Ever played Bocce? It’s a pretty fun game. I sometimes describe it as “horseshoes with a moving stake” when teaching people how to play. Basically you have a little ball about the size of a golf ball and each team or each player has two larger balls about the size of a softball. The object is to roll or throw the big balls as close as you can to the little one. Closest one scores a point, or two if two of the same color are closest (you can also get two points for actually resting against the little ball but that’s exceedingly rare).
Now, if you’re a Serious Bocce Player (and believe me, they’re out there) you play on a regulation court which is a closed lane about 90 feet long and 10 feet wide that is all smooth and level and perfect. But I’ve never played on any kind of actual court; I’ve always played what my dad calls “free-range Bocce” where you just find any grassy area and go for it. You won’t have a perfectly smooth court, and there will be the occasional bad bounce unless you play on a golf course or something.
But I like not playing on a perfect regulation court. My favorite kind of surface to play on is nice grass (the bad bounces are annoying so it’s nice to minimize them) with some slopes. Having slopes to deal with makes it that much more interesting, because now you have to account for the angle of the slope in addition to how hard to throw it. Purists gag the idea of playing free-range, but I really like it. Having a little bit of variance on your shots makes it more interesting, and there are other games (like shuffleboard, curling, etc.) where you get a nice perfect surface to play on.
A Bocce set comes with 8 balls, 2 each of 4 colors. If you have 4 players each gets the two balls of the same color or if you have 8 players you can play teams with each person getting one ball. Having 8 players makes it fun just because of the group size, but it’s frustrating when you only have one ball and you make a lousy throw; you have to wait forever to redeem yourself.
Sometimes we’ve even had more than 8 people so someone will volunteer to be the scorekeeper and/or “placer”. Usually whoever scores picks up the little ball (“jack”) and throws it to a new spot. If you have a placer he/she can instead just pick someplace that looks interesting. One of the best games I’ve ever played was at an old ballfield I used to play at when I was a kid. We had a placer and she found all kinds of creative spots for the jack, including lodged halfway up a 4 foot high pile of dirt and right in the middle of an incline.
A set of balls is not too expensive (Costco sometimes sells a very nice set). If you get a chance to play or even pick up a set somewhere give it a shot! A friend of mine bought a set for people to play with before her wedding and she recently remarked about what a great buy it was and how much use they’ve gotten out of it. And don’t let the purists make fun of you for playing free-range 😉