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Guide to Playing Dominoes

When you hear the word dominoes, do you think of setting up tiles so that they all push each other down, or do you think of playing a real game with tiles? Or, do you think about pizza?

No matter what your previous experience is, we are here to give you instructions for playing dominoes. We describe several different dominoes variations and explain how to play dominoes online.

Dominoes is a remarkably simple skill game, so it is not difficult to learn. Give us a few minutes of your time, and you will be a master of dominoes game rules.

But before we can tell you how to start a game of dominoes, we first need to go over the basics. Let’s start with some essential information that will help you understand the rules for dominoes.

Dominoes Terminology and Concepts

Every dominoes game starts with a set of tiles. The standard set has 28 tiles, but some sets have 55 or 91 tiles. It depends on how high the tiles’ numbers go.

Most games are played with two to four people. However, you can play some dominoes variants with more people.

Here are some terms and concepts you need to know to help you understand the dominoes tiles.

  • Each domino tile has colored or black dots on it unless it is a blank. These colored dots are known as pips.
  • The tiles have two sides separated by a line down the middle. Each side will have between zero and six pips.
  • Tiles with zero pips are known as blanks. Some tiles are blank on one side and numbered on the other side.
  • If a tile has the same number of pips on both sides, it is known as a double. Doubles are often used to start the game. You can play on all four sides of a double, which is why they are sometimes called spinners.
  • Some people call dominoes tiles “bones.” That is because they were initially made from ivory. The boneyard is the collection of tiles left over after all players have taken their starting tiles.
  • Traditional dominoes are white tiles with black pips. Some modern dominoes sets include colored pips that can be used for different game variations.
  • The line of play is the line of dominoes that have been played during a specific round.
  • Standard dominoes sets include 28 tiles, with the highest tile being a double six. However, other sets go up to double nine, double twelve, or double eighteen. You may need a larger set for certain game variations.
  • Some dominoes games organize the tiles according to suits. A suit is based on the highest number of pips on a tile. Any tile with six pips on at least one side belongs to the sixes suit, while tiles with only no more than five pips on one side will belong to the fives suit. And so on.

Now that you are acquainted with everything included in a dominoes set, you are ready to set up your tiles and learn how to play dominoes.

How To Play Block Dominoes

Let’s start by learning the most fundamental version of dominoes, which is a blocking game. The objective of block dominoes is to use all of your tiles first.

Before you start playing, you need to set up the dominoes and determine which player will go first.

How to Start a Game of Block Dominoes

To set up the game, place all the dominoes face-down on the table. One player should “shuffle” the tiles by moving them around the table. 

Before the game begins, you need to determine which player will go first. Traditionally, each player draws a single tile, and the player with the highest number of pips goes first.

If you are using that method to determine the order or players, make sure to reshuffle the tiles afterward. Then you are ready for players to draw their hands.

  • Each player will draw seven tiles if there are two players and five tiles if you have more than two players. You need an additional set of dominoes if you have more than four players.
  • The extra tiles that don’t get drawn are disregarded for the rest of the game. Other variations of dominoes use these tiles later.
  • According to traditional dominoes game rules, the player who shuffled the tiles should be the last player to draw.
  • Players should take turns acting as the shuffler so that one person doesn’t have to draw last every time.
  • Each player should make sure that the other players cannot see the pips on their tiles by lining them up with the blank side out.

It is also a good idea to decide how many rounds of dominoes you will play before starting the game.

Some players choose to play a specific number of rounds, while others choose to play until a target point value is reached.

How to Win at Dominoes

How to play dominoes

Once you have set up the game, you are ready to start playing dominoes. The player who was chosen to go first will place any domino of their choosing in the table’s center.

Play continues in a clockwise rotation, with each player adding a domino to the line of play. They must play a tile with the same number of pips as the open end of a tile that has already been played.

For example, if the first player played a 6-2 domino, the next player could place a tile with six pips on the end next to the six, or they could place a tile with two pips on the other end.

You should always place the dominoes with the matching sides touching. The tiles should be placed lengthwise unless it is a double where both sides match the previous tile.

As long as the matching ends are touching, you can change the direction of the line of play whenever necessary.

That way, you won’t end up with a line of dominoes that goes off the table in one direction.

The game continues with each player placing dominoes with matching numbers of pips until you have a winner.

According to dominoes rules, there are a few ways that one player can win.

  • The player who can play all of their tiles first automatically wins the round.
  • If you are playing with two people, and the other person does not have a tile that they can play, you will automatically win the round. Some dominoes game rules require that you take an additional turn to give the player another chance to re-enter the game.
  • When you are playing with more than two people, players can pass a turn when they don’t have a tile to play. They can re-enter the game if they can play a tile on their next turn. If every player passes, it is a blocked game. The player with the lowest value of pips left in their hand wins.

Scoring Dominoes

How to score dominoes

Once you have determined the winner, you need to score the round. Dominoes is a unique game because of how it is scored.

According to dominoes scoring rules, each losing player will count the number of pips on the tiles that they still have in their hand. The winner’s score is the sum of all the other players’ pip counts.

Make sure to count the pips on both sides of the tiles. Some dominoes rules allow players only to count one side of the pips on any doubles tiles they have.

Keep track of scores from one round to the next. The winning player is the one who meets the target point value first or has the highest score at the end of an agreed number of rounds.

Now that you know scoring works, the objective of block dominoes, and how to set up the game, you are ready to start playing dominoes.

Dominoes Variations

Block dominoes is one of the most common ways to play a basic dominoes game. But there are several other variations.

Here are a few more rules for how to play dominoes variants.

Draw Dominoes (AKA Straight Dominoes)

Dominoes boneyard

Draw Dominoes is almost the same as block dominoes, except for what happens when players don’t have a tile they can play.

All of the tiles that were left over after each player drew are left on the table. The extra tiles are referred to as the boneyard.

If a player doesn’t have a tile they can play, they have to draw new tiles from the boneyard instead of passing.

They must keep drawing tiles until they get one that can be played or until there are no more extra tiles left.

The game ends when a player plays all of their dominoes, or none of the players can play, and there are no tiles left in the boneyard.

Mexican Train

Mexican Train Dominoes is a competitive variation of the game. The objective of Mexican Train dominoes is to get rid of your tiles first.

Each round of Mexican train starts with subsequent doubles, starting with the highest double in your set. 

The number of rounds is determined by the highest double in your set. For example, there will be seven rounds when you play with a standard set to cover double six through double blank.

Highest Double Number of Tiltes in the Set Number of Rounds in a Subsequent Doubles Game
Sixes 28 7
Nines 55 10
Twelves 91 13
Fifteens 136 16

When you play Mexican Train dominoes, there are three ways to get rid of dominoes.

  • Play on your own personal train. During the first turn, every player can play as many dominoes as possible to start their train. You can add to your train on any subsequent turn, but you can only play one tile at a time after the first turn.
  • Play on a Mexican Train, which is an open train that anyone can play on. The Mexican Train can be started at any point by playing a tile that matches the middle double.
  • Play on an open train. When a player does not have a matching tile, they can draw one tile from the boneyard. If that tile does not match their train or the Mexican Train, they must open their train by placing a marker on the last tile. That train remains open to other players until the player who started the train can play on it.

Another important rule for Mexican Train dominoes refers to doubles. Anytime a player adds a double to a train, they get a chance to play a second tile that also matches the double.

If the player who played the double does not have another matching tile, the next player must play on the double or draw another tile. This pattern continues until one player can play on the double.

The game ends when a player runs out of tiles or if no one can play and there are no more tiles in the boneyard.

Texas 42

Texas 42 Dominoes is a team dominoes game for four players, with two teams of two. The objective is for each team to get as close to 42 points as possible.

After drawing tiles, each player must make a bid based on how many points they think they will have at the end of the game.

Bidding starts at 30 points and caps at 42 points because that is the highest number of points available.

You can earn points by collecting counting dominoes in a winning trick or by winning tricks by having the highest trump tile in the trick.

Because there are two ways to earn points, Texas 42 is part of a category of dominoes games called Trumps and Tricks games. Moon dominoes are another example.

The player who bid the highest amount starts the game by playing one of their tiles. Each player must play a tile that matches that suit.

For example, if the highest bidder plays a double six, each other player must add a tile with a six to the trick. If they do not have any sixes, they can play an off tile or a tile that doesn’t match.

You cannot hold onto tiles that you don’t want to play. If the trick is sixes, you must play one of the sixes in your hand.

Whichever player had the highest tile for that suit wins the trick. They get one point for each trick, and they earn points for counting tiles that were played in that trick.

Point values are calculated by adding the number of pips on each domino.

The team with the highest number of points after seven tricks wins.

Chickenfoot

Game of Chickenfoot Dominoes

Chickenfoot Dominoes is a blocking game with a specific setup. First, you have to create a double chickenfoot. Then you can create a regular chicken foot.

The round starts with a double in the center, and each round starts the subsequent double.

All players must add a matching tile to complete the double chickenfoot set up, which includes six diagonal tiles.

If a player does not have a matching tile, they must draw one tile from the boneyard. They must play it if they get a matching tile but do not have to keep drawing until they get one.

Once the double chickenfoot has been completed, players can play any tile that matches any open end.

Whenever a double gets played, all players must add to it to create a new chickenfoot with three diagonal tiles.

You cannot go back to open-ended play until the new chickenfoot is finished. If a player cannot play on the chickenfoot, they must draw a tile.

The player who runs out of dominoes first wins the round. All the other players will count the number of pips on their remaining tiles and add that number to their total score.

Keep track of scores until all of the rounds have been completed. The player with the lowest score at the end of all the rounds wins.

All Fives

All Fives dominoes game

All fives is a dominoes variation played the same as draw dominoes, but the dominoes scoring rules are different.

Each player gets points for every time they can create a multiple of fives with the open ends of the tiles on the board.

For example, if you play a five-five to begin the game, you automatically earn ten points because the open ends of the tiles are a multiple of five.

Your opponent plays a five-two, which brings the table total to 12. They do not get any points. If you play a two-five, you can earn 15 points by creating a table total of 15.

The first player to reach 200 points wins the game. There is another game called All Threes that uses the same concept, except you are focused on multiples of three instead of five.

These are just a few examples of dominoes variants that are available. There are many other exciting ways to play with these simple tiles!

Strategies for Playing Dominoes

Now that you know how to play dominoes, it is time to learn some strategy.

Dominoes may seem like a simple game that doesn’t leave much room for strategy. There is some truth to that – the outcome does depend on which tiles you draw.

But here are a few dominoes strategies that can help you beat your opponents.

  • Play doubles and high-number tiles first. Doubles are harder to play as the game goes on, so don’t hold on to them. If you can get rid of tiles with a higher suit, you will have a lower score at the end of the round.
  • Be mindful of your opponent’s moves. It is easy to stay focused on your own hand, but watching the other players can help you predict which tiles they need. You can force them to pick up tiles by holding a tile that would otherwise play into their hand.
  • Know the rules of the variation you are playing, and adjust your strategy accordingly. For example, when playing all fives, you need to monitor all the open ends on the table.
  • Consider mathematical probability. The more you learn how to play dominoes, the more familiar you will become with the set of tiles. You can use mathematical probabilities to determine how many doubles are left in play or the odds of getting a tile that you need. It takes practice, but mathematical probabilities can give you a significant edge over other players.

There are several other dominoes strategies that apply to the specific variation you are playing. Here is an excellent resource for more domino strategy.

Where to Play Dominoes Online

Playing dominoes online

Dominoes is typically a fun social activity that you can play with friends or family members. However, you don’t have to teach your friends how to play dominoes because you can also play dominoes online.

Online dominoes games are similar to playing dominoes in person, but the computer does a lot of the work for you. It will automatically shuffle and deal the tiles to all players.

When you play free dominoes games online, you can choose between multiplayer sites that let you compete against real people or single-player games to compete against a computerized player.

Some dominoes games are easier to play online. The computer automatically highlights all of your playable tiles, so it is easy to see your options at a glance.

Another example is playing the All Fives dominoes variation online. The computer will display a running tally of the open-ended tiles. That makes it easier to choose which tiles you can play to get to a multiple of five.

However, you need to be aware that the game software may also impose time limits on your turn, so you need to make your choices quickly.

Many free sites allow you to play dominoes online, but you can also play dominoes for real money at some of the top casino sites.

When you play for real money, you can compete in tournaments or play single games to win cash if you win the game.

The History of Dominoes

One thing that makes dominoes unique is that their origins are pretty clear, unlike other casino games.

Dominoes originated in China, and the earliest records of the game date back to the 12th century.

The original design of dominoes was based on the results of throwing two dice. This is why each side of the standard domino set can have between one and six pips.

Europeans modified the design to include blanks as if someone were throwing only one dice. The addition of blanks added seven new tiles to the collection of dominoes.

Many traditional dominoes games are similar to the rules for dominoes that we use today. Ancient dominoes players also used dominoes to play games that are now played with cards.

Toppling dominoes

While it is not directly related to competition-style dominoes, the practice of lining tiles up and pushing them over is called toppling.

Players have been toppling dominoes since they started using dominoes for other games.

The Netherlands hosted a national celebration known as Domino Day from 1986 to 2009. It incorporated a toppling exhibition.

During the last Domino Day in 2009, they toppled more than 4.5 million dominoes!

This earned them a spot in the Guiness World Records.

Dominoes Alternatives

Because there are so many different ways for how to play dominoes, it is unlikely that you will ever get bored with this game.

You can even add some variety by incorporating games of mahjong instead of dominoes.

Mahjong is a similar skill game that uses a specific collection of decorated tiles to make melds. However, all dominoes games require that you have a dominoes set or access to a computer version of the game.

If you don’t have dominoes available, here are some other games you may enjoy playing.

  • Video poker – At first, video poker may seem very different from dominoes, and it is in many ways. However, video poker games have a similar level of repetition and complexity. If you appreciate dominoes because it is straightforward, you will appreciate video poker for the same reasons.
  • Craps – The design of dominoes are modeled after two dice being thrown. Craps is betting on the results of two dice being thrown.
  • Domino Fit – This is an online game that combines the classic game of dominoes with puzzle games. It is a single-person game where the player attempts to match colored dominoes to get the highest score.

If you enjoyed the challenge of learning the rules for dominoes, how to play a basic domino game, and strategy for dominoes, chances are you’ll enjoy learning how to play these games, too.