The game of croquet is open to any number of players, up to eight. Even ten or twelve might take part in it, by using extra balls. The rules of the game, in all cases, remain the same, but the interests of the play will vary according to the number of players, and in a kind of inverse ratio, diminishing as the latter is increased. A match of more than eight would prolong the play, beyond what might be termed a “reasonable time.”1
When eight players enter the lists, it is usual to play as friends, four and four to a side ; but the arrangement of four sets or sides, of two friends each, is equally admissible.
Seven players may go through the game, as if there were eight, by some one of either side taking the extra ball, and playing it in proper tour.2
When six enter, the play may be arranged either into two sides of three, or three of two ; each player, as in the game of eight, taking a single ball.
If there be only five players upon the ground, the odd one may be omitted, by the introduction of an extra ball, as above directed, thus constituting a set of six.3
The game of four may be played with eight balls, each player taking an extra ball and playing it in its proper tour. It is then simply the game of eight ; and, like the latter, may be arranged into two sides of four, or four of two.4
Three players may either play the game of four, by one of them taking the extra ball, or of six, by each taking two balls.
When there are only two players upon the ground, it becomes simply a game of four, - each taking two balls, and playing them alternately.5
Whatever be the number of players, the object of each is to make the grand round, and strike out against the starting stake, by the accomplishment of which feat, the “victory” is obtained.6
The course of the ball in making the grand round is, first, from the spot, through bridges 1 and 2 upwards ; then to the left flank in front of 3 ; thence through 3, 4, and 5 ; thence back to the line of the centre in front of 6 ; thence through 6 and 7, making the half-round.
The stake is next tolled ; after which the ball runs back through 7 and 6, downwards, or in a direction contrary to its previous course.
Having rerun 7 and 6, it crosses over to front of the right flank bridges, their front being reverse to that of those on the left. It then runs 8, 9, and 10, downwards ; crosses again to the centre line above 2 ; and reruns 2 and 1 towards the starting stake.
It has thus completed the grand round ; and, being once more placed upon the spot, has the option, either of striking out or continuing the play, with the privileges of the Rover.7
Before entering upon a game of croquet, there are certain preliminary points that deserve attention. Of these the most important is making the match.8
Out of the company intended to take part in the play, two chiefs should be chosen.9
Each chief takes a ball, - any ball, - places it between the piers of bridge No. 1, and, with a blow of the mallet, drives it in the direction of the starting stake ; the object being to lay it as near as possible to the foot of the stake.
The other chief "strikes" in like fashion, and, when the operation is over, the ball that lies nearest to the stake wins the right to first choice of friends, as also the option to lead off in the play.10
The chief, who has thus obtained first choice out of the company, names a friend ; but only one at a time. The adversary has second choice, and also selects a friend. The third choice belongs to the victorious chief ; the fourth to the adversary ; and so on, till the sides are selected, when the match is considered made.
The chief, who leads the play, will now take up that ball, whose color is represented by the ring standing highest on the stake, and one of the mallets, - any one.11
The adversary must take the ball whose color comes next ; the third falls to the friend first chosen ; the fourth to the friend chosen by the adversary ; and so on, in alternate succession of friends and enemies, till all the balls have been appropriated.12
Each player being provided with a ball and mallet, then game may begin ; the play proceeding in the order of the colored rings upon the stake, from the top downwards.13
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