Meaningful Mêlées

When there’s no other event organised, we usually have an informal mêlée at club sessions, i.e. mix everybody up into teams. Below are a few guidelines to ensure that everybody gets the most from the mêlées.

Why mêlée?

Mêlées serve two main purposes:

  • Everybody gets the chance to play with and against different players – a good way of improving your game.
  • It provides the basis for an informal competition, Winners play Winners, Losers play Losers.

How to Mêlée

There are different options for how to choose teams, depending on how many players there are and what they prefer to do.

At Random

For a small group, one player takes one boule from each player and throws them towards a jack. Those nearest the jack play together, those furthest away play together. With a larger group, each player throws one boule. If you’re brave – AND you’ve checked there is nobody in the way!!! – throw them over your shoulder or throw with your non-playing hand. If you’re ambidexterous, well, you’re very lucky 🙂

This is the most informal, ‘fun’ way and – by definition – means anybody can play with anybody. Depending on the luck of the draw, you could get two good players, two good shooters, two good pointers, an experienced player and a newcomer, etc.

Despite the fact that it’s random, occasionally players complain that this puts the best players together, in which case there are other options. You still throw the boules at random but instead either choose:

  • Odds and Evens, i.e. 1st, 3rd & 5th vs 2nd, 4th & 6th, etc.
  • Nearest and Furthest, i.e. the player(s) nearest the jack plays with the players furthest from the jack – remove those boules and then take the next nearest, the next furthest, etc.
  • Natural Groupings: there will usually be a natural grouping of boules – these players will play together. Best to have a second option, in case there aren’t any groups!
  • Team Captains: nominate the team captains and then the players nearest the team captains will play together. NB you don’t have to choose the ‘Best’ players – you can choose anybody and make them ‘Captain’.

Make sure that one person is in charge before you start and announce what system you’re going to use.

Pointers and Shooters

An alternative to a random grouping is to preselect Pointers, Shooters and Middle players. First throw the Pointers’ boule to determine the order, then throw the Shooter’s boules and pair them up in order with the Shooters and finally throw the Middle players, if playing triples.

This has the advantage of still having random pairings but with more ‘balanced’ teams. Obviosuly this works best when you have even numbers of Pointers and Shooters.

Puzzle N° 3

Puzzle N° 3

The picture shows how they mêlée at a club in Arlès. There is a large stone next to the terrain with three rows where players put their boules – one for Pointers, one for Shooters and one for Middle players. When there are enough boules for a match, each row is thrown in the air to randomise the teams.

It’s a good way to create ‘balanced’ teams.

What do you think the player is doing in the next picture?

Fumbling Mêlée

Fumbling Mêlée

Yet another way to mêlée! Here the boules have been dropped on the terrain and the player is taking boules from behind his back to see who plays with who. Only the French could think of that one 🙂

The Golden Rule

DO NOT PICK YOUR BOULE UP unless you know:

  • who you’re playing with and
  • who you’re playing against

Anybody who does pick their boule up and afterwards wander around not knowing who they are playing with – yes, there’s always one! – should be invited to organise the draw 🙂

Winners v Winners, Losers v Losers

This basically is an informal KO  – a good way of providing an element of informal competition, rather than having one group play together all day to the exclusion of the others.

SHOUT when you’ve finished your game, so that the others know you’re ready.

If the other team(s) haven’t finished, by all means continue and/or practice BUT stop when they are ready, so that the next games can get under way.

NB If there are three teams, you can still play Winners v Winners, Losers v Losers but don’t just have the first two play together, as this will exclude the third team.

Instead, if the teams are A, B & C. If A & B finish first, the Winners play together but the losers should wait for C to finish. Then the winner of C plays the best loser and the other two teams play each other.

The Number’s Game

Players Format
3 Go and have a coffee
4 Doubles
5 3 v 2
6 Triples
7 4 v 3, 8 boules per side
8 2 Doubles
9 1 Doubles + 3 v 2
10 1 Doubles + 1 Triples
11 1 Triples + 3 v 2
12 2 Triples or 3 Doubles
13 2 Doubles + 3 v 2
14 1 Triples + 2 Doubles
15 1 Triples + 1 Doubles + 3 v 2
16 4 Doubles


If latecomers arrive, they can ”help the losers”. Etiquette is that the winning teams stay together. If there are several latecomers, then the losers can regroup to include everybody.


Mêlées are a great way for informal sessions – they mix everybody up and provide the basis for an informal competition. What more could you ask for!?

Have fun.


30 Responses to Meaningful Mêlées

  1. Barbara Randall says:

    1. Winners play Winners, Losers play Losers:

    I agree that this is a good way to have an informal competition but it isn’t the only way. It’s good also for a losing team to be able to request a ‘revenge’ and in the event of the teams winning 1 game each, they can go on then to play a decider. I also think that if other players are waiting for a game and cannot be accommodated in an existing game, then the players should regroup. Also, the format of play should be decided by a consensus of all the players present.

    2. There are only 3 Players, so go and have a coffee:

    There are 2 reasons why the 3 players should not go off and have a coffee. The 1st is that while the 3 players are having their coffee somewhere, a 4th player could arrive, find there’s no-one at the terrain, and so go home again. The 3 players wouldn’t even know that the 4th player had turned up. The 2nd reason is that my family and I travel over 40 miles to go and play at Brighton and so it would be a very expensive coffee!

    I hope that these comments will be taken in the spirit in which they are given, i.e. to try and help.

    • Hi Barbara, Thanks for your comments. Pétanque is one of those sports where the norm is to just play one game, in contrast, say to, snooker or tennis where matches are made up of a series of games. Within an informal setting, ‘Winners v Winners, Losers v Losers’ seems the best way for everybody to get to play different teams. The problem with one group playing ‘revenge’ matches all afternoon is that, by definition, the others are excluded.

      Waiting players can usually join losing teams, or regroup with the losers when matches finish.

      The ‘coffee’ comment was meant as a joke… However, there is a serious point: like nearly all games, pétanque is for two opposing teams. If you only have 3 players, then if you do want to play together, you have to improvise. ”Faire les mains” is the French expression where 1 player takes on two others. This is usually one ‘good’ player who will take on others for money. For an informal club session, I would say by all means have a warm-up of some form but when other players arrive, ”call it a draw” and then include everybody.



  2. Barbara Randall says:

    Hi Ray

    Well, there’s no need for anybody to be excluded. If there are 1 or more players waiting for a game, then I for one wouldn’t advocate having a ‘revenge’. I’d rather melee again so as to bring everyone in. But if no-one is waiting to play, then there’s nothing wrong with a ‘revenge’ game, followed by “La Belle” if it’s one game all.

    However, I don’t agree that Winners vs Winners and Losers vs Losers is the best format. It is just one possible format. I also wish to reiterate that a consensus of all players present should decide which format to use.

    I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree on this one but I’d be glad if you would take my comments into account at club sessions.

    As regards there only being 3 players present, there is more than one format which can be used for this scenario. I’d say that any format involving just 3 players is a temporary one while waiting for others to arrive. It’s better than standing about instead of getting on and playing, though.



  3. Ray Ager says:

    Hi Barbara,

    I’m pleased that I think we’re in agreement over the most important point: that endless revenge matches, by definition, exclude the other players and, in an organised club setting, we should be including everybody. In the past, this hasn’t always happened when:

    a) some players start early and then exclude those who arrive on time.
    b) some play endless revenge matches.

    If you or any other players have a better suggestion than ”Winners v Winners, Losers v Losers” the committee would be very pleased to listen.



  4. Barbara Randall says:

    Hi Ray

    As you know, my family and I travel a long way to play Petanque in Brighton and so don’t want to wait till 2 p.m. We like to get as much play in as possible to make the journey worthwhile. Therefore we usually arrive before that time and get on with playing, along with any other club members who might also be there. If possible, we invite others into our game as we don’t like to be left waiting about ourselves and so wouldn’t want others to be left waiting either. Other club members soon start arriving and so there are usually enough of them to start up another game anyway. We wouldn’t deliberately exclude anyone, as you know.

    There is no way we’d play endless revenge matches either. If the score is one game all, it’s good to play a decider, and then that would be the end of it unless there aren’t any other club members to re-melee with.

    I think what I’ve outlined is a perfectly acceptable alternative to “Winners v Winners, Losers v Losers”, but even more acceptable is for there to be a consensus of what the majority of players want.



  5. Hi Barbara,

    I would just say that ”Best of 3” is fine when you only have a small group, i.e. 4 or 6 players but it’s not a ”competition format”. When you have a larger group, say more than 12 players, you need an appropriate ”competition” format. Winners v Winners, Losers v Losers – an informal KO – is exactly that. The only real alternative would be a Round Robin – a bit harder to organise informally and usually more waiting for everybody to finish.



    • Barbara Randall says:

      I think this is a case of our having to agree to disagree, Ray. Any format can be a competition format if that’s what the players want. I regard club sessions as training for competitions anyway and so play accordingly.

      As I’ve said before, the most important thing at club sessions imo is to have a consensus of opinion from all the players present.



      • If you go to any competition or read the EPA Competition Organisers Manual, standard competition formats are: League & KO, Round Robin, Snake, Swiss, etc. Winners v Winners, Losers v Losers is an informal KO.

        If you had, say, 20 teams, would a competition organiser say, ”Well have 5 Leagues of 4 and a Main and Plate KO’ or would they say, ”We’ll play best of 3”?

        Best of 3 is fine where you’ve only got 1 match taking place but it is not a competition format.

        I hope that clears up any confusion.

  6. Dave Smith says:

    Sometimes, if only three players turned up for a club night, we’d play a pair (two boules each) versus a single (three boules). We would normally play to nine points for a shorter game. This meant we could have three rounds, each playing two doubles and one singles game.

    Other times we would play all against all but with a different scoring format. Three points for the nearest boule to the coche, two points for second nearest and one point for third. If a player got far enough ahead the other two would become allies for a short while.

    • Hi Dave,

      ”Great minds think alike!” We’ve done similar things, with just 3 players, 2 against 1, either with 4 or 6 boules per side. We usually play to 7 points, again for shorter games.

      Your alternative scoring with ”3 Singles” is interesting, will keep that one in mind. Thanks for the suggestion.

      I do remember quite a few years ago there was a suggestion to just have 2 players against each other with the third the shooter – the others could then call on the shooter to shoot for them. A bit contrived but another interesting angle on the ”3 singles” game.



  7. Dave Smith says:

    Hello again Brighton,

    I have compiled my own mêlée charts so that in EVERY round, each player will be paired up with a different partner, play against a different pairing and will get to play on a different piste (not possible with certain numbers).

    In this format no group of four players will play together more than once (four, sometimes five rounds). Also it moves players to different parts of the terrain during the day.

    I can dig them out if anyone is interested.

    Dave S. (from Diss)

    PS: I am aware that there is a booklet called ‘play the mêlée way’ but I have never seen it.

  8. Dave Smith says:

    The mêlée charts are in Open Office format (.odt)… does anyone have this? If not I could save them as JPG’s or similar. I’m still sorting through them as some needed tweaking.

    By the way, a friend of mine makes marker sticks (for drawing the circles). These can be painted in colours of your choice… pictures to follow. I had one but lost it (like everything else).

    Speak soon Ray,

    Dave S.

  9. Dave Smith says:

    Ray, found out that all I have to do is save the spreadsheeets as a ‘pdf’ file… works a treat! You are sure to have Adobe Reader. I’ll send a sample batch tonight.

    Signing off,

    Dave S.

  10. Barbara Randall says:

    No confusion here, Ray. I’ve got a copy of the EPA Competition Organisers Manual and do go to competitions, and so I do know how to go about organising competitions. What we’re talking about here, though, are club sessions, which as far as I’m concerned are about training for competitions. If the majority of players present want an informal competition, fine. If the majority want a melee including a revenge match and, if appropriate, a decider, that’s also fine. If opinions are split and some want an informal competition while others don’t, that’s fine too. Established teams should also be able to practise together should they so wish, especially if there’s an important competition like a regional qualifier coming up.

    Therefore, imo, club sessions should consist of what the players, indvidually and collectively, want and/or need to do. A ‘one size fits all’ situation just does not apply in this circumstance. The last thing club sessions should be is regimented. We are a democratic club. The sessions should be enjoyed by all in whatever way they wish to enjoy them.



  11. Hi Dave,

    Many thanks. I do use Open Office, so odt is fine, pls send whichever is easiest for you.



  12. Hi Barbara,

    I agree 100% that established and up and coming teams should be given every encouragement to play together. Obviously this doesn’t happen with a mêlée.

    Wednesday evenings are geared more towards this – I realise this won’t suit those who have to travel.

    Personally, I would prefer to see, say, one week mêlée, next week choose teams, for the weekend sessions – something for the members to consider for the future.



    • Barbara Randall says:

      Hi Ray

      You haven’t answered all the points in my previous post but I shall answer yours.

      Established and potential teams can and do play together in a melee by means of one member of the team throwing a boule in the melee to represent those of the whole team. It has been done before at Brighton and there is no reason why it shouldn’t be done again.

      You’re right that Wednesday evening sessions do not suit everyone and that includes my family and me, as you know.

      Why wait for the future for members to decide what they want? There’s no time like the present. There is no room, imo, for regimentation in a democratic club.



  13. Dave Smith says:

    Hi Ray,

    How shall I get these files to you? The charts look better as PDF’s.


    Dave S.

  14. Dave Smith says:

    Hi Barbara,

    I thought a mêlée was where players were randomly selected to make up a team which changes in each round. If you have an established or potential team(s) to start with then it isn’t a mêlée any more.

    Dave S.

  15. Barbara Randall says:

    Hi Dave

    What you say is true but this is just a useful tool for established teams to practise together before a competition. Club sessions don’t have to be formal occasions but can be used for a team to hone their skills and help them to gel.



  16. Dave Smith says:

    I must admit, on a club day I would sometimes ask (out of politeness) would any people mind if x,y and z play together today as we have a match coming up. Most would be okay with it.


    Dave S.

  17. im4honley says:

    Hi Dave
    We’ve just completed a boules pitch outside our village hall in Honley West Yorkshire and I came across this discussion when I googled “how to organise a melee” As a complete novice I am totally confused by your discussion but I would be very grateful if I could get a copy of the booklet you mentioned “Play the melee way” I can probably open most formats.
    Many thanks

  18. im4honley says:

    Hi Dave
    We have just this month finished building a boules pitch at the side of our Village Hall in Honley West Yorkshire and we are having our first informal get together this coming Saturday. We expect about 40 people turning up to have a go on 3 fairly narrow lanes. Someone suggested having a melee so everyone has a chance to play.
    I came across this forum when I googled “how to organise a melee”. I am a complete boules novice, having played only on holiday, so unfortunately your discussion has left me completely baffled, I would however be very grateful if I could have a copy of the booklet you mentioned called “Play the Melee Way” if possible. I could probably open it in most formats.
    Many thanks

    • Hi Marcia,

      Congratulations on building a new terrain, hope all goes well.

      The booklet ”Play the Mêlée Way” is available from the EPA – I think it’s on the site

      I would also recommend getting the Competition Organisers Handbook.

      Most experienced players are more than happy to advise on the most appropriate format for different events.

      Enjoy your game.



    • Dave Smith says:

      Sorry for the incredibly slow reply. I have never owned the booklet. So instead, I compiled my own mêlée charts (see previous entries) – are you still interested?


      • im4honley says:

        Hi Dave
        No worries, we have been up and running now for a couple of years. We play 3 times a week all through the winter months, the weather has to be pretty bad to keep us away. The numbers turning up vary from 3 to about 15 and we have all become good friends.
        For the last couple of years we have been fortunate to welcome M. Didier Chassot to our little group while he was visiting friends in the area. He is a past Champion Pétanque player of the Dordogne and we got lots of tips and help with technique from him.

        Petanque has really taken off in our area and new terrains are springing up all over the place including Huddersfield which is the nearest big town to us. Last year Kirklees council built a 10 lane pitch in the local park and a new club was formed and quickly joined the Yorkshire League. I believe they now have well over 50 members and still growing.
        Anyway thanks again and if you have the booklet I would be glad to know where I could get hold of a copy.

        Kind regards

  19. im4honley says:

    Many thanks for your reply Ray, I’ll follow up your suggestions.

    KInd regards

  20. website says:

    extremely helpful stuff, overall I imagine this is worthy of a book mark, thanks

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