Backyard Croquet: Basic Rules

What You Need to Play

The Court

Diagram 1

9-wicket court layout

A backyard croquet court doesn’t have to be a perfectly manicured lawn, but short grass provides the best playing surface. If you have room, a full-size court is a rectangle, 100 feet long by 50 feet wide. You can adjust the size and shape of the court to fit the available space. Diagram 1 shows a typical half size court suitable for a standard backyard lawn. Boundaries are an option. Use string or chalk to mark definite boundaries, or just mark the corners with flags or stakes.

The Wickets and Stakes

The nine wickets and two stakes are arranged in a double-diamond pattern as shown in the diagram. If you are playing on a smaller court, the distances shown should be scaled down in proportion to the length and width of the court. Try to keep the distance between the stake and wicket 1 and wicket 2 three feet at a minimum. Same goes for wickets 6-7 and the stake. The wickets should be firmly planted in the ground, and the width of the wickets should be uniform throughout the court.

The Balls

For a two- or four-player, two-sided game, you need four balls. The colors usually used are blue, red, black, and yellow. One side (with one or two players) plays with blue and black, and the other with red and yellow. For a six-player team game, you need six balls. In “one-ball” games, you need one ball per player. See below for more details.

The Mallets

Each player uses a mallet. Only the striking (end) face may be used to strike a ball, unless the players have agreed to allow the use of “side” shots or other shot-making variations.

Optional Accessories

You can use colored clips or clothespins to mark the next wicket your ball must go through. The clip is picked up when a wicket is scored, then placed on the ball’s next wicket at the end of the turn.

Object of the Game

The object of the game is to advance the balls through the course by hitting them with a mallet, scoring a point for each wicket and stake made in the correct order and direction. The winner is the first side to score the 14 wicket points and 2 stake points for each of its balls, unless the game is played to a time limit and time runs out before that happens, in which case the team with the most points at the end of the time period wins (see below).

The players take turns, and only one plays at a time. At the beginning of a turn the player (called the “striker”) has one shot. After that shot the turn ends, unless a bonus shot is earned by scoring a wicket or stake or by hitting another ball. The turn ends when the player has no more bonus shots to play or has finished the course by scoring the finishing stake. The striker may directly hit with the mallet only the ball he or she is playing in that turn (the “striker ball”).

Order of Play and Starting the Game

Diagram 2

Sequence of wickets

Starting point

All balls are played into the game from a spot halfway between the finishing stake and wicket #1.

Four-ball game

Four balls are played by two sides (singles—two players competing against each other playing two balls each; or doubles—two sides of two players each).

The sides should toss a coin or hit closest to the middle wicket to determine the order of play. The side winning the coin toss has the choice of playing first and third with blue/black or second and fourth with red/yellow. The order of play throughout the game is blue, red, black, yellow.

Six balls, two teams

The side winning the coin toss has the choice of playing first, third, and fifth with blue/black/green or second, fourth, and sixth with red/yellow/orange. The order of play throughout the game is blue, red, black, yellow, green, orange.

Six balls, three teams

The start of the game is determined by a player from each of the three sides shooting to a predetermined target such as a wicket or stake, with the closest to the target choosing which colors to play. The second closest chooses next, with the third closest playing the remaining balls. The sides consist of blue/yellow, red/green, and black/orange. The order of play is blue, red, black, yellow, green, and orange.

“One-ball” Game

Many croquet players like to play singles with only one ball per side, the winner being the player who advances his or her ball around the court first. This popular variation is played with the same rules as regular singles or doubles croquet, but any number of players from two to six can play. The colors may be drawn by lot to determine the order of play.

Order of Play

After all balls have started the game, play continues in the same order until a ball is staked out. When a ball is out of the game, the remaining balls continue in the same order, skipping the ball that has finished the course.



If a player plays out of turn, there is no penalty. Any ball moved during the out-of-turn play is replaced to its position prior to the error and play recommences properly. If an out of turn is initially condoned (not discovered) but then later discovered after other balls have been played, only the last ball played out of turn is replaced and the correct ball then proceeds. Example: if red plays, then blue plays, then yellow plays, yellow is replaced, and then red plays correctly.

If the striker takes a swing at his/her ball and misses entirely, the miss counts as a shot and the turn ends, unless the striker had a second “bonus” shot.

If the striker’s mallet accidentally hits another ball other than the striker ball, the shot must be replayed, but with no loss of turn.

Scoring Wicket and Stake Points

Each ball can score wicket and stake points for its side only by going through a wicket or hitting a stake in the proper order and direction. Going through a wicket out of order or in the wrong direction is not counted as a point gained or lost. A ball caused to score its wicket or stake during another ball’s turn earns the point for its side, but no bonus shot is earned as a result.

Diagram 3

Scoring a wicket:<br /> A has not started scoring the wicket; B has. C has not finished scoring the wicket; D has.

A ball scores a wicket point only if it comes to rest clear of the playing side of the wicket. If a ball passes through a wicket but rolls back, it has not scored the wicket. An easy way to determine if a ball has cleared a wicket is to run the side of the mallet head down the plane of the playing side of the wicket. If the mallet head touches the ball on the way down, it has not cleared the wicket; if the mallet head does not touch the ball, it has cleared the wicket!

Bonus Shots

The striker earns one bonus shot if the striker ball scores a wicket or hits the turning stake. The striker earns two bonus shots if the striker ball hits another ball (a “roquet”). However, the maximum number of bonus shots earned by a striker is two; there is never a time when a striker is allowed three shots. (See the “Exceptions” section below for examples.)

If two bonus shots are scored by striking another ball, the first of these two shots may be taken in any of four ways:

From a mallet-head distance or less away from the ball that was hit (“taking a mallet-head”).

From a position in contact with the ball that was hit, with the striker ball held steady by the striker’s foot or hand (a “foot shot” or “hand shot”).

From a position in contact with the ball that was hit, with the striker ball not held by foot or hand (a “croquet shot”).

From where the striker ball stopped after the roquet.

The second bonus shot after a roquet is an ordinary shot played from where the striker ball came to rest, called a “continuation shot”.

Bonus shots may not be accumulated. Upon earning a bonus shot by scoring a wicket, hitting the turning stake, or roqueting another ball, any bonus shot previously earned is forfeited. For example, if a ball roquets a ball and in that same stroke the striker ball hits another ball, the second ball hit is not a roquet and remains where it comes to rest (with no deadness incurred on that ball).

EXCEPTIONS: Two extra shots are earned when the striker ball scores two wickets in one shot. If the ball also hits the turning stake after scoring two wickets, two strokes are earned, not three. Conversely, if the striker ball scores the seventh wicket and hits the turning stake in the same shot, it earns two shots. After the striker ball roquets another ball, it does not earn any extra shots for hitting it again in the same turn before scoring the next wicket in order. However, there is no penalty for hitting the ball again (unless you are using Challenging Option #1).

Wicket and Roquet

When the striker ball scores a wicket and then in the same shot hits another ball, only the wicket counts and the striker has earned only the one extra shot for scoring the wicket. The striker may then roquet any ball to earn two extra shots. When the striker ball roquets another ball and then goes through a wicket, the wicket has not been scored but the striker earns two extra shots for the roquet.

The Boundaries

Play with no Boundaries

Whenever a ball is impaired from play by a natural obstruction, it is placed up to one mallet length- three feet away from the obstruction.

Play with Formal Boundaries

If boundaries are established, whenever more than half of a ball (50%+) crosses the inside edge of a boundary, it is “Out Of Bounds” and should be brought inbounds and placed one mallet length (or 36 inches) into the court. The ball should be placed 90 degrees inbounds and perpendicular to the line and not diagonally from the line. (Exception: When the striker ball has just roqueted (hit) another ball, the striker may choose to place it in contact with or up to a mallet-head from the ball that was roqueted.) All balls are also immediately brought in a mallet length from the boundary when they are less than that distance from the boundary, except for the striker’s ball when the striker has an extra shot.

If more than one ball crosses the boundary on the same spot, the striker may measure any ball inbounds first and then place the other(s) up to a mallet-head’s length away from it on either side.

Rover Balls

After a ball scores all of the wickets in the course but before it hits the finishing stake, its player may choose to keep it in the game as a “rover” to help advance that side’s remaining ball(s) and to prevent the opposing side from advancing. During this ball’s turn, it may hit any other ball only once per turn, gaining extra shots accordingly, but it does not earn any extra shots or wicket points for running a wicket.

Any player may put a rover out of the game by causing it to hit the finishing stake with a roquet shot or a croquet or foot shot. The rover’s side earns the point for the stake, and the order of play continues without the staked-out ball.

An interesting variation is playing “poison” (see Challenging Option #6).

Time Limit Game

If time does not permit a game to be played to the stake, a time limit may be set beforehand. A kitchen timer works well to alert players to the end of the time limit. When the time limit is reached the game is over. This is known as “sudden stop”. If the score is tied in the “sudden stop” format, the ball closest to its contested wicket gets an extra point for the win. If the score is tied in the “sudden stop” format, the ball closest to its contested wicket gets an extra point for the win. In a time limit game, players must play expeditiously and teams should not take excessive amounts of time in discussions.