The Game of Dominoes

The game of dominoes has many variants. It's a popular game played in many parts of the world at all kinds of levels. Children are often taught the game at a young age. It's played in social clubs and pubs (particularly in the United Kingdom), and there are even international competitions. The game is frequently enjoyed just for fun, but it's also played as a gambling vehicle.

On this page we have provided a brief history of dominoes and information on some of the more common variations of the game. We have also provided the rules for the two most widely-played form: block and draw.

Brief History of Dominoes

Dominoes date back as far as the 12th century, at which time it was played in China. A number of books have been written by Chinese authors that refer to dominoes style games during this period. These games were very different from the Westernized version of the games played today, but it's still believed that the game ultimately has its roots in China.

It's not entirely clear how the Chinese games evolved into modern variations, although it's believed that Italian missionaries discovered the game during visits to the region in the 18th century and introduced the idea to Europe. Certainly, the first reports of the game in Europe are from Italy at this time.

How the game developed from Italy isn't a matter of record, but the game did gain popularity in various forms throughout Europe and other parts of the world. In the United Kingdom, dominoes were played to help settle land disputes in the 19th century; and to this day, dominoes are more widely played in the UK than most other countries.

Tiles & Sets

The modern day tiles and sets are very different from the original Chinese versions. The early sets contained tiles that each represented one of the 21 possible results of two six-sided dice, and they are believed to have been used as replacements for dice games. One half of each domino had the number of dots (or pips) from one die, and the other half had the number of dots from the other die.

A roll of double 6, for example, would be represented by a domino tile with 6 pips on one half and 6 pips on the other. A roll of a 4 and a 3 would be represented by a tile with 4 pips on one half and 3 pips on the other. Sets containing duplicates of some throws, and also divided into two classes (military and civil), were also introduced.

The most common set found these days is the 28 tile double six set. The principle is very similar to the Chinese sets referred to above. The tiles are twice as long as they are wide, with a line down the middle and a certain number of pips on each half. The pip value of each half is between 0 (blank) and 6. The tiles are often referred to as bones, a reference to the fact that they used to be made out of ivory. Larger sets also exist, used to make games last longer and for games that involve several players.

Domino Variants

There are dozens of variations of dominoes games, all with different objectives and rules. Below is a selection of some of the most widely-known.

  • Block
  • Draw
  • Basic Trains
  • Chicken Foot
  • Cyprus
  • Bergen
  • Muggins
  • 5s and 3s
  • Double Fives

The most popular games are the layout games. These can be divided into two main categories: blocking games and scoring games. In blocking games, the idea is to place all the tiles in your hand while preventing your opponent from doing so. The score is determined at the end of each round based on the number of pips remaining in the loser's hand.

In scoring games, scoring is done during game play rather than at the end of the round. Blocking games are generally more widely played. We explain the rules of the two most popular variants: block and draw below.

Block Game Rules

Block is the most basic form of dominoes, played by two players using a double six set of 28 tiles. The game starts with all 28 tiles placed face down. Each player draws seven tiles for their hand. (The remaining tiles aren't used.) One player places a tile of their choice on the table (or other playing surface), and begins what is known as the line of play.

The other player must extend the line of play by placing a tile adjacent to either end of the first tile. The half of the placed tile that touches the first tile must have an equal pip value to the half it touches. Players must then place tiles alternately to further extend the line of play; and, again, the pip values of touching halves must match.

Each round ends when one player has placed all of his tiles, or a player is unable to place a tile. If a player places all his tiles, he wins. if a player is unable to play, he loses. The winner scores the value of pips left in the loser's hand. A game of block can be a fixed number of rounds or can continue until a player has reached a certain number of points.

Draw Game Rules

Draw is largely the same as block, with one notable difference. In addition to drawing seven tiles at the start of each round, players can draw additional tiles from the remaining stock before their turn. Play continues until just two tiles remain in the stock and one player has placed all his tiles, or a player is unable to place a tile.

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