Games for three players

There are many ways to play 3-way games, but most of them are too complex and confusing to be fun. Here are two three-player versions of petanque that we recommend.

In these games, the order of play at the start of a mène (round, end) is adapted to three players. For the first mene, some random procedure determines which player plays first, second, and third. For subsequent menes, the order of play at the start of a mene is determined by each player’s score, not by who won the previous mene. The player with the highest score plays first (places the circle and throws the jack and the first boule). The player with the next-highest score throws the second boule, followed by the third player. (In case of a tie, the player whose best boule was closest to one of the jacks in the previous mene plays first. At that point, if there is still a tie, flip a coin.)

After the opening boules, when deciding who should throw the next boule, each player identifies his (or her) “best boule”: his boule that is closest to the jack (or to one of the jacks, in Two Jacks). Then the player whose best boule is “away” (i.e. farthest from the jack) throws the next boule.

Before starting the game, the players decide what the winning score will be— play to something other than 13 if you like. The game is over when at least one player reaches that score; players are then assigned first, second, and third place based on their scores.

In three-way games each player keeps his own score, on his own scorekeeper if he has one. In this game, the players decided to play to 21. This player now has a score of 20.

Cut-throat is basically singles (tête-à-tête) with three players. Scoring is the same as in normal petanque— only one player scores points at the end of the mene— the player with the closest boule wins and scores points in the same way as normal petanque. (We think that playing with 6 boules each is the most fun way to play singles or cut-throat.)

Two Jacks is similar to regular petanque, but it is played with two jacks. When a player throws the jack, he takes TWO jacks in hand and throws them both, simultaneously, with the same throw. Using jacks of different colors makes it easier to talk about the situation on the ground. “Bill has one point on green and Jill has two points on yellow.”


After the jacks are thrown, the players are basically playing two games simultaneously. Each boule is capable of scoring against each jack. After all boules have been thrown, one jack is examined and one of the players is awarded points against that jack in the normal way. Then the other jack is examined and one of the players is awarded points against that jack in the normal way. It is possible for one player to score points against one jack while another player scores against the other jack. It is also possible for a single player to score twice, once against each jack.

Note that there is a certain amount of strategy involved in choosing which jack to play against. The way to score points is to point well. Unless you can carreau, shooting is a good strategy only when your primary goal is to prevent a specific opposing player from scoring more points.

Suppose the photo (below) was taken at the end of the round.  The player with gold boules scores two points against the yellow jack on the right. The player with the silver boule scores one point against the green jack on the left. The player with the black-striped boules scores nothing.


If the photo was taken while the players still have unplayed boules, the player with the gold boules would throw next because he is “away”— the other players are closer to the green jack than he is to either the green or the yellow jack.

3 thoughts on “Games for three players

    In comments on Facebook, Ernesto Santos in New York City and Yngve Biltsted in Los Angeles wrote that they play in the following way. (In New York they call it “Canadian” (or sometimes “Croatian”, “Romanian”, etc.). In L.A. they call it “Montreal Singles”.)

    A “qualifying” round is played. Then the 2 closest players play the first round, and the 3rd steps out. After each round, the loser of the round steps out and the “out” player steps in.

    I see drawbacks to this format. At any given point, one player (1/3 of the total number of players) is sitting out, doing nothing. In the worst case, when player A is stronger than both players B and C, player A ends up playing all of the time, while players B and C both sit out half of the time. For me at least, those are big negatives.

  2. Using the score rather than the previous mene’s outcome is an interesting and fair change. One can wonder if this should not become part of the normal rules…

    One way for determining order of play in the first mene that was presented to me is having all players play one boule as close as possible to a sideboard, without hitting it. Order of play in the first mene is then the order of distance achieved to the sideboard (the one who played closest plays first).

    I think it is better in that “sideboard approach” to let the closest player play last, so reverse the order obtained from playing against the sideboard. I think it is more fair, as it prevents strong players from playing a boule “sufficiently” far enough from the sideboard and gain the advantage of playing last in the first mene.

    Players who completely cross a line or hit the sideboard introduce problems in this rule. A solution could be to ditch the sideboard approach presented above. An “order deciding mene” is played in a normal way (using a random process to start that mene) in order to determine the /reverse/ order of play for the first mene of the actual game. This should ensure that the strongest player plays last.

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