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Home > Traditional Games (Parlor Games) > Table Games > Dominoes Rules and Strategy

Rules and Strategy

Dominoes is a table or parlour game that can be enjoyed by casual and dedicated players, young and old alike. Played by 2 or more players, it requires a set of Domino tiles to play.

There are many kinds of Domino tiles but the most popular are called Double-6s, wherein the tiles are “spotted” from a high of 6-6 to a low of 0-0 and there are a total of 28 tiles in the set.

Some method of scoring is used in order to determine the winner. Read on for Domino game rules, tips and tricks on how to win a game of Dominoes, and find our free printable Domino tiles at the end of this article.

Let's Play Dominoes! Tile game typically uses a set of Double-6 dominoes

Dominoes are played with rectangular tiles made of wood or plastic.

What's Needed to Play Dominoes:

* a complete set of Domino Tiles
* a flat surface big enough to accommodate the play area
* (optional) pad and pencil to record the score in each round of play

About the Domino Tiles:

- The Domino tile is a flat, rectangular playing piece that can be placed face down, face up, or stood on its side akin to Scrabble tiles.
- The Domino tile is twice as long as it is wide. You may think of it as 2 squares joined together. In fact, on its obverse side, it has 2 ends (the 2 conjoined squares), and each end has its own value in terms of “pips” or “spots”.
- The “pips” or “spots” denoted on the obverse side of the Domino tile uniquely identify the playing piece. Meanwhile, the reverse side is usually blank to depict anonymity. Some Domino sets have a uniform design on the back akin to playing cards.
- The common Domino set is called a Double-6 set which contains 28 tiles marked 0-0, 0-1, 1-1, 0-2, 1-2, 2-2 .. and so on, through to 6-6. You may refer to the tabular depiction for the complete face markings on all 28 tiles in a Double-6 Domino set.
- Each tile has a value which is used when scoring. The value of a tile is equal to the total number of pips or spots in said tile. For example, the tile marked 3-4 has a total value of 7; the tile marked 2-5 also has a total value of 7, hence 3-4 and 2-5 have the same “weight”. A tile marked 0-0 has no “weight” at all, and so 0-0 is “lighter” than 3-4 and 2-5 which are “heavier”.


- Specific tiles are identified by the Pips or Spots on their face. The tile with 3 and 2 spots is called 3-2. Alternatively, it can also be called 2-3.
- Tiles can be categorized into Singles and Doubles. Doubles are those tiles that have the same number of pips on both ends, such as 0-0, 1-1, 2-2, 3-3, .. and so on. All other tiles are called Singles.
- Tiles can be sorted according to Suit. To illustrate: the Suit of 3 tiles are composed of 3-0, 3-1, 3-2, 3-3, 3-4, 3-5, and 3-6. Meanwhile, the Suit of 2 tiles are composed of 2-0, 2-1, 2-2, 2-3, 2-4, 2-5, and 2-6. You will notice that the tile 3-2 (a.k.a. 2-3) is a member of both suits cited above. This is true for all Single tiles. Meanwhile, Double tiles can only ever be part of 1 suit.

Objective of a Domino Game:

To play all of one’s tiles. The first player to do this wins. In case the game becomes “blocked” (i.e., no more moves can be made by any player), the “pips” or “spots” in each player’s tiles is added, and the player who has the lowest value of tiles is the winner.

How to Set Up a Domino Game:

* the Domino tiles are placed face-down on a table and shuffled around akin to Mahjong
* each player draws an equal number of tiles from the pile and leaves the remainder turned-down
* it is customary to leave at least 2 tiles facedown in the pile. To illustrate: in a game of 3 players, 8 tiles are drawn by each player (8tiles x 3players = 24tiles) and 4 are left behind in the pile.
* the game is now set up and ready to play

A complete set of "Double-6" Domino tiles has a total of 28 tiles and 168 pips.

Illustration: A complete set of "Double-6" Domino Tiles has a total of 28 tiles and 168 spots or "pips".

Playing a Game of Dominoes:

Order of Play for Dominoes:

* Typically, the players agree on a specific tile that is supposed to be played first. This means that the player who holds the designated tile moves first, and the turn passes in clockwise manner. Typically, the designated tile is the “heaviest” double tile: 6-6.
* It is possible that the 6-6 tile is left behind in the pile of undrawn tiles (recall that at least 2 tiles should be left behind). In this case, the next heaviest double tile is 5-5, then 4-4, then 3-3, and so on.
* When the first tile is played, the next player is supposed to attach one of his tiles to create a branch. To illustrate, suppose that Player1 lays down a 6-6 tile. Player2 should create a branch by playing any tile with a 6 on it (e.g., the suit of 6, which is composed of 6-0, 6-1, 6-2, .. and so on).
* If the next player in succession does not have a valid move, he must pass. To illustrate: let us suppose that Player2 does not have any tile from the Suit of 6. He must pass his turn.

* Players can only pass if they do not have a valid move. Players who pass reveal that they do not own a tile in the Suits that are required to be played.
* In most games, the rules allow for only 2 branches to which players can attach their tiles. This effectively limits only 2 series of tiles (or suits of tiles) to be played. To continue the example: let us say that Player3 attaches a 6-3 tile. This results in 2 branches that require either a 6 or a 3 to be played, effectively limiting all valid moves to the Suits of 6 and 3.
* The game continues to proceed in clockwise manner for as long as any player has a valid move.
* Eventually, 2 scenarios are met: either 1 person plays all this tiles; or, no valid moves remain to any player.

Domino game in progress, multicolor pips on white.

Winning a Game of Dominoes:

* The first player who lays down all his tiles via valid moves wins the game.
* If all players run out of valid moves, the game ends and the winner is the player with the lowest value of pips in his hand of tiles. To illustrate: Player1 has 7pips, Player2 has 12pips, and Player3 has 9pips. Player1 is declared the winner.

Scoring a Game of Dominoes:

* In a scoring game, the score is the sum of all tile values that are not yet played by the other players. Alternatively, this score can be the highest such value among the other players. To illustrate: Player1 wins and it is revealed that Player2 has 12pips and Player3 has 9pips. Player1’s score can be 21 (which is the sum of 12 and 9) or it can simply be 12 (which is the higher of 12 and 9).
* Additionally, some players like to add the value of the tiles that were not drawn. For example, in a game of 4 players, 6 tiles are drawn by each (6tiles x 4players = 24tiles) and 4 tiles are left facedown in the pile. At the end of a scoring game, the 4 neglected tiles are turned over and their values revealed. Suppose that the 4 tiles have a total value of 14. This number is therefore added to the score of the winner.

Optional Rules for Dominoes:

Each player draws a set number of tiles: In some games, each player draws only a set number of tiles. This makes for a shorter game, especially in cases where a bigger domino set is used such as a Double-9 (which has 55 tiles) or a Double-12 (which has 91 tiles). For example: in a game of 2 players using a Double-6 tileset, each player draws only 7 tiles (instead of 13 tiles which would be normally prescribed).
Doubles become “Spinners”: In a game with many players and using a big domino set (such as a Double-12), Double tiles can be designated as “Spinners”. Spinners allow 4 tiles to be attached to it. In effect, a spinner allows the tiles to branch out in more directions, and allows more suits of tiles to be played thereafter.

Domino tiles with multicolor pips, being shuffled, face-up.

Winning Tips & Strategies for Dominoes:

Dominoes Tips for Beginners/Casual Players:
* Play Heavy Tiles First: Don’t hold onto your heavy tiles if you want a chance of winning the game. Most winners are decided by scoring when a blocked game happens, because few games allow a winning player to lay down all his tiles. So then, if you have a low tile weight it is possible that you will be declared the winner.
* Play Double Tiles Early: In terms of weight, double tiles can be heavy (e.g., 5-5, 4-4) which makes it especially advantageous to play them early in the game. There is another reason though: double tiles are easily blocked because both ends are the same value. If you get stuck with a 5-5 tile, for instance, and most all tiles in the suit of 5 are already played, then your chances of winning the game are very slim indeed.


Dominoes Tips for Regular Players:
* Develop your Memory: For a regular Domino set of Double-6s with 28 tiles, it is not extremely difficult to memorize which tiles are not yet played. A good tool to help you keep track is to visualize an arrayed layout of the tiles, similar to the image above. It is not very easy, but then it is not especially difficult and gets less difficult with practice
* Block what you don’t have; propagate what you do have: The idea is to put most, if not all, of your tiles into play. Ideally, each move you make should open up a new move for you, eventually allowing you to lay down all your tiles.

Dominoes Tips for Advanced Players:
Advanced players would benefit from being able to predict what other players have left in their hand. This ability would be like a Poker player being able to tell what cards are held by the others beyond the ability to tell when other players are bluffing.
Since this is an advanced technique that long-time players employ, it should come as no surprise that only long experience can help a player develop this technique. Partly, you need to be able to predict the other players’ strategies. Partly, you need to be able to correctly guess what tiles each of the other players hold. And based on these information, you need to be able to plan ahead, such that the tiles you play will force the other players to move in ways that would allow you to play most or all of your tiles.

Dominoes as a Drinking Game:

Since Dominoes can be a moderately long game, FFPG recommends 2 approaches to playing Dominoes as a drinking game.
For fans of hard liquor: A full game must be played to the end before anybody takes a drink. Only the winner avoids taking a shot. Games are bound to be fast and furious early on; after the first few rounds of drinks, however, you will notice games get loud and hilarious and the party can begin in earnest.
For fans of beer, wine, champagne, et. al.: In this version, drinks are had during the game. Whenever a player is forced to pass, he takes a drink.


Dominoes as an Adult Party Game:

Since Dominoes can be a moderately long game, FFPG recommends 2 approaches to playing Dominoes as an adult party game.
For fans of hard liquor: A full game must be played to the end before anybody takes something off. Only the winner avoids removing an article of clothing.
For fans of beer, wine, champagne, et. al.: In this version, players remove something even during the game. Whenever a player is forced to pass, he takes off an article of clothing.

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Animated GIF FreeFree Printable "Double-6" Domino Tiles
(download, print and play!)

[Black.on.White.GIF] [Black.on.White.PDF]
[White.on.Black.GIF] [White.on.Black.PDF]

Free Printable "Double-9" Domino Tiles
(download, print and play!)
[Black.on.White.GIF] [Black.on.White.PDF]
[White.on.Black.GIF] [White.on.Black.PDF]

These are the necessary Domino Tiles needed to play Dominoes. You may download and print as many copies as you wish.

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