How to Play Dominoes

Dominoes are flat tiles that have a pattern on one side and are blank or identically patterned on the other. They are normally twice as long as they are wide and are divided visually into two squares called ends, which are marked with an arrangement of spots or pips similar to those used on a die, except that some squares are blank (indicated in the listing below by a zero). The number of dots on either end is the domino’s value. Unlike playing cards, each domino is only a single piece, so each player has a limited number of tiles to play with during the course of the game.

There are many different games that can be played with dominoes, and each game has its own rules. The objective is generally to score points by constructing chains of dominoes whose ends add up to a multiple of five. In some games, points are scored by blocking the other players. The score for a block is calculated by counting the number of open ended dominoes in each losing player’s hand at the end of a game, or the losing players’ total number of pips in all their hands at the end of a series of games, whichever is less.

When a set of dominoes is used, they are usually arranged in a line on the table and each player takes turns placing one tile on top of another, positioning it so that it touches only one of the ends of an existing chain. The chains gradually develop a snake-like form and, as more tiles are added to the line of play, the line may become a long “snake.”

Before players draw their hands, the dominoes are shuffled by moving them randomly around a table without maintaining contact with specific tiles. The player who draws the highest double goes first, or, if no double is drawn, plays the heaviest domino in his hand. In some games, players may also buy dominoes from the stock (these remain face down for other players to draw), and these are incorporated into the player’s hand according to the game’s rules.

Several types of domino sets are available, ranging from simple plastic to expensive wood or ivory pieces. European-style dominoes are typically made from silver lip ocean pearl oyster shell (mother of pearl), bone, or a dark hardwood such as ebony, and are often painted with contrasting black or white pips. Although plastic dominoes are the most popular and affordable, sets made from natural materials tend to be more durable and have a more elegant appearance. They are usually much heavier than their polymer counterparts and thus feel more substantial in the hand. They are often more expensive as well. A few domino sets are made of natural stone, such as marble or soapstone; metals such as brass or pewter; ceramic clay; or even crystal. They have a more striking look and, like the traditional ebony dominoes, are quite costly.