by Modar Neznanich



Known originally as Paille-Maille in French, and later as Pall-Mall in English, the name of this game means "ball and mallet". Like many games dating back in history, the exact origin of this game is difficult to determine. It was mentioned as early as the 13th century in French texts. It was known to be very popular in England in the 1500s. By the 1600s, it had also reached favor in Italy and Scotland. It rose and fell in popularity through the centuries, never quite catching on as "the" favorite pasttime. It perhaps came into its highest popularity in mid-1800s when the rules developed a set course, started being played on manicured lawns, added more wickets and became known as Croquet. Most likely this name came from the Old Norman-French word that meant the crook on a shepard's staff, referring to the original shape of the mallets.



According to sources, the game of Billiards evolved during the 15th century from Pall-Mall in Northern Europe (probably France). Play of the game moved indoors to a wooden table with green cloth draped on it to simulate grass, and edges added to keep the balls in play. The balls were shoved rather than struck with wooden sticks called "maces" that looked very similiar to modern hockey sticks with small blades. Originally there was a six-pocket table with a wicket (hoop) for the balls to pass through and a stake used as a target to hit before sending the balls into the pockets. These were removed from use in the 18th century, leaving only the pockets.



Pall-Mall can be played using a modern croquet set. One merely uses six of the wickets, instead of the nine used in croquet. And the wickets will need to be marked, one in each of the six colors matching the balls.

The six colors for balls/wickets in the original game are never specified in sources, so while it is convenient to use a modern croquet set to play this game, a person could make their own set, using six colors of their own choosing. Most likely the original sets did not have the order of colors marked on the stakes and mallets. However, doing such makes it easier on players to remember which order they take turns in.



For the explanation of rules of this game, I have used some of the terms that have developed since its beginning, and are more commonly used in modern croquet, to help clarify meanings.

The object of the game is for a player to traverse the course, passing his/her ball through the wickets in the correct color order, striking the Midway Stake with his/her ball, then traversing the course back, passing his/her ball through the wickets in reverse color order and finally striking the Start/Finish Stake. The first player to do such wins, the second player to do such is second, and so forth.

To start, players choose which of the six available colors they wish to use. This may be done in any method deemed fair by the players. (Each player will bring his/her ball into play in the order of the colors on the stake: blue first, red second, black third, yellow fourth, green fifth and orange sixth.) Once each player has selected his color, they are given the corresponding ball and a wicket marked with their color.

Next, the course is set up. The Start/Finish Stake and the Midway Stake are placed at the ends of the playing field. There is no set distance. Recommended though is that 50' should be about minimum course length and 100' feet about maximum course length. For course width, 30' should be about minimum width and 50' about maximum width. Although rarely done in period, boundaries may be marked out via string or other method. Most usually, natural boundaries were established. After the stakes are placed, the players then set their wickets on the course.

Unlike its descendant, croquet, the game of Pall-Mall does not have a set lay-out for the wickets. The players may place their wicket anywhere on the course, at any angle. Hence, players may have to go toward the far end of the course to go through one wicket then come back to the other end for the next wicket, and so on. Each game of Pall-Mall thus becomes unique. Once the wickets are placed, play begins.

To begin play, the blue player sets his ball to either side of the Start/Finish Stake. He then strikes his ball (NOT THE STAKE), knocking it toward the first wicket he must pass through. This is then repeated by the red player, the black player, the yellow player, the green player and the orange player.

Players then take turns in order of their color. A turn consists of one stroke or hit upon a player's own ball, plus any additional bonus strokes earned.

The player must knock his/her ball through each wicket in the correct color order. This can be from either side of the wicket.

When you pass your ball through the correct wicket, you gain one bonus stroke.

If a ball passes through the wrong color wicket, there is no penalty, but the player CANNOT count that wicket as having been played through, and does NOT get a bonus stroke.

If an opponent knocks your ball through the proper wicket (the one you have to go through next), you are credited with having made it through the wicket, and may continue toward the next wicket (or stake), but you do not gain the extra stroke bonus.

Should a ball be caught for some reason in an unplayable position, that is to say, in a place where the ball cannot be struck with the mallet, then the ball may be moved one mallet-head-length to a position where it can be struck.

If a ball goes out of bounds (whether as a result of a player's own stroke or an opponent's croquet stroke) the ball may be brought back to the boundary, at the place it went out and put into play at that spot.



Bonus strokes are earned in three ways:

1. By passing through the proper color wicket (from either side of the wicket). This is called scoring wicket. The bonus is one extra stroke. It must be played from where the ball lies after the point is made.

2. By striking the Midway Stake with your ball, after having gone through all the wickets in color order. This is called scoring stake point. The bonus is one extra stroke. It must be played from where the ball lies after the point is made.

3. By striking the ball of an opponent with your ball. This is more modernly called a roquette, or roquet. If this occurs, the player of the striking ball has one of two options.

a) Take one extra stroke. (It must be played from where the ball lies after the point is made.) If the extra stroke hits an opponent's ball (the same one or a different one), another bonus stroke is gained. Hence, it is possible to earn several bonus strokes in a row.

b) Take a croquet stroke. This is done by moving your ball next to the opponent's ball you struck (any side). You then place your foot upon your ball (to prevent it from moving). Now you strike your ball very hard. The resulting force moves through your ball to the opponent's ball, sending the opponent's ball flying. (Be careful not to hit your foot!) IF YOU TAKE THE CROQUET STROKE, YOUR TURN NOW ENDS. If you had gained additional bonus strokes, they are lost.

It is possible to gain several bonus strokes. If your ball strikes the balls of multiple opponents, you gain an extra stroke for each opponent ball struck. If your ball passes through a wicket (in the proper order) and also strikes opponent balls, you get a stroke for passing through the wicket plus a stroke for each ball struck. If your ball strikes the Midway Stake (in the proper order) and strikes opponent balls, you gain one stroke for hitting the stake and one stroke for each opponent ball hit.

All bonus strokes must be taken on your current turn (or lost because you took a croquet shot), before play advances to the next player. Bonus strokes CANNOT be saved for later use.



These rules may be ignored, used separately or in combination, as desired. They derive from game variations.

Play "Pall-Mall Partners" or "Pall-Mall Sides". With partners there are 3 teams of two colors (usually blue & yellow, red & green and black & orange). With sides there are 2 teams of three colors (usually blue, black & green and red, yellow & orange). In these variations, all members of a team must complete the course and hit the Finish Stake for a team to win.

A player may choose to become a "Rover". A Rover is a player who has completed all of the course except for striking the Finish Stake. A Rover may move anywhere on the course he/she wishes, as per the general rules, taking strokes on his/her turn, gaining bonus strokes as normal, and taking croquet shots as normal. At any time, the Rover can head toward the Finish Stake and hit it to finish/win. There is no real reason or motivation to utilize this rule in a standard Pall-Mall game, but if playing partners or sides, then this rule could become very handy.

Another variation requires special wickets. No special name can be found for this variation, but many refer to it as "Revolving Pall-Mall". One leg on each of the wickets is longer than the other. When the wickets are placed, just the longer leg is pushed into the ground. The shorter leg is kept free of the ground. The wicket is then spun around in the ground so that it "turns freely". The purpose of this version is that if the ball does not cleanly go through the wicket, the hoop will be spun, setting it in a new position. This makes for an interesting and challenging variation.

1998 Modar Neznanich
Permission to Print.


H.L. Modar Neznanich, CLM, CSH, CT, CCC

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