The Basics of Dominoes

Dominoes, also called bones, cards, men, or pieces, are a type of flat tile with a value or number on both sides. The value is indicated by an arrangement of spots (also referred to as pips) which are usually colored differently from the domino’s background, and may be blank, dotted, or a combination of solid and dotted squares. A domino is normally twice as long as it is wide. Its adaptability allows for many variations of the game, from the simple block games to more complex and challenging ones like Mexican Train and Matador.

When a player plays a domino, it initiates a chain reaction that causes the other tiles to topple in turn. This chain reaction occurs at a rate independent of the size of the initial domino, but is limited in length by the physical constraints of the table and the available number of tiles.

The dominoes are arranged on the table in a line, a string, or a layout. The open end of the domino that is played first is referred to as the count or the draw. The count is important because it identifies the total number of ends in the line of play, which determines how much of the score a winning player will receive at the end of the hand or game.

Most domino games follow a similar pattern: players make a play and then add to the line of play as they go. The order of playing is determined by the rules of a particular game. The person who makes the first play may be referred to as the setter, downer, or leader. If a player draws a tile that cannot be played, it is known as a misplay and must be recalled.

Some games involve passing or byeing. If a player does not want to play his turn, he passes the turn to another player or buys the right to do so from the stock. The other players then take turns drawing from the stock, adding tiles to their hands that are permissible according to the rules of the game.

While some games are more complicated than others, nearly all fit into one of four categories: bidding or blocking games, scoring games, and round games. Some of these games are adaptations of card games, and others were developed to circumvent religious prohibitions against the playing of cards. There are many other specialized games that involve special rules or other features. Most of these are played with specific sets of dominoes, which are referred to as extended or large-set dominoes. These sets are distinguished by their number of pips on each end, and progressively larger sets increase the number of pips per end. For example, a double-twelve set has 91 dominoes, while a larger set may have up to a double-nine set’s 91 tiles. The maximum number of pips on each end is three, but most extended sets have only two or even fewer.