Dominos for Beginners

By Katherine Harder
Dominos with the same number of dots on each end are spinners.

You’ve most likely seen the iconic black-and-white dominos game pieces creating snaking trails across tabletops, but if you’ve never played the game yourself, how they got that way may be a mystery. Domino pieces are called tiles, and the entire game focuses on matching the ends of these tiles to other tiles on the table to slowly whittle down your pile of tiles to zero.

History

As late as 1120 A.D., the Chinese played a matching game using ivory or bone tiles, although the game’s origins probably precede that decade by several centuries, according to “A Little Giant Book: Dominoes” by Jennifer Kelley. Their very long rectangular tiles, like modern domino tiles, were divided in their centers by a line that separated groups of dots. Europeans later adapted the game to include shorter tiles and some pieces with blank ends. Although many people used domino tiles for domino games, others used dominos as arithmetic tools. According to authors Elizabeth Jaffe, Sherry Field and Linda Labbo, some tradespeople and bankers kept the tiles around to help them count.

Game Pieces

Each domino game includes 28 tiles. Although ancient players constructed their dominoes from bone or ivory, the dominos you’ll play with probably are made of molded plastic, poured polyester resin or wood. These tiles are usually black with white dots or vice versa, but sometimes they are made with two other colors, multiple colors or even shapes or portraits instead of dots. Each tile is shaped like a rectangle, and the rectangle is bisected by a line, which creates two squares on the face of the tile. Inside each square, a group of dots represents a number. The back of each tile is completely blank.

Basic Game Play

Before you can begin playing, you set out all the tiles on the table and turn them all so their blank sides face up and their dot-filled sides face down. You then move them around to mix them up. This is calling shuffling. Every player then chooses one tile, and the player with the largest amount of numbers on their tile selects their seven tiles first and takes the first turn. Extra tiles are left on the table in a pile called "the stock." The first player places whatever tile they want out of their pile onto the table, face up. For example, this tile might have five dots on one side and four dots on the other. The next player then must lay a tile with five or four dots on one end against the matching end of the first domino. The player can also play a domino that have two ends with fives or two ends with fours. Tiles with equal amount of dots on both sides are called spinners. This tile is played perpendicular to the matching end, and then players can play off its long side or off either short side. If the player has no matching tiles, he must either pass or draw from the stock, depending on the number of players. After a player lays down a tile or draws from the stock, it’s the next player’s turn, and so forth until someone runs out of tiles and wins the game.

Variations

Once you’ve mastered normal dominos game play, you can learn about all the dominos variations. Some variations require special dominos, such as dominos sets with extra dominos and larger numbers or multicolored sets, but many variations only require you to learn new rules and strategies. Many of these variations have colorful names, such as tiddle-a-wink, chickenfoot, muggings and seven-toed Pete. Learn new dominos varieties with a favorite dominos partner to keep the game fresh and interesting to play, or learn some of the solo games to play by yourself.

About the Author

Katherine Harder kicked off her writing career in 1999 in the San Antonio magazine "Xeriscapes." She's since worked many freelance gigs. Harder also ghostwrites for blogs and websites. She is the proud owner of a (surprisingly useful) Bachelor of Arts in English from Texas State University.