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How to Play Dominoes (for Beginners): 18 Things You Should Know (Rules, Basics,…)

Last Updated on January 25, 2024 by Gamesver Team and JC Franco

When it comes time to buy my kids gifts, I’m often drawn to the wooden boxes of domino sets available in many game shops. Only, it’s been such a long time since I played dominoes myself; I’ve forgotten exactly how it works. So I’ve made a little refresher on how to play dominoes.

Two to four players can play a standard blocking game of dominoes using a 28-piece set. The dominoes are laid out by matching the ends until the winner has no more tiles to continue playing. The winner’s score is calculated by adding the remaining dots on the losing players’ tiles.

I have great memories of doing more than just making falling chains of dominoes—we loved to play the game as kids. If you’ve wanted to play dominoes, it’s a pretty simple game that doesn’t require much space or equipment. I’ll walk you through how to play a classic game of Fives dominoes.

These are 18 things you should know when playing dominoes:

1. You Can Have 2-4 Players In A Game Of Dominoes

You can play Fives dominoes with two to four people using a standard set of 28 dominoes with different combinations of dots or pips, from blank on both ends to sixes on both ends. You can buy larger sets with more pieces if you have more people in your group. The 28-piece set is known as a double-six, while larger sets are known as double-nine, double-twelve—up to double-eighteen.

2. Larger Domino Sets Use Tiles With Higher Combinations

When you buy larger sets, they don’t simply double the number of tiles you have; the number of dots on each end is increased, which allows for many more combinations. It’s better to buy a double-nine with 55 tiles or a double-twelve, with 91 tiles, than simply buying two double-six sets.

3. You Don’t Need Much Equipment For Dominoes

Once you have the right size domino set for your group, you only need a flat surface like a table to play on and a pencil and paper for recording and working out the scores. You’ll only score in a standard blocking game at the end of each round, though there are many domino variations with different scoring methods.

4. Each Player Draws 5-7 Dominoes

Place all the domino tiles—or bones—face-down on your table and shuffle them around. Each player will then draw several dominoes, which they face away from their opponents. If you have two players, each will draw seven dominoes, but with three to four players, each will draw five dominoes.

5. The Player With The Highest Double Domino Begins

Each player will reveal their tile with the highest double set of pips—a double has the same number of dots on both ends. The player with the highest double tile will start the game. If no players have doubles, then the player who has the piece with the highest number of dots—the heaviest—will begin play.

6. Domino Gameplay Moves Clockwise

The player who starts puts down their heaviest tile first. From there, the gameplay will move clockwise as the next player matches one of their dominoes to the open end of the first domino. Each subsequent player will add another matching end to any open-ended domino.

7. The Ends Of The Dominoes Must Match

The end numbers on the new domino must match exactly the piece it’s added to. For example, you can only fit a two to a two or a five to a five. If you have doubles, you will want to play them as soon as possible, as they can be used to create extra nodes on the game, making the play last longer.

8. The Domino Tiles Can Go In All Directions

Any unmatched domino’s end is open and can be added to, so the game can move in any direction. You lay doubles sideways as ‘spinners’ and match them in the middle to make new branches—also known as trains—which go at right angles. These new trains increase the opportunity for new matches.

9. Draw A New Tile If You Have No Matching Dominoes

If you don’t have a tile that matches any on the board, you will have to draw a new tile from the pile of extra unused dominoes, known as the boneyard. If no tiles are left in the boneyard, you lose your turn and play skips to the next player in the game.

10. You Can Skip A Turn In Dominoes

While you will have to skip a turn if you can’t play, in some games, you can choose to skip a turn even if you have pieces. You will announce that you are not playing your turn by saying, “I pass,” and the game will move on to the next player’s turn.

11. Draw Domino Tiles Until You Have A Match

If you need to draw a tile to find one that matches, you can keep drawing from the boneyard until you draw a matching tile. If you pull all the tiles and still can’t play, you pass your turn and play moves on to the next player. Some games of dominoes only allow a set number of tiles to be drawn.

12. The First Player With No Dominoes Left Wins

The round goes on until one of the players runs out of dominoes and becomes the winner by default. The game also ends if the players run out of playable pieces before this. Each player’s pips are counted in this case, and the one with the lowest number becomes the winner.

13. Calculate The Score By Adding Up Domino Pips

When each round is finished, the losing players add up all their pips on their remaining tiles, and this total becomes the winning player’s score. Before playing, you’ll have decided what the final points goal should be – 150, 200, or 250. The games continue until someone reaches the deciding number.

14. Dominoes Can Be Played As A Team Game

Dominoes can be played as individuals and also played as a team game. If you’re doing partnerships, the partners sit opposite each other, and the winning player scores the win for their team.

15. Don’t Show Other Players Your Dominoes

If another player sees one of your dominoes, you will have to show all the other players that domino. Players line their dominoes up in front of them—pips facing the player—so that none of the other players can see what dominoes they hold.

16. Play Your Highest Tiles First In Dominoes

Playing your heaviest tiles early on in the game makes strategic sense. If you do this, when the scores are counted, you will have fewer pips, which means fewer points go to your opponent.

17. Play Your Doubles Early In Dominoes

Play most of your doubles early, which will help open the game up and allow for more trains. However, it’s a useful tactic to keep some doubles in reserve so that you can use them to open up the board later if another player is forcing a block.

18. Play Dominoes That Match The Tiles You Hold

If possible, place dominoes down so that the open ends of the domino have pips that match the dominoes you control. Please pay attention to when the other players need to draw from the boneyard, as this will indicate which number sets they lack.

In Closing

The basic blocking and drawing games of dominoes are relatively simple. Decide beforehand what the final winning score will be, and play your rounds until one of the individuals or teams meets that number. Using strategies like playing heavy tiles first and paying careful attention to which tiles your opponents place or need to draw can improve your chances of a win.

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This article was co-authored by our team of in-house and freelance writers, and reviewed by our editors, who enjoy sharing their knowledge about their favorite games with others!

JC Franco
Editor | + posts

JC Franco serves as a New York-based editor for Gamesver. His interest for board games centers around chess, a pursuit he began in elementary school at the age of 9. Holding a Bachelor’s degree in Business from Mercyhurst University, JC brings a blend of business acumen and creative insight to his role. Beyond his editorial endeavors, he is a certified USPTA professional, imparting his knowledge in tennis to enthusiasts across the New York City Metropolitan area.