Moon

This page is based on information from Joe Celko, Howard Fosdick, Eugene Beach and Lynda Moore.

Introduction

This is a relatively simple trick taking domino game, which can be played either a three- or four- handed. It is popular in Texas, where many people took up domino games in the late 19th century in response to Baptist teaching that playing with cards was sinful. It is thought of as a simpler variant of Texas 42, sometimes played when only three players are available. The name Moon refers to winning all the tricks, which is several American card games is known as "shooting the moon". A four-player version is popular in the Tidewater area of Virginia, though the name Moon is apparently not used there, the game being known simply as "dominoes".

The three-player game, which seems to be the more popular version in Texas, will be described first.

Three-Player Moon

Equipment

The game uses a double six domino set, with all but the double zero of the zero suit removed. This gives a set of 22 tiles.

The tiles are divided into suits and ranked in the same way as in Texas 42. There are seven "suits": zeros, ones, twos, threes, fours, fives and sixes. The double is the highest tile of its suit, followed by the other tiles in order of the other number on the tile. So for example the 2-suit ranks from high to low: [2-2], [2-6], [2-5], [2-4], [2-3], [2-1]. In the 22-tile set used for Moon, the zero suit has only one tile, the [0-0].

Apart from doubles, each tile can potentially belong to one of two suits. However, in most hands one of the numbers is declared as trump. In this case all tiles containing this number function only as trumps, and do not belong to the suit at the other end.

The Deal

Each player draws a hand of seven tiles and the left over tile remains face down in the middle of the table.

The Bidding

Players bid the number of tricks they are contracting to take. The bidding goes around the table clockwise, each player having just one opportunity to bid. For the first deal the first bidder is determined by some random method, for example by drawing tiles before the deal; in subsequent hands the turn to begin the bidding passes clockwise.

Each bid must be a "pass" (no bid) or a number between 4 and 7, or 21, and each number bid must be higher than the last. A bid of 21, which is called "shooting the moon", is a bid to take all 7 tricks, the same as a bid of 7 but for a higher score. Since no bid can be higher than shooting the moon, the auction stops when a player makes this bid. The winner of the auction takes the tile from the middle and then discards one tile from his hand face down without showing it.

Before leading to the first trick, the winner of the bidding must name trumps. There are nine possibilities:

  • Any of the seven numbers: 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 can be named as trump. If a number from 1 to 6 is trump there will be six trumps; if zero is trump there is only one trump - the double blank.
  • Doubles. In this case there are seven trumps ranking from high to low [6-6], [5-5], [4-4], [3-3], [2-2], [1-1], [0-0]. These form a suit of their own, separate from the other six suits 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6.
  • No trump, also known as follow me. There are no trumps at all. As usual the double is the highest tile of each suit.

The Play

The rules of play are essentially the same as in Texas 42. The highest bidder leads any tile to the first trick.

  • If it is a trump, the other players must follow with trumps if they can. A player who has no trumps may play any tile.
  • If the tile led is not a trump, the higher end determines the suit to be followed. Other players must play tiles of this suit if they can. Players unable to follow suit may play any tile they choose - a trump or any other tile.

If anyone plays a trump, the highest trump wins the trick. Otherwise the trick is won by the highest tile of the suit led. The winner of this trick stacks the three tiles of the trick face down in front of him- or herself and then leads any tile to the next trick. Further tricks are played under the same rules until all the tiles have been played.

Note that non-trump tiles that are not doubles belong to two suits, so for example if you have the [5-3] but no other 5's or 3's and neither 5 nor 3 is trump, you are required to play your [5-3] if either the [3-2] (a 3) or the [5-1] (a 5) is led.

Note also that if doubles are trump, doubles do not belong to any of the number suits. So for example is the [4-2] is led, the highest tile of this suit is the [6-4] and this will win the trick unless someone trumps. The holder of the [4-4] is not allowed to play it in this trick unless no other 4's are held, and in that case, the player is unable to follow suit and can play any tile - trumping with the [4-4] or another trump or throwing away any other tile.

Scoring

  • The bid is successful if the bidder wins at least as many tricks as were bid. In this case the bidder scores the amount of the bid. Note that the bidder foes not score any extra points for taking more tricks than the bid.
  • The bid fails if the bidder takes fewer tricks than were bid. In this case the bidder scores minus the amount of the bid.
  • Irrespective of whether the bid succeeds or not, each of the other two players scores one point for each trick won.

Examples:

  • Player A bids 5 and wins 6 tricks, B wins 1 and C wins none: A scores +5, B scores +1, C scores nothing.
  • Player A bids 5 and wins 4 tricks, B wins 1 and C wins 2: A scores -5, B scores +1, C scores +2.

The game ends when any players score reaches 21 points or more. If two or more players achieve 21 points or more in the same deal, the highest scoring player wins.

Note: A player who bids 21 scores 21 points if successful, thus winning the game unless his score was previously negative. If a 21-bid fails, the bidder scores minus 21 and the game continues.

Note: In general, the two players who lost the bid should form a partnership against the player who got the bid, since it is usually more important to give the bidder a negative score than to grab a single point by taking a trick from the other non-bidder. This does not apply, however, near the end of the game when only one or two points are needed to win.

Variations

Some play with a set of only 21 tiles, without the [0-0]. In this case all the tiles are dealt and the high bidder does not get to exchange a tile.

Some play that the bidder must choose trumps before looking at the face down tile in the middle. After naming trumps the bidder takes the middle tile and discards the same or a different tile face down before leading to the first trick.

Some score in "marks" instead of points. If the bidder wins he scores a mark; if not the other two players score a mark each. The first player to reach 7 marks wins.

Joe Celko reports that at Texas A&M a version without trumps is played, in which when leading a non-double you can choose which of its two suits it belongs to. You call the suit and everyone must follow that suit. So for example a hand [0-0] [2-2] [2-6] [2-5] [2-4] [2-3] [2-1] will win all the tricks if the player has the lead, since all the non-doubles han be led as twos and then cannot be beaten.

Joe Celko also reports another college variation in which two dice are thrown before each deal, and only the numbers shown on the dice are available as trump suits.

Four-Player Moon

The game can also be played as a four handed game, with two pairs of partners. The full double six set of 28 tiles is used: these are shuffled face down and each player takes seven tiles.

The lowest bid allowed is four tricks, and players can bid up to 7 or 21 as in the three-player game. The high bidder names trump and leads to the first trick.

The bid succeeds if the total number of tricks won by the bidder's team is greater than or equal to the bid. In this case the bidding team score a point for each trick they won (which may be more than the bid). If they win fewer trick between them than the bid, they lose the amount of the bid, with negative scores being possible. In either case the non-bidding team scores a point for each trick they won.

If the bid was 21, the bidding team score plus 21 if they win all the tricks; otherwise the lose 21 and the opponents score a point for each trick they took.

The first team to reach 21 points wins the game. Some play matches in which winning two out of three games win the match.

Variations

Some play that if the first three players pass, the fourth player must bid 4.

Some allow the bidding to begin at a minimum of 3, rather than 4.

In Virginia, the lowest bid allowed is 5. Bids are made by saying "5 times", "6 times" or "7 times". The high bidder chooses one of the seven numbers as trump, or no trump (there is no "doubles" contract in which all the doubles are trump). Instead of the 21 bid, there is a bid of "shoot the moon", which can only be made after another player has bid "7 times". The team that shoots the moon wins the whole game if they succeed and loses it if they fail.

Other Moon web pages

Howard Fosdick's 42 page includes rules for Moon.