Soft pétanque (or pétanque molle) are toy boules that look like a cross between a bean-bag and a little soccer ball. These have been around for a while and seem reasonably popular.
They not very useful for practicing your game indoors… they don’t weigh or play very much like real steel boules. But soft petanque can be played for its own sake as a fun, safe indoor game. (See the video below, featuring Dan Danielson of Chicago Petanque).
SPORTCRAFT BEAN BALL BOCCE
These probably are no longer being manufactured, but sets might still be for sale on eBay and Amazon.
Avoid the Sportcraft bean ball bocce. They are basically sand-filled bean bags and apparently very poorly made. Many reviews on Amazon.com report that the seams split open after very little use.
“SOFT PVC” BOULES
“Soft PVC” boules (aka boules d’intérieur, indoor boules) were developed by the CIEP (and manufactured by the French company Plastico Rototech) for use in teaching petanque to French children. They are safe and suitable for use indoors— e.g. for teaching petanque in the school gym. The adult boules have the size, weight, and playing characteristics of (real) steel boules, so they might be useful for indoor practice or play during inclement weather. The Czech site Petanque for You says
The boules’ behavior on a hard, smooth, and even surface is very similar to the behavior of classical steel boules on outdoor clay surfaces – the boules do not “roll away” after hitting the ground, but gradually slow down. Plastic boules are made of resilient PVC filled with an “inert powder” to guarantee their proper behavior.
It is possible that these boules are essentially similar to the boules souples described below, and that they are inflated with air and iron filings (the “inert powder”).
Online vendors for these boules include Pen-y-Coed in the UK (which sells them as Indoor Training Boules – ITB), the boutique at www.boulistenaute.com, and other online boules vendors. Prices seem to range from roughly 45€ to 66€ per set. The best price we found was at petanqueshop.com.
Each set contains six boules— two differently colored sets of three boules. Some sets seem to come with one jack; others with two. Note that it is possible to get replacement or additional “soft PVC” jacks.
|small kids — red & blue
|kids — green & yellow
|adults — grey & black
BOULES SOUPLES (“FLEXIBLE BOULES”)
In 2014, Jean-Pierre Albertini filed a patent application for “boules de pétanque souples d’intérieur“. Now you can buy a set for around 79€ at boulistenaute.com, the FFPJP online shop, and and other online vendors.
You can see some pictures of them HERE.
A flexible outer shell or skin (4mm thick) is inflated with a combination of iron filings (“steel microbeads” less than 0.6 mm in diameter) and air to produce boules with the desired weight, size, and bounce. The iron filings help to suppress the inflated boules’ bounce, producing playing behavior similar to steel boules. (This in fact is the same technique that old-time cheaters used to make “stuffed” boules— boules farcies.) One report says that they are 73mm and 680g.
In this closeup you can see the valve used to inflate the boules.
You can see the boules in action in this Vimeo video. As you can see, the jack has one flat side to keep it from rolling away too easily on the wood floor.