How to play with an odd number of players

It sometimes happens that you have a group that is ready to play, but you have an odd number of players. What do you do then?

The problematic numbers are 3, 5, and 7.

Three players
For tips on ways to play with three players, see our post on games for three players.

Five players
This is the easiest situation to handle. One team has three players who use two boules each (as in triples). The other team has two players who use three boules each (as in doubles).

Another possibility is to do what (in other contexts) is called “job sharing”. Two players are allocated the the task (the number of boules) of a single player, and they share the task of throwing them. Job sharing actually works well when your odd man out is a new player or a child. If he’s willing, an expert player can pair with the novice — the novice plays with two boules, and the expert plays with one. The expert can coach the novice, and the play of the novice can reduce the dominance of the expert player.

Seven players
You can —

  • break up into two games — a singles game, and a game for 5 players.
  • break up into two games — a doubles game, and a game for 3 players.
  • play a triples game, with two of the players job sharing. They can take turns sitting out a round, or each can play with one boule.

Playing with an odd number of players isn’t necessarily an organizational disaster. If additional players arrive after you’ve already begun to play, it is easy to add them to an existing game. If you have a game of two-vs-three, you can add a new player to the short team and play standard triples. If you have a job sharing situation, then one of the partners can leave (to help start a new game) and his partner can continue to play as a normal non-job-sharing player.

Job sharing can work well if one of the partners is likely to be called away for some reason.

One way to handle a situation where you have an odd number of players, and an additional player arrives, is to spin off a singles game. Generally speaking, we avoid singles games because they are not as much fun as doubles or triples. But… a singles game between an experienced player and a new player can be a valuable opportunity for a one-on-one coaching session.

Handling late arrivals

It happens. Players sometimes arrive late. Sometimes the only reasonable thing to do is for them to wait until the current game finishes and new teams are organized. But you can also split up existing games or add them to existing games. This is easy if you already have an odd number of players. Or, if the late arrival creates an odd number of players, you can use one of the strategies that we’ve outlined.


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