How to Play Marbles

By James Holloway
These players, an unorthodox two-handed shooting technique
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The classic game of marbles tests patience, skill and hand-eye coordination. Although traditionally a children's game, marbles can be a great way to pass the time for adults who don't mind getting their knees a little dusty. The basic game is simple, but there are many variations on its rules. One of the most common marble games is Ringer.

Setting Up the Play Area

Before play, find an area of flat ground or floor. Mark out a circle on the ground using chalk or another method. The circle should be 10 feet across. Arrange 13 marbles in an "X" shape in the center of the ring. Alternatively, draw a circle with a one-foot diameter in the center of the ring and scatter 13 marbles around it. Each player will need a larger "shooter" marble. To select the first player, have each player stand in a line on one side of the circle and shoot or toss their shooters toward the opposite side of the circle. The player who comes closest to the other side of the circle without going out of it goes first.

Shooting Marbles

To shoot, kneel down and take aim at the marble you want to hit. Rest the knuckles of your shooting hand on the ground with your thumb tucked behind the shooter. This is known as "knuckling down." Shoot your marble by flicking your thumb forward, propelling the shooter at the target. The goal is to knock the target marble out of the circle without the shooter leaving the circle. If you succeed, you will get to shoot again, starting wherever the shooter lies.

Scoring Points

Once the first player has missed a shot, either by failing to knock a marble out of the ring or by having his shooter cross the line, play passes to the opponent. Whichever player knocked more marbles out of the ring by the time all are removed is the winner; in some games, this simply means that the first shooter to seven wins, while in others -- for instance, in "keepsies" games where shooters get to keep the marbles they hit -- the exact number matters.


There are many different types of marble game, although most of them include the same basic elements as Ringer. For example, Ring Taw is a traditional marbles game in the United Kingdom. In this game, the ring is six feet across and the central group consists of 49 marbles. Teams of six players compete in this game. Other variant rules include leaving shooters in the ring even when the player is no longer shooting; if an opposing player hits a shooter, the player to whom it belongs may have to forfeit a point or even lose the prized marble.

About the Author

Dr James Holloway has been writing about games, geek culture and whisky since 1995. A former editor of "Archaeological Review from Cambridge," he has also written for Fortean Times, Fantasy Flight Games and The Unspeakable Oath. A graduate of Cambridge University, Holloway runs the blog Gonzo History Gaming.