The Basics of Dominoes


During the game, each player must play a domino tile that matches one end of an existing domino chain. The resulting line of tiles is known as the layout, string or line of play. A double played to a spinner is considered an end for counting purposes.

Once the players have drawn their hands, the first player makes a play. This is determined either by drawing lots or by the rules of the specific game being played.


The game of domino has a long history dating back to China in the 12th century. A Chinese statesman is credited with creating the first set of dominoes and presenting them to Emperor Hwui Tsung in 1120 AD. These were later circulated by imperial order in the reign of his son Kao Tsung (see page 531).

Dominoes made their way to Europe in the early 18th century and reached Italy and Venice before becoming a fad in France. By the late 1700s they had reached Britain through French prisoners of war and quickly became popular in inns and taverns. The word “domino” is said to come from the black and white hood worn by priests over their surplices, but an even earlier sense for the name refers to a long hooded cloak with a mask used in carnival season and masquerade.


Many domino games have similar rules but differ slightly from place to place. These variations can affect scoring as well as the way hands are drawn. In addition, the number of players in a game may also vary.

Once the dominoes have been shuffled, each player draws one to determine their seating arrangement and the order of play. The person to the left of the heaviest tile will make the first play in most cases. This person is sometimes referred to as the setter, downer, or lead.

A player makes a play by matching an end of his or her own domino to an open end of the line of play. The count of the exposed ends is then made, unless the game specifies that only numbers divisible by five are scored.


There are many different domino games, with rules that vary from game to game. In most games, players place dominoes edge to edge so that the matching ends touch each other. In some games, a domino with one matching end may be placed square to the first double it touches, allowing the line of play to branch.

In some games, such as Chicken Foot and Matador, the rules for the line of play are more complex. Generally, the doubles serve as spinners, allowing new dominoes to be played off their exposed sides.

When the winning player has no more dominoes in his hand, he is awarded a score based on the number of dots on his opponents’ unplayed dominoes. Often, this scoring method is used to break ties in the event that no player can make another play.


Dominoes are small, flat game pieces that can be stacked and used to play many different games. They are normally twice as long as they are wide and feature a line down the middle to visually divide them into two squares, one with an arrangement of dots (also known as pips) and the other blank or identically patterned.

Domino sets usually include a variety of sizes, from double-six (28 tiles) to dubble-nine and larger. Each size has its own designated name and a set of rules for playing with it.

Modern dominoes are made of plastic, metal or wood. The higher end wood dominoes are often considered works of art and have hefty price tags to reflect this. Typically, they are used on special tables that protect the faces from damage.


Counting the pips on the ends of a domino is a key part of many of the scoring games, such as Muggins and Bergen. Players may also choose to use other methods of counting, including using the number of tiles in their hand and the dominoes remaining in their opponent’s hands.

In 5s-and-3s, for example, the objective is to score points by attaching one of your dominoes to the exposed ends of the first double that you play (the first double is called a spinner). If the numbers on the exposed ends add up to a multiple of five, then you will earn that many points. You can continue this process for any pair of exposed ends that you can play on. The game is won when one player scores more than a certain number of points.

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