This is the game that Alice plays in Wonderland, against the Queen of Hearts, who's seen fit to provide her with a flamingo for a mallet and a frightened hedgehog for a ball. This would be an extreme version of the game – it's usually played with implements made of wood, which is much safer, and more fun because of it.
Ok, so croquet might not sound like a particularly thrilling game – more country house lawn on a Sunday afternoon than a prime time TV slot. But that's why it's such a good game – anyone can play it. Young, older, oldest, sporty, un-sporty, very-very-un-sporty.
The main aim of the game is to hit a ball through a series of hoops using a mallet. There are other rules, it's just that there are several other sets of rules, so make sure everyone playing knows which set you're using.
A croquet set
Before you start playing you need a croquet set, the basic version of which will contain four coloured balls, four wooden mallets and at least 12 metal hoops. If you're playing with kids you can get a kid-sized set with under-sized mallets.
The simplest set of rules are those of 'Golf Croquet'. These are also the most family friendly, because everyone playing takes a shot in turn. In Golf Croquet the blue and black balls play against the red and yellow balls in teams, or in singles. But either way all balls must be used and they must be hit in strict sequence: blue, red, black, yellow.
Step Two: Players take turns trying to hit their balls through the same hoop - the first person to hit their ball all the way through the hoop and out the other side wins the point. As soon as the hoop is won everyone turns their attention to the next hoop. You don't get an extra shot for winning a hoop.
Step Three: You're allowed to play negatively, meaning you can try and bounce other balls out of the way, but you get a fault if you hit another ball with your mallet, hit a ball out of the boundary or touch your own ball more than once. You're also faulted if you touch a ball with your hands or squeeze your ball against the hoop.
If you get a fault no points are scored and it's your opponent's choice to either replace the balls back how they were before the shot, or play on from the current lay of the land.
If a ball is hit out of the boundary – which you should all agree upon if you're playing in your garden - then it should be brought back to the boundary line. Unless that position would be in the way of another's shot - in which case you wait until they've played their shot and then you move the ball.
Step Four: The first player/ team to score seven points wins.
If you knock another player's ball through the hoop using your stroke then that 'other' ball wins the shot – even if your own ball goes through first.
You can start playing your ball for the next hoop before a hoop is won if you want to, but you can't be more than half way between the current hoop and the following hoop - unless someone else hits you up there. So no use thinking you can edge right up to it to win back some points! If the points are level after running the 12th hoop then there's a hoop play-off for hoop three. If one of your teams or players is at a disadvantage, for being younger than everyone else for example, it's perfectly acceptable for them to be given a few extra shots to catch up. However they're not supposed to be able to score points on those extra shots.
As you can see this is a game of hand-eye coordination, but also of tactical play.
The other main type of croquet is Association Croquet, which has a far more complicated set of rules.