How to Play Dominoes

By Shea Laverty
Keep the blank sides of your dominoes to your opponent to hide your hand.

While many more elaborate games exist, the most basic game involving dominoes is a simple game of elimination; play all of your dominoes first to win a round. This version of the game, known as Draw, requires no additional equipment and can be played by two to four players.

Setting Up

To begin, all of the dominoes should be laid out face-down on the table and mixed up to shuffle them. Then, each player takes one domino, with the highest domino determining who goes first. After a re-shuffle, each player draws seven dominoes in two-player games and five dominoes in three- to four-player games. The rest of the dominoes are left face-down in a central draw pile known as "the boneyard." The first player places a single domino in the center of the table, called "the set."

Playing a Domino

To play a domino during your turn, you must possess a domino that matches the end of the set. For example, if the end is a six, you must have a domino with a six on one side to play it. Matching ends are lined up in a straight line, unless table space becomes an issue. In these cases, you can match the ends but have the played domino change direction at a right-angle. Double-sided dominoes should be played vertically across the current line of play, but otherwise function in the same way as regular dominoes.

Drawing Dominoes

Players can draw from the boneyard whenever they don't possess a playable domino. If the drawn domino also can't be played, they must continue drawing until a playable domino is drawn. As the object is to play all of your dominoes before the other players, this can be very detrimental.

Winning the Game

The game ends when a player has played all dominoes in their hand. Alternately, the game also ends if the boneyard is empty and no one has a playable domino left in their hand. In these instances, the dots on each player's unplayed dominoes are counted, with the lowest number of dots being the winning hand. In multi-round games, the winner of the majority of rounds wins the overall game; for example, winning two out of three rounds.

Scoring Points

While not all versions of dominoes make use of scores, there are a number of scoring systems in place. Some have a "least points wins" system, wherein losing players of a round count the dots on their unplayed dominoes as a score and the player with the least points at the end of the overall game wins. Some systems use the opposite, with the most points winning and players who win a hand counting the dots on their opponent's unplayed dominoes to tally a score. In some variations on this second system, a set point value is determined beforehand as a winning score, with the first player to reach it being declared the overall victor.