Howard is a Dominoes enthusiast who wants to help other people get started playing this classic game.
If you want to try Dominoes, it can be hard to figure out where to start. There are so many versions with varying levels of complexity out there.
This article will introduce you to the most basic versions to start with. When you get familiar with these, it will be easy to transition to the other variations.
Let's start with some terms so we're on the same page:
- The standard set has 28 pieces, called a Double 6 Dominoes set.
- The pieces can also be called tiles, stones, or bones.
- The bones you hold are called your hand.
- Each half-bone is called an end.
- Bones with the same value on each end are called doublets or doubles.
- The bones that aren't drawn during the set-up are called the boneyard.
How to Play Basic Block Dominoes
If you're brand new to dominoes or introducing a child to it, the simplest version to play is a basic blocking game.
The objective is to play all of your tiles before your opponent plays all of theirs. Let's look at a two-player game.
The bones or tiles are placed face down on the table. Shuffle them by moving them around. Each player selects seven bones. Stand them on their sides so you can see the value of your bones but your opponent can't.
Whoever has the highest value doublet plays first. If you have the 6-6, play it. If not, you or your opponent can ask:
- "Do you have double sixes?"
- "Do you have double fives?"
- "Do you have double fours?"
Continue like this until the highest doublet is identified. If there are no doublets in play, find the "heaviest" bone, the one with the highest value. For example, the 6-5 bone has a "weight" of 11.
Alternately, you could simply draw a tile each. Whoever draws the highest one goes first. The tiles are reshuffled, and the hand is drawn. This way, the player can start with the bone they want to play.
The highest doublet is played first. Let's say that is the 5-5 bone. The doublets are usually placed vertically on the playing surface for easy identification.
The second player lays a bone that matches; that is, it has a 5 on one end.
If at any point you can't play a tile, you are blocked. Say "pass" or "go" so your opponent can play again.
Play proceeds with you and your opponent alternating turns by placing a matching bone at one of the two open ends.
In the following picture, the 5-5 was placed first. Players then took turns matching one of their bones to one of the open ends.
How to Win
Whoever runs out of tiles first wins. The values of the loser's tiles are counted. The winner scores that amount of points. For example, one player is left holding a 2-3 and a 4-0 (blank). The winner would score 9 points.
If both players are unable to place a tile, the game is over. Whoever holds the lowest total value on their tiles is the winner. The winner scores the value of their opponent's tiles.
The bones are reshuffled, and a new game begins with the loser of the previous game playing first. This player doesn't have to start with the highest doublet like in the opening hand. Any bone can be laid.
The overall winner can be determined by playing to a certain number of points, like 50 or 100. Or you can play a certain amount of hands, like 5 or 10, and whoever has the most points after the last hand wins.
Basic Draw Dominoes
The next simplest version is a basic drawing game. This is just like the blocking game with one difference—if you can't play, you draw tiles from the boneyard until you can.
Alternately, you could place a limit on the number of bones a player has to draw on a single turn. For example, if you don't have a match, you draw a maximum of three bones. If you still don't have a match, you can pass.
Regardless of which rule you play by, bones are only drawn until there are two left in the boneyard. This way, the players don't know exactly what the other is holding.
Strategy and Tactics for Basic Block and Draw Dominoes
Since the goal is to play all of your bones before your opponent does, the general strategy revolves around being able to lay a bone every turn while preventing your opponent from laying one if possible.
The following strategies and tactics will support this goal. In general, they are in the order of their priority.
1. Playing Your Strong Suit
Whichever number you hold the most of is your strong suit. Playing one of these is favorable because if you have a lot of them, your opponent probably has fewer. You'll be able to match on your next turn, but your opponent might not be able to.
For example, if you're holding four bones with a five on them, five is your strong suit. Playing one of them every chance you get is a good strategy because your opponent will run out of fives before you do. They'll have to pass, and you'll gain a turn.
You might draw a hand that has two medium-strength suits as well. Perhaps you're holding three fives and three twos. Now, you'll try to play either of those whenever you can.
Learning to play my strong suit has made the biggest difference in my Domino success.
2. Blocking Your Opponent's Strong Suit
Your opponent should be playing their strong suits as well. If possible, play a bone that eliminates this option.
If your opponent opens with a doublet five, five should be their strong suit. If you have the option, you'll want to avoid leaving a five on an end.
3. Keep Your Options Open
You want to be able to play on every turn. This is more likely if you're holding many different suits. When playing your strong suit or any other suit for that matter, consider what will leave you the most options.
If you have the option of playing two bones, consider the value on the other end. Let's say the other ends have a one and a three. You're holding another bone with a three on it, but you have no others with a one. Playing the bone with the three will leave you with the option of playing a three or a one on an upcoming turn.
When both ends of the playing area have the same value, it's said to be squared. This can be an excellent play to make because it leaves your opponent only one possible play. If they can't, they have to draw, which could result in a huge advantage for you.
If squaring would also leave you without a play, you'll have to decide if it's worth the risk.
5. Keep Track of Your Opponent's Strengths and Weaknesses
Ideally, we'd be able to remember everything about our opponent's hand—the bones they've played and whether they had to think about the plays, their strong suits, and what bones they don't have.
If your memory is excellent, you'll have a definite advantage in Dominoes. If you struggle with this, do what you can.
The easiest thing to remember is your opponent's strong suit. Another fairly simple thing to remember is what values your opponent doesn't have. If they had to draw when a blank and a five were on the ends, you know they don't have either of those. Remembering this can tell you what to play to force more drawing.
6. Pay Attention to What Has Been Played
Each suit has seven bones. If six have been played and you have the last one, you might be able to hold off opening another option for your opponent.
Likewise, seeing how many of one suit are out can tell you how likely your opponent will be able to play. For example, you have the option of leaving a two or three on the end. There is one two out and four threes. Depending on what you're holding, it might be better to leave a three on the end because there are fewer of them available.
This strategy becomes more important after all the bones have been drawn and the game is close.
All of these strategies are even more important in a drawing game. Being the first player to draw from the boneyard is generally bad. You can get stuck drawing multiple bones and holding a much larger hand than your opponent. Sometimes, this will lead directly to the loss of the game.
- When laying the last bone, some rules require the player to say "Domino" to seal the win. If they don't, the other player points out the omission and wins instead.
- If there are more than two players, subtract the number of players from eight to determine how many bones everyone draws to start. So if there are four players, each starts with four bones instead of seven.
- If there are more than two players in a game of Draw Dominoes, bones are drawn until there is one left in the boneyard.
- There's an alternate way to score a game that ends with both players blocked. Instead of the lowest hand scoring points equal to the highest hand, the difference can be scored to the winner. For example, one player is left holding a 4-4, and the other holds a 1-2. Instead of the winner scoring 8 (4+4), he could score 5, the difference of 8 minus 3.
- In the above scoring system, multiple player scores are subtracted individually. If the total final values held in a three-player game are 5, 12, and 18, the winner scores 20. (12 minus 5 is 7 and 18 minus 5 is 13. 7+13=20.)
More Dominoes Games
If you like playing these simple Dominoes games, there are plenty more variations out there. Most of them are fairly easy to get the hang of.
Keep playing and have fun!