The Basics of Dominoes

In domino, a line of tiles is formed as players make their plays. This line is called the layout, string, or line of play.

Single dominoes are played lengthwise, and doubles – or a spinner, as they are sometimes called – are played perpendicular to the line of play. Doubles have two values and both are counted.


Dominoes and the games played with them have a long history, but it’s hard to know exactly where they originated. The word “domino” may have come from the Latin dominus, meaning master of the house, or it might be derived from the black and white hooded cloak worn by priests.

There is evidence of domino-like tiles in China as early as the 12th century. The Song dynasty text Former Events in Wulin describes a game of “pupai” that was sold by peddlers.

European dominoes didn’t appear until the early 18th century. The thirty-two piece traditional Chinese domino set was designed to represent all possible combinations of two thrown dice and therefore contains no blank suits. These sets are very different from the twenty-eight piece Western domino set which was created in the mid-18th century.


In most domino games, players draw a single domino for their hand and then establish who starts the game. The player who draws the highest double usually starts. However, this is not always the case. The player with the heaviest domino also may start the game if they signal that they have it and show it to their opponents.

Turns are taken in a clockwise direction. If a player can’t play, they knock on the table to let their opponents know that they are passing. Players must remember their bones (tiles) to prevent cheating and avoid making mistakes that could cost them the game. Domino games help children develop a sense of spatial awareness and improve their arithmetic abilities. The game teaches them to consider distance, angle of incidence, weight and force.


Today, dominoes are made from a wide variety of materials. The most common are plastics, metals, and wood. However, the makers of these products also use a wide range of other materials for special purpose domino sets and racks.

Dominoes are small, thumbsized rectangular blocks with a face that is divided into two square halves, each bearing a number of spots or dots called pips. A domino has either all pips (seven to six) or no pips at all, representing the blank or zero suit.

A domino is usually twice as long as it is wide, making it easy to stack and re-stack them. There are a number of different kinds of wood dominoes, from inexpensive ones that can be found in most stores to high end versions made by skilled craftsmen, which are considered works of art.


There are a number of variations on the basic blocking game. Most involve the use of a double-six set. Players may add to other players’ trains, but only with tiles that match the number of exposed ends.

The most basic version is Five-Up, played with multicolored dominoes whose doubles serve as spinners allowing the line of play to branch. The tiles are shuffled and each player draws seven dominoes from the stock (boneyard).

The objective is to score points by scoring pairs of dominoes. Normally, the pairs must consist of one’s that touch other’s, but there are variations that allow this to be more flexible. For example, in Muggins, a pair can be scored by counting the open ends on each tile. However, this can be complicated by the fact that two dominoes with different numbers of exposed ends may form a pair.


Dominos are flat, thumb-sized blocks with a line dividing the dominoes face into two square ends bearing from one to six pips (dots). The value of each end is determined by the number of dots it bears.

When a player places a domino so that the exposed ends match, the players score points based on the total value of their opponents’ remaining unplayed dominoes. In most games, the winner scores for every multiple of five in their opponents’ hands.

Before play begins, tiles are mixed together and then drawn in order to determine who plays first. The person who draws the highest double goes first, and play continues in turn. A running score is usually kept on a cribbage board or counter. The game stops when a player is out.