Short-form games

Normally a game of petanque is played to 13 points, and it takes as long as it takes. This can be a problem when you have a lot of teams playing. Some games finish quickly, while others drag on. Teams that have finished their game sit around waiting for their next opponents to finish THEIR game. During a competition, scheduling of matches is extremely difficult and the competition takes much too much time. During regular club play, families with busy schedules and limited time, may be forced to play one long game and then leave, when it would be much more fun to spend their time playing two or three short games.

So there is a genuine need for short-form games — games that can be played in a limited and predictable amount of time.
Transcarpathian Petanque Club 2007, courtesy

Time-limited games

The traditional solution is time-limited games. A specified time limit is set, and when it expires games must finish their current mene, and play only one or two more menes. If that mene ends in a tie, then they play still one more mene.

There are two problems with time-limited games. The first is that they aren’t very effective in producing games of a predictable length. The second is that playing against the clock introduces a new but distasteful tactic — stalling for time when your team is ahead.

Fixed-mene games

Philippe Boets, of Petanque America, prefers a different solution. He calls it compact format games with a set number of rounds.

The idea is simple. All games are played to a fixed number of menes (six, for example) or to 13 points, whichever comes first. The team in the lead at the end of the last mene is the winner. If the teams are tied at the end of the last mene, they play one more mene, a tie-breaker.

Philippe says that this format works especially well for club tournaments. Instead of a tournament being a grueling all-day endurance test, the entire event can be finished in two-and-a-half or three hours.

The Fernandina Beach/Amelia Island Petanque Club uses fixed-mene games for regular club play, and it has worked out very well for them. Games played to six or seven menes are pretty predictable in running for 30 or 35 minutes. Thirty-five minutes per game is enough time for a family to arrive at the petanque courts at 2pm, have a nice time, play three games, chat with friends a bit, and be reasonably confident that they will be able to leave around 4pm. The Tucson Petanque Club has had the same experience. Philippe believes that this compact form has been a significant factor in the success of the Amelia Island club. The compact form makes it possible to make a reliable prediction of how long your afternoon of petanque will take, which is really important if you need to be coordinating the schedules for a family.

Short form games may not be appropriate for every club. Predictable scheduling may be desirable for a club with younger families (or for a club that is trying to attract new members). On the other hand, long-time players may feel that the new format isn’t traditional “real” petanque. That’s why Philippe recommends using this compact form in new clubs, starting from the very beginning of the club. If players have always played short form games, that is what they will be familiar with and they won’t be inhibited by ideas of what’s “traditional”.

One minor issue is scorekeeping. When you are playing a limited number of ends, you need to keep track of the number of menes as well as the scores of the two teams. If you use a portable scorekeeper, you might carry a second one to record the number of menes played.

Reduced-point games

The third kind of short-form game is a game played to fewer than 13 points. You can play, say, to 11 or 9 or 7.

Reduced-point games have their uses. If you don’t have the time to play to 13, it can be good to ask your opponent “I have to leave by 4:30. Would you like to play a shorter game, say to 9?”

Reduced-point games aren’t a good way to keep games in a tournament to a limited, predictable length. If one team is MUCH better than the other, it can reach 9 points and win in two menes. On the other hand, if the teams are equally matched and have to work hard for every point, it may take 17 menes for one team to beat the other 9-8. One game would take 10 minutes; the other would take 90 minutes.

Round-robin tournaments

It might seem that a round-robin competition is ideal for local tournaments… everybody gets to play almost all the time, so nobody ends up just sitting around. And a round-robin format can accommodate an arbitrary number of teams. The problem is that round-robins can be long and grueling — instead of being fun, they can turn into an endurance test. If you have 8 teams, that means that every team plays 7 games (one game against each of the opposing teams). And that can take a long time.

Here is where short-form games can really be handy. If each game is played to 6 menes, that will probably take about half-an-hour per game. You should be able to start, play seven short games, and wind up the tournament in less than four hours.

After a round-robin competition, team rankings are typically determined by the number of games that each team has won. An alternative is to rank teams by the total number of points scored, or (better still) the average number of points by which the team won or lost its games. You can find a description of such a competition-design HERE.

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