How to Play Dominoes

How to Play Dominoes: Mastering the Classic Game

Dominoes is a timeless game that has entertained generations, combining strategy, skill, and a touch of luck. Its simplicity makes it accessible to players of all ages, while the depth of strategy keeps the game engaging over time. Whether you’re a novice looking to learn the basics or an experienced player aiming to refine your strategy, this comprehensive guide will walk you through everything you need to know about how to play dominoes, from setting up the game to advanced tactics for victory.

Understanding the Basics of Dominoes

Dominoes is played with a set of rectangular tiles known as dominoes, each divided by a line into two squares, with each square marked with a number of dots, or “pips,” ranging from zero (blank) to six. The standard double-six domino set contains 28 tiles, but larger sets are available for extended play. The objective of the game can vary depending on the version being played, but it generally involves matching the pips on the tiles to those on the board and scoring points through strategic placement.

Setting Up the Game

  • Choose Your Domino Set: Begin with a standard double-six set for basic play, which is suitable for 2 to 4 players. For larger groups or a longer game, consider a double-nine or double-twelve set.
  • Shuffle the Dominoes: Place all the dominoes face down on the table and shuffle them by moving them around with your hands. This ensures a random distribution of tiles for each game.
  • Drawing Tiles: Each player draws a predetermined number of tiles to start. In a double-six set, for instance, each player typically draws seven tiles. The remaining dominoes form the “boneyard” or “stock,” which players will draw from as the game progresses.
  • Determine the First Player: The player with the highest double, or the highest pip total on a domino if no doubles are drawn, typically goes first. Play then proceeds clockwise around the table.

Playing the Game

  • Starting the Game: The first player places a domino on the table. This domino is the starting point for the game’s layout, which will grow as players add matching tiles.
  • Taking Turns: On your turn, place a domino from your hand onto one end of the domino layout with matching pips. For example, if one end of the layout is a five, you must play a domino with a five on one of its halves. If you cannot play a domino, you must draw from the boneyard until you can make a play. If the boneyard is empty, pass your turn.
  • Doubles: When a double (a tile with the same number on both ends) is played, it is typically placed perpendicular to the matching tile, and play may branch off from all four sides of the double.
  • Scoring: The scoring rules can vary, but a common method is to award points when a player empties their hand or when the game is blocked (no further moves are possible). Players may also score points based on the total number of pips remaining in their opponents’ hands.

Variations of Dominoes

Dominoes offers a variety of gameplay variations, each with its own set of rules and strategies. Some popular variations include:

  • Block Dominoes: The simplest form of the game, where the main objective is to be the first to play all your tiles, blocking your opponents from making further moves.
  • Draw Dominoes: Similar to Block but with the added rule of drawing tiles from the boneyard when you cannot make a play.
  • Mexican Train: A more complex variation that involves players creating their own line of dominoes while also adding to a communal “train.”
  • Dominoes All Fives: Players earn points during gameplay by making the ends of the layout add up to multiples of five.

Advanced Strategies

As you become more familiar with the game, consider these advanced strategies to enhance your play:

  • Tile Counting: Keep track of which tiles have been played and which are likely still in opponents’ hands. This can inform your strategy and help you block your opponents.
  • Board Control: Aim to control the board by determining the flow of play. Use doubles strategically to branch the layout in your favor.
  • Offensive and Defensive Play: Balance your playstyle between offensive moves to progress your game and defensive moves to block or limit your opponents’ options.
  • Adapting to Opponents: Pay attention to your opponents’ moves and adjust your strategy accordingly. Anticipate their moves and counteract them effectively.


Dominoes is a game rich in history and variation, offering endless entertainment and mental stimulation. By understanding the basic rules, familiarizing yourself with different game variations, and employing strategic thinking, you can enjoy countless hours of fun with this classic game. Whether playing casually with friends or competitively in a more structured setting, the key to success in dominoes lies in a balance of strategy, skill, and a bit of luck. So gather your tiles, shuffle up, and get ready to delve into the engaging world of dominoes, where every game is a new opportunity to test your wits and enjoy the timeless appeal of this beloved game.

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