Marvin Marvel's Marvelous Marble Machine

Reviewer Reviewed On Publisher Designer Published In Rating
March 22, 2006 Pair-of-Dice Games Greg Lam 2005 7
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Marvin Marvel's Marvelous Marble Machine (Pair of Dice Games, 2004 Greg Lam), or MMMMM for short, may go down as one of the oddest-named games that I own, and certainly one that I can never remember completely (I just call it "that marble game"). Based on the theme of marbles rolling around, being maneuvered towards goals of players by machinery, it immediately caught my attention. I've always enjoyed machinery and marbles, and using them as the theme in a game sounded like an excellent idea.

And despite being slightly fiddly, I thought that game fit the theme well and was actually quite fun to play. With two through four players, the game is interesting (five and six is a bit too chaotic), but best played with two or three. Each player is attempting to lay machinery to point the many "marbles" towards their goal(s). The game board quickly gets cluttered up with machinery, and some odd things can happen; but it's an enjoyable romp that will pass many a pleasurable moment.

The board is a large hexagon made of a grid of interlocking smaller hexagons, surrounded by six goals, one on each side of the hexagons. The goals are bordered by separators that act as posts and are marked with a number from one to six, with one side of the post marked as "odd" and the other as "even". Players determine what goals are theirs (symbols and colors mark the goals to help with remembering). Stacks of "marble" tiles are placed face down near the board, and a pile of machine tiles is placed in a cloth bag. Each player draws two machine tiles from the bag, one player is chosen to go first, and then play passes around…

On a player's turn, they must play one tile and can possibly play two. A player can play either a marble or a machine tile but must play a marble tile before a machine tile. When playing a machine tile, a player simply picks one from their hand and may place it on any space on the board, even one occupied by a marble, but not on top of another machine part. Some machine tiles are actually "modifiers", which allow the player to move existing machine parts, delete them, etc.

When playing a marble, the player flips over the top marble tile and places it on the home space (in the center of the board), facing one of the six possible directions. Each marble has a number on it, to indicate its speed, and an arrow to show its direction. Whenever a marble is added to the board, all marbles already on the board immediately move in the direction of their arrow the amount of spaces listed on the marble. A marble that is on or hits a machine part must follow the special rules for that piece.

When a marble moves into a player's goal, they immediately collect that marble. Marbles that hit a post at the end cause players to roll a die with the player whose goal matches the number (odd or even), getting the marble. As soon as one player runs out of tiles and can no longer draw one (a tile is draw to replace each machine part played), the game ends. All marbles on the board complete their movement, and the player with the most marbles wins the game! Alternatively, a player can win if they reach a certain number of marbles (such as seven marbles in a two player game).

The tiles in the game include the following…
Jumps - When a marble hits these, it jumps over the next space, even if a machinery part is already on it.
Go Home - Sends a marble back to the home base, with the same orientation.
Push - Moves the marble one space in a certain direction, without changing its orientation.
Left/Right 2 - Rotates a marble 120 degrees to the left/right.
Left/Right - Rotates a marble 60 degrees to the left/right.
Divert Slow - Diverts only speed one marbles one space in the direction indicated.
Fork - Sends a marble in one of two directions, determined by an odd/even roll of the dice.
Reverse - Turns a marble around.
And more….

Some comments on the game…

1.) Components: For some players, it was hard for them to get over the fact that they weren't actually using marbles but rather round wooden discs with stickers on them. I found the theme worked well and came across through the components. The wooden discs are small but of good quality, while the board is a handkerchief. While this is a novel idea, I'm not sure yet what I think of it. Yes, the board is easy to store and unfold; it just seems a bit odd. The actual machine tiles have symbols and words on them to help explain what they do, and most of them are intuitive; although one can simply put out the page in the rules that explains each one. Everything comes packaged in a plastic snap container, which is small and unassuming.

2.) Rules: The rules are on four full-sized pages, but one must remember that this consists of a lot of pictorial information on how the machine tiles affect the marbles and detailed descriptions on how to place the tiles (it's really not that difficult). Once players understand that whenever they add a new marble, all marbles on the board also move; everything clicks into place. I found the game easy to teach, although I usually have to help explain what each piece does to some players.

3.) Darter: I played MMMMM around the same time that I played another board game, Darter. While the games have several differences, there are also many similarities - placing pieces that affect moving parts on the board, etc. While they may be similar, there are enough differences that people might want to own both. MMMMM is more fiddly and has more different types of machine parts. It's also much more inexpensive and can handle more than two players. Darter is of a much higher quality, and is a bit more elegant, but is rather expensive and can handle only two players. Again, I like both games; and while I'll rank Darter higher, MMMMM is interesting enough for me to also enjoy.

4.) Chaos: Sometimes there are six or more marbles on the board; all heading in different directions. This can cause a bit of consternation for some folk, as they have to look all over the board at tons of different machinery parts and marbles. I personally found this chaos a bit satisfying, as it was fun to sneak a marble into one of your goals, while the opponent was watching another group of marbles. Sometimes a player will simply have to allow a marble to go into their opponent's goal, simply to make sure that some other marbles head towards their goal. Many times, a whole group of marbles will follow the same path, making each piece of machinery in their path rather critical. I will state that the number of players is directly proportional to the amount of chaos. A two player game is fairly chaotic but very manageable. A six player game is absolutely insane, and the board changes so much between turns that I'll never attempt such a thing again; it would drive a normal person insane. Having three or four players is chaotic but manageable, but I still think two is the sweet spot.

5.) Strategy: The game is more fun than strategic. That sounds a bit odd, considering the amount of options that are available; but I found it a bit overwhelming to think too far ahead with all the marbles and machine parts all over the board. There's simply too much going on that I was unable to think past the "now". This is okay, as I just liked putting down pieces and watching as they bounced the marbles towards my goals. It's fascinating to watch how the machine pieces all interact with each other, and some amazing loops and other "domino" effects can sometimes be accomplished.

6.) Luck: MMMMM does have a decent amount of luck. Not only do players only have two tiles - and hopefully they're the ones you need; but whenever a marble hits a separator, a random die roll determines who gets the marble. It's critical, at least for me, not to let the marbles hit the separators, because I can't stand how a single die roll determines who gets the marble, which is rather critical in the game! I understand the mechanic, but for me it caused a certain frenzy, as I would always have marbles shoot away from separators. Some folk may not like this rule, but you could simply have marbles that hit a separator got back to the home space.

7.) Fun Factor: MMMMM is all about fun. Yes, there is tactical placement of machine parts taking place, and yes, there is some strategy as to whether you place two marbles each turn, or not. But mostly it's about the joy of watching the machinery and marbles interact with each other. Sometimes a really cool combo is set up, neatly dropping marbles into your goal, which satisfies most people, adding a lot of fun. For this reason alone, I like MMMMM, because I like to see complicated machinery work through a series of simple moves, and that’s certainly emulated in this game.

If you're like me and like Rube Goldberg machines, then MMMMM is a game that will most likely be up your alley. It's very inexpensive to purchase, offers a lot of variety, and is a fair amount of fun for players, as they watch marbles bounce all over the board. And besides, it's fun to try and say the name five times quickly!

Tom Vasel
"Real men play board games"