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.
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.