Games for three players

There are many ways to play 3-way games. We can recommend these.

Before starting the game, the players decide what the winning score will be— it can be 13 or anything you like.

Decide the order of play at the beginning of the mène (end, round) and use it for the whole mene. (This eliminates a lot of walking to the head in order to determine which player is “away”.) At the beginning of the mene the order of play can be determined by each player’s score, or by who won the previous mene.

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.

1-2-3 is similar to cut-throat, but scored differently. The closest boule scores 3 points, the second-closest boule scores 2 points, and the third-closest boule scores 1 point. We recommend playing to a winning score of 35 points. This is our favorite 3-way game.

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. We recommend playing to a winning score of 21 points. Typically one player scores points against one jack while another player scores points against the other jack. But it is also possible for a player to score against both jacks. It is even possible for the same boule to score against both jacks.

This photo was taken at the end of the mene.  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.


4 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.

  3. Preamble : like most games, petanque is a game for two opposing players/teams. That’s the basic structure of the game and having 3 players changes the nature of the game – would you play, say, football, tennis or chess or any other game with 3 opposing players/teams ? I guess you could argue, « It’s makes for an interesting different strategy » but I don’t think the purists would agree.

    However, if you really do only have 3 players, better to involve all 3 than have 1 « sitting on the bench ». One other format to consider, which preserves the fundamental « 2 opposing sides » is to have 2 players pointing and the third player is the shooter, who either player can call upon to shoot for them. Like all the 3 player games, you have to somewhat make up the rules as you go, how many boules each player has, etc. You can play shorter games, e.g. 7 points and then switch roles – in the next game the winner will play previous shooter and the loser will become the new shooter for the next game.

    And finally, if a 4th players does arrive, « Call it a draw » and start a doubles game !

    BTW « If you don’t win the point, you continue playing » is also a fundamental feature of petanque – in contrast to other games where players take it in turn to play. Sorry but I don’t think it’s a good idea to also change this basis of playing.

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