The Basics of Dominoes

A domino is a flat, thumbsized block that bears from one to six pips or dots. It is used to play various games, including blocking and scoring. It is also used to make art such as straight or curved lines and grids that form pictures when they fall.

A domino has potential energy, which is its stored position in space. When it is pushed, it converts the potential energy to kinetic energy and causes other dominoes to fall.


There is no single story about the origin of domino but many of us have heard the legend that it developed into its current form in the 18th century. The dark markings on the white domino pieces apparently reminded people of masquerade ball masks.

The word domino is not well defined, but most believe it to be a corruption of the Latin ‘dominus’ meaning master of the house or based on a half-mask worn by priests. It appears that the game was a fad in Europe at that time and spread from there to England and then around the world.

The thirty-two piece traditional Chinese domino set, designed to represent all possible combinations of two thrown dice, has no blank faces which differs from the twenty-eight piece Western domino sets that appeared in the mid-18th century.


There are many different domino games that can be played. Each game has slightly different rules. However, there are some basic rules that all domino games must follow. For example, one end of a tile must match the other end of another tile to form a chain. A double must be laid perpendicular to a previous tile so that it touches both sides. This makes the chain grow into a snake-like shape.

The winner of a round is the player who has all of his or her tiles on the table. The player who wins a game counts the value of all the other players’ dominoes still in their hands.

Some rules are agreed upon by players, for example, a spinner is a double that can be played on all four sides. If a player plays on a wrong end of a spinner and an opponent notices it, that play is considered a Bogus Play and the player will be disqualified.


There are many variations of domino. These vary from game to game, but most of them are based on the same basic rules. Some are blocking games, while others involve forming chains or trains of tiles. Some are more difficult than others.

A player scores when his or her open-ended dominos touch a matching one at the end of the line. A ‘double’ with the same value on both ends is called a spinner, and can be played at right angles to the rest of the line.

This variation is suitable for Double Twelve sets. It starts as per Cross dominoes but as soon as the first doublet is laid down new chains can start from it. This speeds up the game considerably. Players can also count their revealed and in-hand tiles to plan their moves.


Dominoes are a great way to teach STEM and STEAM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics. Stacking and toppling dominoes uses hand eye coordination and gives a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. They can also help to improve concentration, motor skills and spatial awareness.

Modern dominoes are made in a wide variety of materials. The most common are plastics, metals and stone. Each type of material has its own advantages and disadvantages. For example, plastic dominoes are cheaper but may not be as durable or long-lasting as other types. In the 19th century, Bakelite was introduced and became the preferred material for dominoes. However, this was replaced by the much more stable plastic from petroleum in the 20th century. This led to an increase in domino production.


When playing a domino chain, players score points when the exposed ends of the dominoes total a number divisible by five. When a double is exposed sideways, the player scores for that side as well. If the total value of a domino is divisible by three, the player scores twice as many points.

When a hand is over, the winning player subtracts the value of his or her remaining dominoes rounded to the nearest multiple of five from each opponent’s score. The first player to reach this amount wins the game.

When a new round begins, the winner of the previous game may open play. Otherwise, the player holding the heaviest tile starts. Most of the games shown on this website use this scoring system.