This game is based on the domino solitaire games invented by Fredrick Berndt (THE DOMINO BOOK; Bantam Books; ISBN 0-84-07501-4; 1975). I suppose you would classify the game as a member of the Bergen family because it uses rules that involve the ends of two tiles that are not immediately touching to score points and the value of the ends does not have anything to do with the score. However, the layout and rules about triplets of tiles and surrounding are unique. They resemble the Viking game Tablut, which captures pawns on a square grid by placing two of your men on opposite sides of an enemy piece.
The games uses a double six domino set. The game can be played by two to six players, but it is best for three or four players. A larger number of players could use one of the larger domino sets, such as the double nine or double twelve.
While it is possible to play in partnerships, it is not a good game for this type of play because there is no way for partners to pass along information to each other or really help each other.
Pick a dealer by drawing for highest tile. The dealer shuffles the tiles face down, and deals each player a hand of two tiles. This is done by washing the tiles in the usual manner, then picking stacks of tiles which are two high and handing them to each player.
Four tiles are then pulled out of the boneyard and are lined up side by side, not end to end, and kept face down until all the players have looked at their hands. The tiles are then turned face up and kept in the same (random) order in which they were dealt. It is important not to allow any player to arrange this starting tableau. Only the end of the row on the dealer's right is played upon.
A marker of some sort can be used to block one end of the row. Since this is often a bar game, markers can be a box of matches, an ash tray, a cigarette lighter or other small object, or even the edge of the bar itself.
The rest of the tiles stay face down in the boneyard or can be stacked into a woodpile. The woodpile has some space saving advantages on a bar.
The deal will pass clockwise around the table after each hand. The player to the dealer's left begins the hand. This is important because there are advantages to being the first player.
Two players will each have a total of 12 tiles pass thru their hands. Three players will each have a total of 8 tiles pass thru their hands. Four players will each have a total of 6 tiles pass thru their hands. Six players will each have a total of 4 tiles pass thru their hands.
However, the deal does not work out evenly for five players. The best solution is to expose three tiles in the tableau, so that each player will have 5 tiles pass thru their hand.
Each player in his turn first extends the tableau by adding one of the tiles from his hand alongside the tile at the open end of the tableau. After placing his tile, the player has the option of making one or more captures. The player is not required to make captures, even if they exist in the tableau.
Finally the player draws a replacement tile from the boneyard, assuming there are still tiles in the boneyard. If the boneyard is empty, he draws nothing and his hand will continue to become smaller until it is empty. The player's turn is now complete with or without a replacement tile and play passes to the next player on his left.
Any tile can be captured if it is between two tiles of the same suit; if the tile in between is also the same suit than optionally all three tiles can be captured. When a tile is captured, the tableau is squeezed together to close the gap. The player is not required to make a capture. For example, given a layout with [6-6][6-3][6-4] in a row, the player can leave them alone, capture the [6-3] or capture all three tiles, as they wish, because they are all in the sixes suit. Captures can occur at any position in the tableau - the capture cofiguration does not have to be created by the placement of the player's tile.
If more matches are created when the gaps are closed, these tiles can then also be captured by the payer in his same turn.
If one player makes a capture that leaves the tableau empty, the next two players have to place tiles and have no chance of making a capture because the tableau does not have at least three tiles in it.
A capture does not have to be made with the tile just added to one end of the tableau. A triplet anywhere in the line of the tableau can be claimed during a player's turn, even if his tile did not create it. In particular, if player A misses a capture after he has drawn a replacement tile (or announced that he is finished playing, if the boneyard is empty) and the play has gone to player B, player A cannot claim the capture because it is no longer his turn. Player B must first add a tile to the tableau as the first step in his turn, but can then claim the missed capture.
Captured tiles are kept stacked face down in front of the player who caught them. It is convenient to stack them for easy counting and to save space. Captured tiles are not used for the rest of the hand, but must be kept where the other players can see and count them during play.
The hand stops and scores are counted when all hands are empty. This implies that the boneyard is also empty and all the uncaptured tiles, if any, are on the tableau.
Each player receives one point for each tile they captured and loses one point for each tile left in the tableau. To borrow slang from some card games, the tableau is "The Devil's hand" and it is possible for the Devil to score higher than some or all of the players, even possibly leaving them with a negative score.
The game is 50 points and a cribbage board can be used to keep score. Scores are tallied at the end of each hand, not during play. If two or more players all score over 50 points in the same hand, the highest score wins. If two or more players have the same winning score in the same hand, the youngest (last dealt) hand wins.
Alternatively, the game can be played for a round of drinks after each hand, if this is being played as a bar game. In this case, there are no points.
Comments & Strategy
This is a good game for physically larger dominoes, such as the tournament or club sets. Because the captured tiles tend to get stacked, dominoes without metal spinners in the middle are better game pieces.
There is no way to predict the length of a tableau. In some games, the tableau will remain quite short because of frequent captures; this is the more usual case. However, there will be hands where the tableau will grow and stay long until the hand ends and everyone is left with a negative score. In the third case, the tableau will vary from long to short suddenly.
Remember that each number appears seven times in the double six domino set. When someone takes a triplet, that leaves only three or four more tiles in that suit, depending on whether the double of the suit was captured or not. When two triplets in the same suit have been captured, that leaves one and only one more tile, the orphan, in the suit.
If you can track the orphaned suits, you can make decisions about your plays. For example, a tile with two orphaned suits has to be captured by being surrounded by a pair; it cannot ever be part of a capture itself. An orphaned double is never part of a capturing pair because it has no mate.
A lot of the strategy is in knowing when to apply the "three in a row" rule and when to just take the middle tile, etc. For example given this layout, assuming that the row is growing from top to bottom:
and a draw of [1-4], the immediate thought is to collect the final three tiles ([1-1], [1-5], [1-4]). A much better play is to remove the middle [1-5] tile, then the middle [1-1] tile, then the middle [0-4] tile, then take the triplets, [2-4], [4-4] and [1-4]. [But the triplet [2-4], [4-4], [0-4] is capturable in any case, so isn't it simpler just to capture this triplet and the final three tiles, with the same result? JM]
Another point of strategy is setting up a chance to clear the tableau. Frankly, the opportunity is more a matter of luck than skill. You have to do your planning with the last full hand of the round and decide on your last tile.
The arithmetic for seeing that you will always profit from clearing the tableau is easy. However, you should consider how many points you can force other the players to lose. If another player is near 50 points, you may decide not to try to clear the tableau to give them a negative score for that hand at the expense of your own score.
The eldest hand (the player who was dealt first in this round) has an advantage in clearing the tableau because in an (n) player game, he captures (n-1) tiles. The last player simply avoids having the Devil's hand deducted from his own score.
Remember that you are not required to capture a triplet, but can elect to capture only the middle tile or to ignore a capture altogether. This can lead to some cooperation among players to team up against the highest scoring player and leave the tableau empty for him.