Dominoes is a classic game using distinctly unique tiles known as dominoes. Each domino is a rectangular tile split into two squares with a line, and each side has a number of dots indicating a value. Dominoes, much like Mahjong and playing cards, are a base from which different games can be built from.
How to play Dominoes for Beginners?
How do you play dominoes?
To play dominoes, all you need are a set of dominoes. Depending on the game-type, certain sets may be preferred, though in most if not all cases, you can adapt the rules to fit your domino set of choice. We will be discussing the most common game type, the Blocking game, and its instructions.
How many dominoes in a set?
The most common domino set is the double-six set, consisting of 28 dominoes, each having the combination of dots from 0 to 6, coming to a total of 28 tiles. Other variants include the double-nine, double-twelve sets, used in certain games.
How many dominoes do you start with?
The quintessential domino game is the 2-player blocking game. Typically using a double-six set, all tiles are shuffled face-down, and each player draws a number of tiles, typically 7 tiles. The remaining tiles form the boneyard, and are placed in front of each player I a way where other players are unable to see the tile faces.
Determining Turn Order
The player to go first can be decided using a dice throw, but mostly, the dealer is decided via a draw from the boneyard, with the higher number of dots winning the draw.
The game begins with a tile being placed at the center of the table. Each player then takes turns matching dots where each match has a side of the same dot count. If a player is unable to make a match, or as the terminology goes, “extending the line”, then they are required to draw from the boneyard.
The game continues until a player manages to clear his/her hand of tiles. The winner then gains points equivalent to the number of dots in their opponent’s hand. For higher player counts, using a double-nine set is recommended.
The matching of tiles follows a simple rule. As long as one end of the domino has a matching value, you can make a match. An example is shown below:
This shows a basic match using a pair of 2s.
Since dominoes includes doubles, one can also match doubles in a special way:
The significance of using this method is due to the ‘blocking’ aspect. This makes it so that only one tile can be used to extend the match, as opposed to more, as shown below:
These matches are allowed, and should be avoided to increase the chances of winning.
Note that apart from specific games, such as Chicken Foot Dominoes, tiles have to be played vertically or horizontally. Diagonal matches are not allowed. An illegal match is shown below:
The above picture shows an example of a “Chicken Foot” as seen in that Domino variant. This is normally not allowed except in that specific game-variant.
The winning player is decided once all rounds are completed. The player with a higher score wins. Depending on the game-type or setting, the number of rounds is predetermined, or played until a specified point limit is reached. Common point limits are 150 and 200.
In the rare case where all tiles have been drawn from the boneyard, yet all players are unable to play a domino, the game ends as a draw, and each player counts and reports their respective dot counts to the opponent. Points are calculated as if both players have lost.
Dominoes’ rules are designed to prevent ensure a game runs smoothly, and prevent possible cheating occurrences. Each different variant may differ in rulings, though the essentials in dominoes game rules are covered in detail here.
In general, the starting tile should be a double. In some variations of dominoes, the player with the highest double will begin the game. Even if the starting player is decided by other means, it tends to be preferable to start the game with a double, since it limits your opponents’ possible plays.
In general, drawing can only be done in the case where a player is unable to play a domino from their hand. The two main ways draws can be made are:
- Drawing one tile, if that tile cannot be played, the player passes their turn.
- Drawing tiles until a match can be made.
In most cases, both rules are interchangeable, though the first version of the rules can prevent snowballing, where a losing player draws too many tiles, resulting in a huge point gap.
In some variations of dominoes, when a player reaches their last tile, they have to say “Domino!” to indicate their win. In some cases, not giving the cue can be penalized with an extra draw, preventing the win. In most cases, this rule is omitted.
If a player accidentally flips over tiles during their draws, then those tiles will go to them.
Summary of Rules
In summary, Dominoes’ rules are:
- All 28 tiles are placed face-down and shuffled.
- Each player draws a certain number of tiles (normally 7).
- The remaining tiles form the boneyard or draw pile.
- The player who goes first, or dealer, is determined (mostly via draw from boneyard).
- The starting tile is placed (generally a double).
- The turn then goes to the other player, who must make a match.
- If a match cannot be made, the player is required to draw from the boneyard.
- The game continues until a player manages to clear their hand.
- If no plays can be made and the boneyard is depleted, the game ends in a draw.
Scoring & Points
Dominoes’ scoring is done based on the number of dots on the remaining tiles. As expected, this means the loser gets 0 points, as the winner will have an empty hand. Even in draws, points are awarded in a similar method, assuming that both players have lost.
In certain variations, points are reversed, and the goal is to ensure that you end the game with as little points as possible.
In Blocking games, the scoring is done as previously described. The scores are calculated at the end of the game, based on the umber of dots from the remaining tiles.
In scoring games, the remaining number of dots from the boneyard are also taken into account. This means that players are expected to extend the game as long as possible, or to end it quickly by playing all tiles as quickly as possible. This adds a layer of strategy, while also adding some frustration due to the requirement of extra counting during the score calculation phase.
In the case where players are teamed up, scoring is done similarly, where each team’s score is calculated as the sum of all team members’ hands. Due to the nature of the game, the winning team will almost always have a lower score by default, though a teammate with a bloated hand may require some strategizing.
In some variations of dominoes, a timer is implemented, and one cannot exceed the time limit per turn. If the time limit is exceeded, the player will be penalized with a draw.
In certain cases, holding a double in hand during a loss will mean a penalty of more points.= in addition to the points resulting from the number of dots.
How to Keep Score?
Score sheets are sometimes used to keep track, especially in certain variants where achieving certain conditions will give bonuses. Mostly, barring extended sessions, the score counts can be easily managed.
The key to winning in classic dominoes, regardless of the variant, is to block. The double-six set is preferred due to the manageable number of tiles, rounding out at 28. This allows for tile counting and strategizing.
To block, doubles are key, and since there are 7 double tiles (6 in variants where the double zero tile acts as a wild tile) in a double-six set, it is extremely likely for a player to draw one over the course of the game. Blocking uses the special positioning of a double tile as shown below:
While seemingly simple, this action of blocking can be extremely useful, particularly when other tiles with the number 6 have previously been played. Note that there are 6 tiles with the number 6 apart from the double-6, 6 tiles with the number 5 apart from the double-5, and so on. All double tiles are equal in this sense.
Part of the use of double tiles to block is to prevent moves like the following:
It is worth holding off playing the double tile until more tiles have been played.
Dominoes Strategy & Tips
- Play out larger numbered dominoes quickly. Since points are awarded based on the number of remaining dots, playing out the tiles with more dots are almost always the preferable tactic.
- Think out moves, since you can always count revealed tiles and those in your hand, you can get a rough idea of what tiles remain. This lets you plan things out.
- Dominoes strategy is about mathematics and probability, not luck. At later stages of the game, with a smaller boneyard, you can easily make informed decisions.
- For beginners, make a list of all tiles and cross them out as they are played or come into your hand. This helps practice your tile counting, and you’ll eventually be able to do it naturally.
In this section, commonly played domino variants will be discussed.
Classic domino gameplay as discussed. No special rules or additions, just pure strategy.
A classic domino game, each player plays a double to start, and players add a tile to their own train on each subsequent turn. Players can also add to other players’ trains, though at a limit of one tile per train. The game ends when a player clears their hand. The Mexican Train variant is quite popular.
Unlike other variations of dominoes, when a player is unable to play a match, they continuously draw until they find one that can be used. Scoring also adds the remaining dots in the boneyard.
Spinner Dominoes is a special version of the game played using double-nine set with additional tiles containing a “spinner” symbol, indicating a wild tile.
Frequently Asked Questions
Where did dominoes originate from?
Dominoes were believed to have originated from China in 1100AD, though it was only popularized in Europe during the early 18th century. Read more in History of Dominoes.
What are dominoes made of?
Classic dominoes are made from bone, wood, stone or ivory, though modern sets are made from plastics or synthetics.
How to count dominoes?
Dominoes are counted in scoring using the number of dots on each domino. For example, the following tile counts as a score of 7, since it has 7
What happens when you lock the board?
ocking the board in dominoes forces a draw, and points are calculated as if all players have lost, adding scores to their totals. In some cases, certain variants penalize the player who caused the lock.
How many people can play dominoes?
Dominoes prefers a player count of 2-4, though it is recommended that games involving 3 or more players use the double-nine or double-twelve sets, as a double-six set is limiting in terms of tile count.
How many doubles in dominoes to reshuffle?
It is a rule of thumb that if no players have a double at the start of the game, tiles should be reshuffled and redrawn. This smooths out the gameplay, since it is preferable for the first tile to be a high double.