There are countless ways to play marbles, varying across place and time.
Three common marble games are Circles, Holes and Triangles. There are basic rules for beginners and many variations depending on the skill and age of the players.
Each player needs a bag or handful of marbles. You can use a favourite shooting marble as your 'taw' or shooter. Chalk, masking tape or a stick can help with marking out the game spaces. Use chalk if playing on concrete or bitumen, masking tape if playing inside on the carpet, or find a dirt patch and scratch the circle out with a stick.
Before each game, decide who will flick or shoot first. The easiest way is to throw a marble towards an agreed line. The player who gets their marble closest to the line goes first.
Decide if the game is for keeps - which means the winner keeps their opponents' marble. Alternatively you can play for points. For example, when playing In the Ring each marble knocked out of the ring counts for one point.
Dig a small hole in the dirt (about 7cm across) and draw a line about 2-3 metres from the hole. Players stand on the line and throw their marble towards the hole. The person who gets closest to the hole goes first.
Players must first flick their marble from the line into the hole. Once in the hole they can go after another person's marble, shooting from the edge of the hole. If they hit it, that person is out of the game. The winner is the person who gets most people out.
A more difficult variation requires the opponent's marble to be hit three times. The first hit is a soft one, the second hit is a 'plong' (a big hit which leave the two marbles a long way apart) and the third is a very soft one. After this the person has to flick their marble back into the hole. The first one to do this is the winner.
Players get two shots when they flick their own marble into the hole or if they flick another person's marble into the hole. After your shot is over, leave your marble where it lands and shoot from there next time.
Draw a circle on the ground about one meter in diameter. Each player drops an agreed number of marbles into the circle.
Players take turns to fire their shooting marble/taw from the edge of the ring. The aim is to knock as many marbles out as you can. If your taw goes out of the ring it's the next person's turn. If your taw stays in the ring you have another turn. The game ends when all the marbles have been knocked out.
Marbles are placed in a straight line. From an agreed distance players try to hit the first marble in the line. If you hit the first one, you get all the other marbles in the line. If you hit the second one, you get all the remaining marbles on the line except the first one, and so on. If your marble tips one of the marbles on the line (but doesn't hit if off the line), you get another go.
This is a game for more experienced players. Each player puts one marble in the triangle. From a predetermined distance each player takes it in turn to hit one of the other marbles out the triangle. You have to hit it hard because your own taw and the other person's marble have to land outside the triangle. If a marble is tipped, the person can have another turn, but if they miss all the marbles it is the next player's turn. If your taw stays in the triangle while the other marble goes out, you are out of the game.
More marbles games
There are lots more ways to play marbles. Here are some games and rules from the Australian Children's Folklore Collection. These include:
- Sir Joseph Verco's memory of Nux and In the Ring (1860s)
- Goot, Tractor Taw and Chasey described in letters sent to Dorothy Howard (mid 1950s)
- Wall game, Greek and Allyways collected from visitors to the You're It exhibition (1990s)
Other marble games can be found in the Australian Children's Folklore Collection at Museums Victoria - see https://collections.museumsvictoria.com.au/