember that Article 19 says that when a dead boule comes back onto the terrain and messes with live boules, the live boules should be put back in their proper places if possible.{1} And they think— Boule B would be out-of-bounds and dead now, if it hadn’t hit that dead ball, boule A. So: should we put boule B in its proper place, out-of-bounds, and declare it dead?

The answer is NO. “No”, because boule A is not a zombie. It is not on the game terrain. It never came back onto the game terrain. Article 19 does not apply.

Zombie-ish boules can occur in a variety of ways. In one of the ways, everything happens very fast. A player uses boule B to shoot boule A. Boule B hits boule A hard, and then continues to roll forward. Boule A rolls out-of-bounds, with boule B right behind it.

In another kind of situation things happen much more slowly. A boule is played. Things happen on the terrain, and boule A is hit, or goes rolling, out of bounds. Everything on the terrain comes to rest. Then another boule is played. Again, things happen on the terrain. As a result of those things boule B ends up rolling toward, and then being stopped by, boule A.

If A ends up becoming a zombie-ish boule in this second situation, international umpire Mike Pegg has ruled that

The player of boule A and his team is given a warning for not removing the dead boule.

I’m not sure that I agree that the players should be given a warning in such a case. In making this ruling, Mike is implicitly invoking an unwritten rule to the effect that “removing a dead boule from the game” means moving it far enough beyond the dead-ball line that it cannot become a zombie-ish boule. That would be a reasonable rule, to be sure, but in fact there is no such rule on the books. It might be argued that it is one of “the unwritten rules of petanque”, but that is exactly my point— it is unwritten. It is NOT reasonable to penalize players for violating a rule that literally does not exist in the rulebook.

In this connection, Mike has also stated that

anything (boule, bag, etc.) on the terrain and in a position that it would stop a boule or jack from completely crossing the dead ball line should be removed. Which is why you often see umpires moving bags and the like to the other side of the timber surround.

This of course is completely reasonable. But it comes under the heading of pre-game setup of the playing area, not rules of the game.

The moral of this story is that if you’re playing in an umpired game, and one of your boules becomes a zombie-ish boule, your team is at risk of receiving a warning for violating an unwritten rule. Before you play your next boule, kick that zombie-ish boule away from the dead-ball line.

{1} See Article 19 (2016 rules)—

Any boule is dead from the moment that it enters an out-of-bounds area. ... If the boule then comes back onto the game terrain ... it is immediately removed from the game and anything that it displaced after its trip through the out-of-bounds area is put back in its original location provided that those objects had been marked.


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