How To Play Dominoes

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Dominoes is the quintessential tile-laying game. The game is ancient with the oldest known written mention of it dating back somewhere between 1232 and 1239.

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How To Play Dominoes

This is the most basic version of dominoes that you can play. There are a lot of variants but this is the most simple one to start out with:

  1. Determine The Starting Player

    Shuffle the dominoes have each player draw 1 domino. The player with the highest double plays first. The player with the highest domino goes first if there is no double.

  2. Draw A Starting Hand

    Re-shuffle the dominoes and each player draws 7 dominoes for their hand. The remaining dominoes are left face down.

  3. Play The First Domino

    The first player plays any domino from their hand and places it on the center of the table.

  4. Make A Domino Chain

    The second player matches a domino to the one on the table with the same number of dots on either end, making a chain.

  5. Ending The Game

    Players alternate placing dominoes until someone has placed their last domino or neither player can place a tile.

  6. Scoring

    The winner of the game adds up all of the pips (dots) on the dominoes left in their opponent’s hand and earns that many points.

    If the game ended with neither player being able to place a tile, the winner is the one with fewer domino tiles. They earn points of their opponent’s pips (dots) and subtract the amount they have left in their hand.

This is the most basic version of dominoes. In order to get into the different variants, it’s good to have an idea of some of the terminology that is used in dominoes.

Domino Terminology

Being such an old game, dominoes have a whole structure of terminology built around it. These are the basic words that you could hear thrown around during a game:

  • Pips (also nips or dobs) – These are each little dot on the ends of the domino. If a domino has a 5 on one end and a 3 on the other, it has 8 pips.
  • Spinner – A double that can be connected to on either end. The double 3, double 2, and double 6 dominoes in the picture below are spinners.
  • Dominoer – The person playing the last domino from their hand
  • Go Out – When a player has 1 tile left in their hand in a scoring game. Usually, they have to say something like “domino”.’
  • Shuffling – Just as with cards, this is placing all dominoes face down and moving them around so that neither player knows where each domino is.
  • Boneyard – The leftover dominoes after each player has a full hand. This forms a draw pile in drawing games.
  • Dominoed – The act of laying the last tile.
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Types of Domino Games

Domino games fall 2 basic categories based on the way the score is counted:

  • Blocking Games – This is the most common type of domino game. The main goal is to place all of your tiles while blocking your opponent from placing theirs. Points are earned based on how many dominoes your opponents have left at the end of the game.
  • Scoring Games – Scoring in these types of games is based on moves played, playing certain arrangements, or emptying your hand.
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Blocking Games

These types of games are based on winning and scoring points in the game by laying all of your tiles down before your opponent. This is the most common and simple type of domino game which require the most common type of domino set as well (the double-six set).

Block Game (Basic Dominoes)

This is a 2 player domino game and the most common version of dominoes to play. It is the basis for almost all domino variants.

The rules of this game are at the top of the article.

Draw Game

This is a variant of dominoes that can be considered a pillar which other forms are built around. The rules are pretty much the same as the block game with one minor difference:

A player who cannot place a tile must draw from the boneyard (unused domino pile) until they draw a tile that can be played or the boneyard has 2 tiles left. If there is only 2 tiles left when a player has to draw, the pip count of those 2 tiles is added to the winners score.

Scoring Game

In these types of games, players earn points during the game and at the end of the game. These games require a little more strategy than blocking games but are still heavily reliant on luck.

Muggins (All Fives and Five Up)

This game has some popular variants called “All Fives” or “Five Up” and are similar enough to be grouped together.

This is one of the most common versions of dominoes played. If you watch a video on youtube or read an article about how to play dominoes, they are likely teaching this version.

The gameplay for this is very similar to the standard block game. Essentially the rules are exactly the same with 2 core changes:

  • When a player can’t lay a tile down, they must draw tiles until they get a tile that can be laid down or until there are only 2 tiles left in the boneyard (tile drawing area). If there are 2 left, the drawing player loses and the 2 remaining tiles are counted towards the winners score.
  • Players can score during the game by placing tiles that make all of the open endpoints in the game add up to a multiple of 5. In the picture below, the last person that placed a tile scored 5 points.

The variants for this game are called “All Fives” and “Five Up” based on how many spinners are allowed in the game:

  • Muggins – No spinners
  • All Fives – First double is a spinner
  • Five Up – All doubles are spinners. This is used in the example above.


This is a variation of the draw game with a few minor changes:

  • There are no spinners.
  • Placing a tile that makes the endpoints the same gains the player 1 point. If one of the endpoint tiles is a double and this happens, that player gets 3 points.
  • The player that places their last tile or is the winner of a blocked game gains 1 point.

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