Review: Connetix Magnetic Tile Ball Run (Pastel)

AD 12 years of parenting I have noticed there are some toys my children choose to play with more than others. Open ended building toys have a huge appeal for toddlers right through to teens. LEGO is of course hugely popular with my children, but more often than not my children will get the larger DUPLO blocks out when building together because you can create bigger builds faster. Possibly partly for speed, but also for simplicity the most popular building toys in our house are magnetic ones like Connetix. Magnetic tiles join together instantly and can be used to create 2D images or 3D structures which often become the foundations of other games in our house.  Knowing how popular magnetic toys are with my children the idea of the Connetix Ball Run instantly appealed and we were excited to review it.

Connetix Magnetic Tiles

Two children sitting next to a Connetix Magnetic Tile Ball Run about to race their pastel coloured balls
The Connetix Magnetic Tiles encourage open ended play

Why Choose Connetix Magnetic Tiles?

Connetix is one of several different makes of magnetic tiles currently on the market, but not all magnetic tiles are made equal. Some magnetic tiles aren’t made as well, while some have weaker magnets or less magnets in each tile which limits how you can connect them together and what you can build. Strong magnets are important because it allows you to make bigger builds and they stay together better, this is especially important when they are supporting a structure like the ball run. Don’t get the impression they are indestructible though, ultimately they are held together by small magnets so they do come apart easily.  I find that that is a good thing as children get to learn to manage their frustrations in a safe environment and also improve their designs so they are more stable.

Connetix were launched in 2019 by 2 families who designed magnetic tiles that “were strong and safe while offering clearer refractions” than other tiles in the market. Connetix have a huge range which come in 3 colour ways: rainbow, clear and pastel. The sets are all compatible with with each other so you can mix and match the different coloured sets together.  The rainbow range has 6 different bright colours (the colours of the rainbow, with purple to represent indigo/ violet), the pastel sets comes with 8 different coloured tiles and the clear set pieces are colourless clear tiles. All the pieces are transparent so you can see through them .

As well as the standard tiles (which come in different size packs ) they have a ball run, transport packs and large base plates which make a great foundation for building on. While other brands of magnetic tiles have transport pieces I haven’t seen any other brands with similar base plates or the ball run parts and they are both brilliant concepts. 

All packs currently come in cardboard boxes which keep the tiles well protected and allow for easy storage.

What age are Connetix suitable for?

Connetix are suitable from age 3 because although toddlers may enjoy playing with them the pieces do contain small magnets and in the unlikely event that the tiles get broken they could pose a choking hazard. For preschoolers I would recommend the transport or motion packs which come with vehicle bases that can be built on. These make a nice introduction to magnetic tiles and provide an initial prompt for building. As children get older they will love building bigger and more elaborate designs which is why I particularly love the Connetix Ball Run sets. It's great that you can start with one set and gradually build up more over time.

A view of a magnetic tile ball run with the transparent colourful tiles visible
There are endless creations you can make with magnetic tiles

Connetix Ball Run idea with 2 starting points joining up into one route
A ball run idea made with Connetix Ball Run and Squares Packs

Connetix Pastel Ball Run Review

We were sent the Connetix Ball Run Pack in Pastel to review and the Pastel Square Expansion Pack. You don’t need additional sets to use the Ball Run Pack, but the more tiles you have the bigger the ball run you can build so if you don't already have magnetic tiles it is a good idea to get an additional set. 

The Ball Run Pack we received has 106 pieces. 48 of the pieces are special square magnetic tiles with a circular hole in the middle, you get 6 in each of the pastel colours. There are also 50 tube pieces and 8 coloured balls. These balls are bigger than marbles, made of wood and you get one in each pastel colour. The rainbow Ball Run Pack has 92 pieces because there are less colours so you still get the same number of clear tubing pieces and 6 tiles and 1 ball in each colour, but with 6 colours instead of 8 you get 14 less pieces over all.  This is reflected in the pricing and is a difference between all the comparable pastel and rainbow Connetix sets.

The Pastel Square Pack has 32 standard size squares and 8 large squares (each equivalent size of 4 standard squares laid flat in a square shape). You get 1 large square in each colour and 4 standard size squares in each colour.

Connetix make magnetic tiles in lots of other shapes including triangles or rectangles, but neither of the packs we received to review contain these shapes.

close up of the side of the Connetix ball run showing tubing used open and closed
The Connetix tiles make the ball run bright and colourful

What Age Is The Connetix Ball Run Good For?

While the Ball Run pack is technically suitable for children over 3 like the rest of the Connetix sets I would recommend the Ball Run Packs for older children as they are more complex. It's also worth noting that while I think it would be a challenge to break the magnetic tiles so that the magnets became a choking hazard, the balls in this set definitely could be a choking hazard to younger children so if you have younger siblings make sure they are supervised.

Based on our experience I think 6 to 10 years old is the perfect age range for the ball run set. Younger children will enjoy playing with the ball run when assembled and many older children will enjoy creating challenging designs too (my 11 year old happily designs ball runs for her siblings). Children younger than 6 will need more adult involvement to help connect the pieces together and to design a structure that works. I stay very close by when my 4 year old is playing with the Ball Run because I am worried that his rougher play might result in the clear tube pieces getting damaged either through accidentally treading them or disconnecting the pieces too roughly. 

Close up showing the two entrances and splitter tube on the Connetix ball run
Siblings racing their balls on the ball run

close up showing end piece of the ball run to catch balls
Make sure you remember a nest to catch your balls at the end

10 Tips And Ideas For Getting Started With The Connetix Ball Run

We are experienced at building with magnetic tiles and at designing marble runs so we opened the Connetix Ball Run set with confidence however I initially found it much harder than I expected. The ball run pack come with balls, clear tubing pieces and special magnetic tiles which have a hole in the middle and grooves for the tubing to go into to stay in position. Once we got to grips with it and worked out how to do it though we became big fans. The ball runs are more stable than building with just tiles and you get lots more variability and flexibility than the old style marble runs we have played with. After playing with it regularly over the last couple of weeks I honestly think we have barely scratched the surface in designs we could make.

11 year old building a Connetix magnetic ball run while her younger brother watches
The Connetix Ball Run captured the imagination of all 3 of my children, from 4 to 11

Because we initially had problems I wanted to share these tips for getting started with the Connetix ball run so you can avoid the same problems.

  1. The first key thing to realise is the tubing clicks into the included magnetic tiles. When we first tried to make a ball run the pieces didn’t click together properly so it kept collapsing. They do all click together, but if they don’t seem to straight away make sure you have pushed the curve at the bottom of the tubing flush to the tile. When connected properly they are secure enough that they can be a bit of a challenge to pull apart! 
  2. Younger children might find it easier to start with a base plate (not included). The Connetix base plates are equivalent to 4x4 standard squares and unlike the large squares (which are equivalent size to 2 x 2 small squares) they have magnets running through the base plate so you can connect other tiles to it in the middle ie it’s the same as having 16 squares glued together. The large squares only have magnets around the outside of the square.
  3. Use with other Connetix sets. Again this isn’t essential, but using the Ball Run pack with other sets allows you to make a much bigger ball run. You can use the special ball run connector tiles (with the holes in) for where you want the balls to go through and all the supporting pieces can be standard tiles. If you are buying a set to go with the ball run pack the Square Packs make the most sense as the square tiles will be easier to fit together (big ones and small ones), although the Starter Pack or Creative Pack have plenty of squares in and you can use the other shapes as flourishes for your ball run and for more flexibility when playing with the tiles without the ball run parts. You can also get a Ball Run Extension pack with additional connectors and tubes including 2 new shaped tubes.
  4. Like any marble or ball runs you need to start from the ground up when building, eg make the finish first. This ensures you are building a stable base.
  5. Make sure you start your build in plenty of space and that you can move round to all sides of your design, moving it slightly when it is built is possible, but often leads to partial collapse so best to avoid needing to move it if possible.
  6. You can use the clear tubes in two different ways. Use as they are to make an open channel for the ball to go through or you can put 2 matching pieces together to make a tunnel. Putting them together creates an extra dimension because you can use the tunnels for vertical drops rather than just horizontally. 
  7. If you have the tubing open (rather than joined together as tunnels like mentioned above) the ball can sometimes fly off at corners if it is going at high speed. Making the tubing a tunnel at these points will keep your balls from escaping.
  8. Make sure there is enough momentum for your balls. I think this is one of the most challenging parts for children not used to the concept of gravity and kinetic energy. In a typical marble run all the pieces connect together so the balls are constantly going down slightly. The way the Connetix Ball Run works is that some of the pieces sit straight between connectors at each end so they will either be parallel to the floor (eg flat) or at 90 degrees to the floor depending on how you decide to use them. If you want to have them flat you need to make sure the ball is going fast enough by that section so that it keeps moving. 
  9. Create a nest for the balls at the end. It can be frustrating if your balls end up under furniture so make sure you have an area at the end to catch the balls. There are round pieces that work well for this or you can make a box out of tiles.
  10. If you have more than one child who will want to play with the finished ball run use the split tubes to have 2 entrances side by side that will allow them to race their balls to the bottom. 

The full Connetix range is available to buy here.

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