Play Marbles

Children were playing marbles as long ago as 4000 BC in Ancient Egypt, and the game has fallen in and out of fashion ever since. There are many different varieties, but all have been entertaining children (and adults) for centuries. Here are two versions of the classic game. Will you be playing for keeps?


The Classic (Ringer) Version

  1. Make a circle on the ground. You can draw a line with marker or chalk or make a ring out of string or ribbon. The circle can be as big as you'd like -- generally speaking, 3 - 10 feet (1 - 3.3 m) across. Note: The bigger the circle, the harder it is to win!
    • Use a flat surface. If it isn't flat, your marbles are going to be rolling wherever they please.
    • With masking tape (or chalk if outside), put two straight lines on either side of the circle. These will be the lines the players must sit behind when throwing outside of the circle. No cheating!
      • Have each player throw their marble to the opposite line. Whoever's marble winds up closest to the line goes first when playing the game.
  2. Set up your marbles. You can do this however you like. A plus sign is fairly standard, but you can also make a circle or just scatter them randomly. Use at least 13 marbles (an odd number to determine the winner).
  3. Have the first player "knuckle down." They should sit outside of the circle on the first go. With the shooter (the player's special marble) resting in the crook of their index finger, they place their knuckle on the floor (hence the term) and flick the marble out with their thumb.[1] The aim is to hit another marble out of the circle while keeping the shooter in.
    • The shooter is generally a bit larger than the normal marbles. If you have a favorite shooter, it is known as your "taw." Your favorite marble, on the other hand, is known as an "alley."[1]
  4. If the player successfully knocked out another marble (while keeping their shooter in), have them go again. And they get to take the marble they knocked out and receive a point. When the go again, they must knuckle down where the shooter landed.
    • Determine if you literally get to keep the marbles you knock out. If so, this is known as "keepsies." Know the term "playing for keeps?" There you go!
  5. Shoot from behind the line if a player knocks out your shooter. If the first player didn't knock out a marble, the second player gets their turn. If they knock out the other player's shooter, they don't get a point or to keep the shooter, but the other player does have to shoot from outside the circle (which is much more difficult) on their next turn. It's sort of like an automatic "lose your turn" move.
  6. Finish the game when all the marbles are gone. Whichever player knocked out the most marbles wins. Ready for another round?
    • If you find knuckling down to be difficult, you can roll your marble. But practice the knuckling! It's more authentic and keeps the game interesting.

Bull's Eye Marbles

  1. Draw four circles. Draw each one inside the other to create a target effect. The innermost circle is worth the most points - 100. The next circle going outward is worth 75 points, the next is worth 50 and the outer circle is worth 25 points. The size of the circle should be at least 30 cm (12") across.
    • Of course, the values are up to you. If you'd like a teeny tiny circle inside the 100 to be worth a million, go on ahead. Many variations of marbles exists -- yours could be next!
  2. Draw a shooting line. Draw this about 180cm (6 feet) from the outer edge of the biggest circle. The farther away your line, the more difficult the game will be. Don't let any player cross it!
  3. Start playing. Define how many rounds the game will have. Each player in turn stands on the shooting line and shoots three marbles at the target. The target is the bull's eye. Each marble that lands in a circle earns the number of points marked in that circle. Landing outside the circles scores nil.
  4. Add up the points. Add the points for all three marble shoots to reach the player's score. At the end of the turn, the marbles are picked up to leave the field clear for the next player.
    • If you do choose to leave the marbles, make it so if they're knocked out, they're not counted. Only marbles that are left at the end of both turns have value. This makes the game more competitive!
  5. Go for another round. When everyone has had a turn, start the next round, adding on the scores. The winner is the player with the highest total score at the end of the game.


  • It's best to play on a hard, smooth surface, such as on a table. You can also then mark the circles with chalk. If indoors, yarn or string on carpet works great.
  • Use the same coloured marbles if possible.
  • Try not to touch the ground and play with your left hand a little.


  • If you have a favorite marble, establish that it's yours. Even if the other player wins, they don't get it.

Things You'll Need

Classic (Ringer) Version

  • 13 marbles (at least)
  • 2 shooters (bigger marbles)
  • Chalk, marker, or string (to form a circle)
  • Tape

Bull's Eye Marbles

  • Target
  • 6 marbles
  • Score paper
  • Pencil or pen

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Sources and Citations