The petanque playing area

[For pix of terrains and boulodromes, see THIS.]
There are five fundamental concepts associated with the petanque playing area—

  1. in-bounds
  2. out-of-bounds
  3. dead-ball line
  4. terrain
  5. lane

In the beginning, petanque players played in the town park. The area inside the park was in-bounds (terrain authorisé) and the area outside the park was out-of-bounds (terrain interdit). The edge of the park, which was the boundary between the in-bounds and out-of-bounds areas, was called “the dead-ball line” (ligne de perte) because when a ball went out-of-bounds, it went dead (perte, “lost”).


If only one game was being played in the park, then the players could throw the jack in any direction (mène) that they wished, and the game could roam all over the park.

If several games were being played in the park at the same time, then the players in each game picked a particular area in the park, a terrain, and would play their game within that area. The game terrains were located wherever there was open space between other features in the park such as rocks, trees, benches, lights, etc.

Click to view larger image.

If a jack was shot out of one terrain and went into the terrain of a neighboring game, that was no big problem. The owners of the escapee jack marked its location, picked it up, and waited for their neighbors to finish their mene. Then they put their jack back down in the marked spot, finished their own mene, and returned to their own terrain.

This arrangement continued when the players started holding organized competitions. The competition organizers noted the areas in the park that were suitable for use as petanque terrains. During the competition, each game was assigned to one of those areas. That area was called the game’s “assigned terrain”.

After a while, the competitions became too big for the parks, so they were held in facilities specially designed to be areas for the playing of petanque (boulodromes). In order to use those facilities efficiently, the playing area (aire de jeu) was partitioned into a grid of terrain-sized rectangles called lanes (cadres) or pistes. In this new environment, the words “terrain”, “piste”, and “lane” came to be used almost interchangeably. The lines that marked off the lanes are called (at least in English) guide lines, and they are usually indicated by strings (ficelles) string tightly between nails driven into the ground.

There were problems with this arrangement. The terrains/lanes were now so small and so closely packed that balls were frequently knocked out of their own lane and into neighboring lanes. A jack could easily be knocked from lane B into lane D, interfering with games on both C and D. Boules shot from lane B could easily end up in F, G, and H.

To deal with these problems, the rules were changed.

  • Any ball that crossed a short end of its assigned lane was declared dead.
  • Any ball that crossed a long side of its assigned lane and entered a neighboring lane was still alive. But if the escapee ball went any farther than that, and invaded any other lane or completely left all the lanes, it was declared dead.

These changes abolished the old dead-ball line around the playing area, and gave each game its own in-bounds area and its own dead-ball line around that area. The in-bounds area for a game includes the game’s assigned lane and any other lane(s) with which it shares a long side. For a game on a lane that shares both of its two side lines with other lanes, the in-bounds area is three lanes wide. For a game on a lane that shares only one side line with another lane, the in-bounds area is only two lanes wide. So the in-bounds area for a game on lane B also includes lanes A and C, while the in-bounds area for a game on lane J also includes only lane I.


Note that even if a game’s in-bounds area includes several lanes, the game’s home base is still its assigned lane. During the game, whenever a jack is thrown or a circle is placed, that jack or circle must be thrown or placed within the boundaries of the game’s assigned lane.

There is one last thing to note. For time-limited games, time is precious. If a jack is knocked from lane B into lane C, the players from B don’t have time to pick up their jack and wait for the end of the mene on lane C. They’ve got to get on with their game. So for a time-limited game, the in-bounds area for the game includes only the game’s assigned lane. If a jack is knocked from lane B into lane C, the jack from lane B is immediately declared dead and a new mene is started.