Think of a sociable French sport played outside in summer, and you’ll probably think of boules. However, in Brittany it could also be palets, which is particularly popular in the east of the region. Rather than a pitch, you just need a square piece of poplar wood; stand 5 metres back, throw the maitre (jack) onto the board and then the two opponents or small teams attempt to get their palets as near as possible to the maitre. The team which gets a palet closest to the jack wins; they get a point for every palet which is nearer to the jack than their opponents’. While each game may carry as little as a single point, you need to get twelve points to win the match.
Sounds simple, but since the palets are discs of cast iron which tend to slide or bounce off the board when they actually hit it, there is plenty of skill involved. Once you’ve got the hang of keeping your pieces on the board, you can play tactically, trying to knock your opponent’s palets out of the way. Small variations in your palets – age, weight, curve – can all make a difference; and if you enter competitions, you’ll want to mark your palets to ensure that you get your own favourites back.
This rather formal equipment is a relatively recent invention (dating back a century or so). Before that, games of this type were played on earth, with the players throwing stones. In some parts of western Brittany, games are still played directly on the road, although the simpler equipment tends to be matched with more complex rules.
Happily for the palets novice, tradition among the players of this convivial game is that the winners buy drinks for the losers!