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Dominoes (or dominos) is a game played with rectangular "domino" tiles. The gaming pieces make up a domino set, sometimes called a deck or pack. The traditional Sino-European domino set consists of 28 dominoes, colloquially nicknamed bonescardstilesticketsstones, or spinners. Each domino is a rectangular tile with a line dividing its face into two square ends. Each end is marked with a number of spots (also called pips, nips, or dobs) or is blank. The backs of the dominoes in a set are indistinguishable, either blank or having some common design. A domino set is a generic gaming device, similar to playing cards or dice, in that a variety of games can be played with a set.

The earliest mention of dominoes is from Song dynasty China, found in the text Former Events in Wulin.  Dominoes first appeared in Italy during the 18th century, and although it is unknown how Chinese dominoes developed into the modern game, it is speculated that Italian missionaries in China may have brought the game to Europe.


The oldest confirmed written mention of dominoes in China comes from the Former Events in Wulin (i.e. the capital Hangzhou) written by the Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368) author Zhou Mi (1232–1298), who listed "pupai" (gambling plaques or dominoes) as well as dice as items sold by peddlers during the reign ofEmperor Xiaozong of Song (r. 1162–1189).  Andrew Lo asserts that Zhou Mi meant dominoes when referring to pupai, since the Ming author Lu Rong(1436–1494) explicitly defined pupai as dominoes (in regards to a story of a suitor who won a maiden's hand by drawing out four winning pupai from a set).

The earliest known manual written about dominoes is the 《宣和牌譜》 (Manual of the Xuanhe Period) written by Qu You (1341–1437).  But some Chinese scholars believe this manual is a forgery from a later time.

In the Encyclopedia of a Myriad of Treasures, Zhang Pu (1602–1641) described the game of laying out dominoes as pupai, although the character for puhad changed, yet retained the same pronunciation.  Traditional Chinese domino games include Tien Gow, Pai Gow, Che Deng, and others. The thirty-two-piece Chinese domino set, made to represent each possible face of two thrown dice and thus have no blank faces, differs from the twenty-eight-piece domino set found in the West during the mid 18th century.  Chinese dominoes with blank faces were known during the 17th century.

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Many different domino sets have been used for centuries in various parts of the world to play a variety of domino games. Each domino originally represented one of the 21 results of throwing two 6-sided dice (2d6). One half of each domino is set with the pips from one die and the other half contains the pips from the second die. Chinese sets also introduce duplicates of some throws and divide the dominoes into two classes: military and civil. Chinese dominoes are also longer than typical European dominoes.

The early 18th century witnessed dominoes making their way to Europe, making their first appearance in Italy. The game changed somewhat in the translation from Chinese to the European culture. European domino sets contain neither class distinctions nor the duplicates that went with them. Instead, European sets contain seven additional dominoes, with six of these representing the values that result from throwing a single die with the other half of the tile left blank, and the seventh domino representing the blank-blank (0–0) combination.

Ivory Dominoes were routinely used in 19th century rural England in the settling of disputes over traditional grazing boundaries, and were commonly referred to as "bonesticks" (see Hartley, Land Law in West Lancashire in the mid- 19th Century, Farm Gazette, March 1984).

How to Play[]

Tiles and suits[]

Domino tiles, also known as bones, are twice as long as they are wide and usually have a line in the middle dividing them into two squares. The value of either side is the number of spots or pips. In the most common variant (Double Six) the values range from blank or 0 (no pips) to 6.  The sum of the two values, i.e. the total number of pips, may be referred to as the rank or weight of a tile, and a tile with more pips may be called heavier than a lighter tile with fewer pips.


Tiles are generally named after their two values; e.g. 2–5 or 5–2 are alternative ways of describing the tile with the values 2 and 5. Tiles that have the same value on both ends are called doubles, and are typically referred to as double-zero, double-one etc.  Tiles with two different values are called singles.

Every tile belongs to the two suits of its two values, e.g. 0–3 belongs both to the blank suit (or 0 suit) and to the 3 suit. Naturally the doubles form an exception in that each double belongs to only one suit. In 42, the doubles are treated as an additional suit of doubles, so that, e.g., the double-six 6–6belongs both to the 6 suit and the suit of doubles.

The most common domino sets commercially available are Double Six (with 28 tiles) and Double Nine (with 55 tiles). Larger sets exist and are popular for games involving several players or for players looking for long domino games. The number of tiles in a set has the formula 1/2(n + 1)(n + 2) for a double-nset.


The most popular type of play are layout games, which fall into two main categories, blocking games and scoring games.

  • Most domino games are blocking games, i.e. the objective is to empty one's hand while blocking the opponent's. In the end, a score may be determined by counting the pips in the losing players' hands.
  • In scoring games the scoring is different and happens mostly during game play, making it the principal objective.
  • A popular version played predominantly in Singapore, referenced as 'Hector's Rules', allows for playing double tiles on opponents' hands and awards a bonus play of an additional tile immediately after playing a double tile.
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Blocking game[]

The most basic domino variant is for two players and requires a double six set. The 28 tiles are shuffled face down and form the stock or boneyard. Each player draws seven tiles; the remainder are not used. Once the players begin drawing tiles, they are typically placed on-edge before the players, so that each player can see his own tiles, but none can see the value of other players' tiles. Every player can thus see how many tiles remain in the other players' hands at all times during gameplay. One player begins by downing (playing the first tile) one of their tiles. This tile starts the line of play, a series of tiles in which adjacent tiles touch with matching, i.e. equal, values. The players alternately extend the line of play with one tile at one of its two ends. The game ends when one player wins by playing their last tile, or when the game is blocked because neither player can play. If that occurs, whoever caused the block gets all of the remaining player points not counting their own.[9]

Scoring game[]

Players accrue points during game play for certain configurations, moves, or emptying one's hand. Most scoring games use variations of the draw game. If a player does not call "domino" before the tile is laid on the table, and another player says 'domino' after the tile is laid, the first player must pick up an extra domino.

Draw game[]

In a draw game (blocking or scoring), players are additionally allowed to draw as many tiles as desired from the stock before playing a tile, and they are not allowed to pass before the stock is (nearly) empty. The score of a game is the number of pips in the losing player's hand plus the number of pips in the stock. Most rules prescribe that two tiles need to remain in the stock.  The Draw game is often referred to as simply "dominoes".

Adaptations of both games can accommodate more than two players, who may play individually or in teams.

Line of play[]

Muggins played with multi-colored tiles. The doubles serve as spinners, allowing the line of play to branch.

The line of play is the configuration of played tiles on the table. It starts with a single tile and typically grows in two opposite directions when players add matching tiles. In practice, players often play tiles at right angles when the line of play gets too close to the edge of the table.

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The rules for the line of play often differ from one variant to another. In many rules, the doubles serve as spinners, i.e., they can be played on all four sides, causing the line of play to branch. Sometimes the first tile is required to be a double, which serves as the only spinner. In some games such as Chicken Foot, all sides of a spinner must be occupied before anybody is allowed to play elsewhere. Matador has unusual rules for matching. Bendomino uses curved tiles, so that one side of the line of play (or both) may be blocked for geometrical reasons.

In Mexican Train and other train games, the game starts with a spinner from which various trains branch off. Most trains are owned by a player and in most situations players are allowed to extend only their own train.


In blocking games, scoring happens at the end of the game. After a player has emptied his hand, thereby winning the game for their team, the score consists of the total pip count of the losing teams' hands. In some rules, the pip count of the remaining stock is added. If a game is blocked because no player can move, the winner is often determined by adding the pips in players' hands.

In scoring games, each individual can potentially add to the score. For example, in Bergen, players score 2 points whenever they cause a configuration in which both open ends have the same value and 3 points if additionally one open end is formed by a double. In Muggins, players score by ensuring the total pip count of the open ends is a multiple of a certain number. In variants of Muggins, the line of play may branch due to spinners.

In British public houses and social clubs, a scoring version of "5s-and-3s" is used. The game is normally played in pairs (two against two) and is played as a series of "ends". In each "end", the objective is for players to attach a domino from their hand to one end of those already played so that the sum of the end dominoes is divisible by 5 or 3. One point is scored for each time 5 or 3 can be divided into the sum of the two dominoes i.e. four at one end and 5 at the other makes 9, which is divisible by 3 three times, resulting in 3 points. Double 5 at one end and 5 at the other makes 15 which is divisible by 3 five times (5 points) and divisible by 5 three times (3 points) for a total of 8 points.

An "end" stops when one of the players is out, i.e., has played all of his dominoes. In the event no player is able to empty his hand, then the player with the lowest domino left in hand is deemed to be 'out' and scores one point. A game consists of any number of "ends" with points scored in the "ends" accumulating towards a total. The game ends when one of the pairs' total score exceeds a set number of points. A running total score is often kept on a cribbage board. 5s-and-3s is played in a number of competitive leagues in the British Isles.

Variations and game play[]

For 40 years the game has been played by four people, with the winner being the first player to score 150 points, in multiple of 5, by using 27 bones, using mathematical strategic defenses and explosive offense. At times it has been played with pairs of partners. The Double Six Set is the preferred deck with the lowest denomination of game pieces, with 28 Dominoes (tiles or bones).

In many versions of the game, the player with the highest double-leads with that double, for example "double-six". If no one has it, the next-highest double is called: "double-five?", then "double-four?", etc. until the highest double in any of the players hands is played. If no player has an "opening" double, the next heaviest domino in the highest suit is called - "six-five?", "six-four?". In some variants, players take turns picking dominoes from the stock until an opening double is picked and played. In other variants, the hand is reshuffled and each player picks seven dominoes. After the first hand, the winner (or winning team) of the previous hand is allowed to pick first and begins by playing any domino in his or her hand.

Playing the first bone of a hand is sometimes called settingleadingdowning, or posing the first bone. Dominoes aficionados often call this procedure smacking down the bone. After each hand, bones are shuffled and each player draws the number of bones required, normally seven. Play proceeds clockwise. Players in turn must play a bone with an end that matches one of the open ends of the layouts.

In some versions of the games, the pips or points on the end, and the section to be played next to it must add up to a given number. For example, in a double six set the "sum" would be six, requiring a "blank" to be played next to a "6," a "1" next to a "5", a "2" next to a "4", etc.

The stock of bones left behind, if any, is called the bone yard, and the bones therein are said to be sleeping. In draw games, players take part in the bone selection, typically drawing from the bone yard when they don't have a "match" in their hand.

If a player inadvertently picks up and sees one or more extra dominoes, those dominoes become part of his or her hand.

A player who can play a tile may be allowed to pass anyway. Passing can be signalled by tapping twice on the table or by saying "go" or "pass".

Play continues until one of the players has played all the dominoes in his or her hand, calls "Out!", "I win", or "Domino!" and wins the hand, or until all players are blocked and no legal plays remain. This is sometimes referred to as lock down or "sewed up". In a common version of the game, the next player after the block picks up all the dominoes in the bone yard as if trying to find a (non-existent) match. If all the players are blocked, or locked out the player with the lowest hand (pip count) wins. In team play, the team with the lowest individual hand wins. In the case of a tie, the first of tied players or the first team in the play rotation wins.

In games where points accrue, the winning player scores a point for each pip on each bone still held by each opponent or the opposing team. If no player went out, the win is determined by the lightest hand, sometimes only the excess points held by opponents.

A game is generally played to 100 points, the tally being kept with paper and pencil. In more common games, mainly urban rules, games are played to 150, 200, or 250 points.

Score being kept by houses. The player at left has 75 points and the player at right has 115 points.

In some games the tally is kept by creating houses, where the beginning of the house (the first ten points) is a large +, the next ten points are O, and scoring with a 5 is a /, and are placed in the four 'corners' of the house. One house is equal to 50 points.

In some versions, if a lock down occurs, the first person to call a lock-down gains the other players bones and adds the amount of the pips to their house. If a person who calls rocks after a call of 'lock-down' or 'domino' finds the number of pips a player called is incorrect, those points become his.

Bogus play[]

When a player plays out of turn or draws another domino or knocks when they could have played and someone calls bogus play the other person is awarded 50 points.

Card games using domino sets[]

Apart from the usual blocking and scoring games, there are also domino games of a very different character, such as solitaire or trick-taking games. Most of these are adaptations of card games and were once popular in certain areas to circumvent religious proscriptions against playing cards. A very simple example is a Concentration variant played with a double-six set; two tiles are considered to match if their total pip count is 12.

A popular domino game in Texas is 42. The game is similar to the card game spades. It is played with four players paired into teams. Each player draws seven dominoes, and the dominoes are played into tricks. Each trick counts as 1 point, and any domino with a multiple of 5 dots counts toward the total of the hand. 35 points of "five count" + 7 tricks = 42 points, hence the name.

Various Domino Games[]

Blocking games[]

Basic Trains[]

The games of the Trains family, of which this is the most basic representative, are typically played with at least double-nine or double-twelve sets. The number of tiles that each player draws initially depends on the number of players and the size of the set. If one player does not have a double, the tiles are shuffled again.

In the first round each player plays a double to start a private line of play, known as a train. In subsequent rounds, players first add a tile to their own train or pass if they cannot do this. A player who did not pass can also add at most one tile each to each of the other players' trains.

A player who empties their hand wins the game and scores 120 points plus 5 points for each tile that remains in an opposing players' hands.


This minor variation of the standard Draw game is due to Thierry Denoual. It is played with a double-six domino set which is standard except that every tile is bent into a 120-degree curve, so that three tiles can be assembled into a circle. This allows either end of the line of play to be blocked or both ends to connect.


The Block game for two players is the simplest basic domino variant. It requires a double-six set, from which each player draws seven tiles; the remainder is not used. The first player places a tile on the table which starts the line of play. The players alternately extend it with one matching tile at one of its two ends. A player who cannot do this passes. The game ends when one player wins by playing their last tile, or when the game is blocked because neither player can play. The winner's score is the total remaining pip count of the loser's hand. The winner of a blocked game is the player who has a lower pip count, and the score of the game is the difference of the pip counts.

There are also variants for four players.

Chicken Foot[]

Chicken Foot is a modern game related to the Cyprus family.


Cyprus is a variant of Sebastopol, but played by 4–10 players with a double-nine set. It is best described as a variant of the Draw game. Most, in some variants all, tiles are drawn by the players. The layout starts with a double, and the next eight tiles played must be attached to it, so that the layout is a star with eight open ends. The game proceeds like the Draw game, except that a player who cannot play need not draw more than once.


The Draw game is the game most often referred to as just Dominoes. It can be regarded as a variant of the Block game. Initially each player draws seven tiles from a double-six set.The first player places a tile on the table which starts the line of play. The players alternately extend it with one matching tile at one of its two ends. The main difference to the Block game is that players who cannot play must draw tiles until they find one which can be played or the stock consists of exactly two tiles.[2] The pip count of the remaining stock (at least two tiles) is added to the losing player's remaining pip count to form the score of the game.

Maltese cross[]

Maltese cross is a variant of Sebastopol for 2–4 players. Like Sebastopol, it uses a double-six set. Each player draws 5 tiles (7 tiles in the case of two players). As in Cyprus, a player who cannot play must draw one tile and may play it if possible. Once the central spinner and the four adjacent tiles have been played, the next four tiles to be played must be doubles, which are turned crosswise to form the likeness of a Maltese cross, but do not act as spinners.


Mexican Train[]

This member of the Trains family of games, similar to Basic Trains but with an additional Mexican Train, is played mainly in the United States. It is typically played by at least four players using at least a double-twelve set.

The game starts with a double in the middle of the table, acting as a spinner from which the players' "private trains" branch off. An additional "Mexican train", initially of length zero, also starts from the central spinner.

Unless the tile played is a double, only one tile can be played per turn. Tiles must normally be played to the player's own train or the Mexican train. A player who cannot play must draw a tile and play that; if the stock is empty or the tile drawn cannot be played, the player must pass and mark their own train as public, allowing other players to use it like their own train and the Mexican train. The train becomes private again as soon as the owner adds a tile to it.

Some variations of the game have special rules for the first round, and additional rules to ensure that doubles at the end of trains are "satisfied" as quickly as possible.

Mexican Train can be regarded as a synthesis of the Trains and Cyprus families of games, with the addition of the Mexican train.

Rivers, Roads & Rails[]

This transportation-themed variation of the Draw game uses 140 square tiles. A small number of tiles allow the line of play to branch. Due to 90-degree curves the line of play can also get blocked in one or more directions.


Sebastopol is best described as a four-player variant of the Block game. The game starts with a double in the middle, from which the line of play takes off in four directions. The next four tiles played must be attached to this central spinner.


This game, due to James F. and Edna Graham, is played with a standard double-nine set plus eleven additional tiles representing combinations of the standard values 0–9 with an additional "spinner" symbol and the double "spinner". A "spinner" matches any other value.

Each player draws 14 (two players) or 7 (three to eight players) tiles. Play starts with the double 9, or with the double "spinner" to replace it. The second and third tile played must match with a 9 or a "spinner". Whenever a double is played later in the game, it serves as a spinner in the ordinary sense, and the line of play cannot be continued elsewhere before there are tiles on all four sides of the double. A player who cannot play must draw a tile from the stock and may play it immediately if it matches. The second game starts with the double 8, the third game with a double 7, and so on down to the double 0.

Scoring games[]


This is a variant of the Draw game in which scoring happens mostly during the game. There are no spinners, so that the line of play does not branch. Players score 2 points by playing a tile that makes the same value appear at both ends of the line of play, and 3 points if moreover there is a double at one end. Another 2 are scored by the player who empties their hand and ends the game, or by the player who is determined (by variable and sometimes complicated rules) to be the winner of a blocked game.

A variant in which the line of play must start with a double, which acts as a spinner, is known as Double Bergen.


Muggins, also known as All Fives or Five Up, is a variant of the Draw game in which, in addition to the scoring at the end of the game, players can score in each move if the total pip count of the endpoints of the line of play is divisible by 5. In some variants of this game the first double, or all doubles, can be used as spinners, in which the line of play branches.

In the variant All Threes, players score if the total pipcount of the endpoints is divisible by 3, in Fives and Threes they score if it is divisible by 3 or 5.

Other games using domino sets[]

5s and 3s[]

A skillful version of dominoes played in pairs or fours used in competitions and in leagues. The aim is to be the first player to exactly reach a set number of points in a round often 61. Each player has a hand of dominoes and play proceeds as normal dominoes matching an open end. The total number of pips at the open ends (with doubles counting twice) are used to decide if a player scores points. One point is scored for each time this total is exactly divisible by either 5 or 3. So if the play started double 6 it would score 4 points as 12/ 3 is exactly 4. If the next player played a 6-3 then the maximum is scored for a single turn of 15 for 8 points (5 for the 3s and 3 for the 5s). if the next player were to play 6-1 the total would be 4 and they would score no points.


42, also known as Texas 42, is a trick-taking game played with a standard set of double six dominoes. The rules are similar to the card game of Spades. Originally invented in Texas, it is often referred to as the "national game of Texas".


This trick-taking game for two players is similar to Sechsundsechzig and Bezique. Each player draws 7 tiles from a double-six set. Then a tile is turned up from the stock, and the higher of its two values determines the trump suit. For this rule and in general, the value of a blank is considered to be 7, not 0.

The winner of a trick is determined as follows. 0–0 (the bingo) beats everything else, the double of trumps beats all other trumps, and trumps beat all non-trumps except 0–0. If both tiles are non-trumps one simply compares their total pip counts.

In the first phase of the game each trick is followed by both players drawing a tile from the stock. As soon as the stock is exhausted or one player "closes the game" by announcing that they will score at least 70 points, the players stop drawing. From this point on the second player in each trick is obliged to follow suit as follows: Whenever possible, a trump must be answered by a trump, and a non-trump by a tile that matches its higher end if possible, or otherwise its lower end.

Scoring in this game is relatively complicated.


This adaptation of the Concentration card game is generally played by two players. The tiles are placed face down on the table, shuffled and then arranged in a simple rectangular grid.

The goal is to collect the largest number of pairs of tiles. With double-six dominoes, pairs consist of any two tiles whose pips sum to 12. For example, the 3–5 and the 0–4 form a pair. In some variations, doubles can only form pairs with other doubles so that the 2–2, for example, can only be paired with the 4–4 but this presents a problem with the 3-3 being unpairable.

Players, in turn, try to collect pairs by turning over and exposing the faces of two tiles from the grid. If the four values of the two sum to 12, the player takes the two tiles, scores a point (in some rules a point for each tile taken), and plays again. If the tally is any other number, the bones are turned face down again and the player's turn is over.

The first player to accumulate 50 (or 100) points wins the series.

Double Fives[]

This trick-taking game can be played by two or three players with a double-five set (obtained from a double-six set by removing the seven tiles showing a 6) or by four players with a full double-six set. After shuffling, each player draws 8 tiles (four-player variant: 6 tiles).

The first player can play any tile from their hand. Each of the other players adds another tile to the trick; if possible it must have one value in common with the lead tile. Among those tiles for which the higher value is the same as the higher value of the lead tile, the one with the highest pip count takes the trick. Each four in a trick scores one point for the player who takes it.

Links and References[]