How to Play Marbles

The game of Marbles as we know it today gets its name from the practice of making children's toys from chips of marble or stone.

Marrididdles, Cat's Eyes, and Taws!

Winning Plays

While Marbles has been played over the centuries with everything from rounded sea pebbles to fruit pits, today the game is played with small colorful balls of glass—but it took many different materials to reach this point. In the twentieth century, marbles were made of baked clay, agate, onyx, alabaster, plastic, wood, and steel. Antique marbles can be found at flea markets and auctions.

That's right—different sizes and types of marbles have different names, and these names vary from country to country. Marrididdles are homemade marbles usually made of clay that's been left out to dry. Cat's Eyes, originally made in Japan, are made of clear glass with swirling colored glass injected inside of them. An Alley is your best marble and might even be your most expensive marble. A Taw is one of your shooters—simply put, it is your favorite marble—the one you use to shoot the most often and the one you don't want to lose to an opponent. If you are playing with an expensive Alley, you might want to have a stated rule in the beginning, that that marble is not up for grabs!

The different types of marbles are quite beautiful. You may want to collect them just for the way they look!

Because this game is so old, there are countless ways to play, countless games to make up, and countless names for marbles. You will definitely find yourself and your children making up rules to suit your own needs. Inventing new games is always good fun and a great way to stimulate your child's imagination.

The Ring Game

This is the most famous version of Marbles, the one you see kids playing on TV and in the movies, and soon, hopefully in your own backyard.

Draw a ring on the ground either with a piece of chalk or with a stick in the dirt. Draw a starting line just outside the ring. Each player puts a few marbles into the ring and the goal is to shoot the marbles, from the starting line, out of the ring.

Three Strikes

It is critical to keep marbles out of the hands and mouths of small children. You should only play the game with children over the age of five or six—and even then under strict supervision. Older kids should be okay.

To choose the player who goes first, each player should shoot a marble from the starting line toward the ring; the player whose marble is closest to the edge of the ring gets to go first. The next closest is the second shooter, and so on. The players should pick up these marbles to shoot again when the game begins.

The first player knuckles down at the starting line and shoots his or her marble toward the ring in an effort to hit a marble out of the ring. If the player hits both his or her marble and the target marble out of the ring, he or she gets to keep the marble and shoot again—only this time he or she has to shoot from where his or her shooter rests. If a player shoots a target marble out, but his or her shooter stays in, he or she can get the shooter back by replacing it with another marble.

Three Strikes

Tell your kids to be clear on the rules about taking marbles before they play. Some kids want to have their marbles back, while other kids feel the reward is to win other kids' marbles. This could be a big source of conflict if the kids don't state the rules in advance.

Kids get very attached to their favorite shooters, so you can bet they are going to want their “Taw” back! However, if his or her shooter stays in, the player is out and must put all the won marbles back in the ring. If a player doesn't hit any marbles out of the ring and his or her shooter stays in, the shooter can be replaced with another marble but the player is out altogether until the next game. If the player misses and the shooter goes outside the ring, the shooter stays where it is but the shooter loses his or her turn. On the next play, the player must shoot from where his or her shooter rested on the previous play.

Knuckles Down

There is an art to shooting a marble and it's done like this: Curl your fingers and rest the marble on the crook of your index finger. With your knuckles facing downward, place the knuckle of your index finger on the ground and use your thumb to flick the marble out of the crook—and watch the marble fly. You'll have to practice a few times until you get it right.

More on: Games


Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Family Games © 2002 by BookEnds, LLC. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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