Marbles: The Very First Multi-Player Game
Once upon a time, in a land not unlike our own, people used to play games. These games were much different than the games we are familiar with today. These games were, to use a contemporary colloquialism, "analog." They didn't require a screen or a fancy controller. They didn't require a host of special consoles or wires. These games did not even require electricity. That's right! Once upon a time, people could game without the use of an electrical apparatus! They used boards, small tokens, cards and their bodies to play games. One game in particular was very popular. That game was called, simply, "marbles."
The most common version of the game of Marbles is a game in which a circle is either drawn on the floor or made out of something simple like a stretch of yarn or thread or fabric. Inside of the circle were small glass globes (aka "marbles") that had been tossed out by one of the players. Outside of the circle were the players themselves, each holding a globe of their own ("shooter"). These globes were larger than those inside of the circle and were heavier as well. The players would take turns sending their shooters into the circle toward the marbles. The goal was to knock as many of the marbles outside of the circle as possible. If you knocked any marbles out of the circle on your turn, you got to keep them until the end of the game. The game would continue until no marbles were left inside of the circle. Then, the player with the most marbles by his side would be declared the winner.
The game "Marbles" has been around for thousands of years. The game has been recorded in the histories of the ancient Greeks, Romans and even Egyptians. Excavation digs have found evidence of the game dating back as many as fifty centuries. Most historians agree that it was the Romans who brought the game across the stretch of Europe. At one point, it was England's most popular game--it even outshined sporting events! Less is known about how the game spread through the Eastern regions but evidence shows that it is truly a global game. Every civilization on the globe has evidence of the game in their histories.
Early marbles were made out of rolled up bits of clay and polished rocks. It was the marble makers in England who started actively manufacturing the game pieces out of real marble and fired clay. That's right: marbles were once made out of real marble! The name of the game isn't simply creative! Over time, these toys were made out of pottery, plaster, alabaster and even agate. Game enthusiasts used pretty much anything that they could manipulate into ball form to play the game.
It was in Venice that marble makers started blowing glass globes to be used in the game. It took a while for this form of marble to catch on in the rest of the world. The English, in particular, turned up their noses at these smaller, more delicate game pieces. Some records show the pieces being called "monstrosities."
It was the Germans who helped glass marbles reach the popularity that they have today. In the 17th and 18th centuries, German glass makers in Nuremberg started to make the playing pieces. Instead of limiting the structure of the piece to simple glass, these marble makers used colors and little ornaments inside of the marbles themselves in an attempt to make the marbles as beautiful as possible. It is upon these marbles that the game pieces you recognize today are based. In fact, for a long time, Germany led the world in marble making and innovation!
Today there are all sorts of different types of marble games out there. While the game play described at the beginning of this article is one of the more simple and popular ways of playing the game, this is not the only type of game that you can play with these simple pieces.
One of the oldest forms of this game is known as the Archboard. Holes are cut into a box or board and each hole is given a number. You cast your marble onto the board (or into the box). When it falls through a hole you get however many points correspond with the number assigned to that hole. In many ways this game is similar to the popular Japanese game "pachinko" that gets played today.
Boss or Long Tawl is especially popular among very competitive players. Instead of simply trying to hit smaller marbles out of the circle, this game depends on the players being able to hit each other's marbles. Player 1 casts his marble into an empty playing space. Player 2 attempts to hit Player 1's marble out of the space with his own. If he misses the next player in the game can shoot at either marble. And so on.
There are lots of different names that have been used for marbles over time. This is one of the reasons that people think that there are, literally, different "types" of marbles. For the most part, the different names for each "type" of marble was assigned based on the material used to make the piece. "Blood marbles" for instance were made from a marble that contained red flecks in it. The "alley-tor" was made from polished white marble while the "commoneys" were made of white polley that could be glazed or not. This tradition continues today in cultures where marbles is still played regularly.
There are many other games that can be played with marbles as well. Some of them involve large playing fields in which holes are placed as big as a foot across. Others involve boards, placing the smaller marbles into certain positions at the start of the game, etc.
Sadly, as the western world has moved steadily into the age of electricity and electronics the game of marbles has fallen out of popularity. Today video games hold the rank of being the most popular type of games played. Don't discount the value of a bag of marbles, though. After all, don't you want to have something to play if your power goes out?