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Games played with Dominoes or Domino Cards

Introduction

Dominoes are tiles with a number of spots at each end. Originally, each domino represented a throw of two dice, so each end of the domino has from one to six spots, giving 21 possibilities in all. In general, if there are x different possibilities for the end of a domino, the number of different dominoes is x*(x+1)/2.

Western Dominoes and Domino Cards

European (and American) sets of dominoes also include tiles which are blank (zero spots) at one or both ends. A normal (so called double six) set of Western dominoes has one of each possible tile, and therefore contains 28 tiles. Larger sets are also found. The double nine set (from zero to nine spots on each end, 55 tiles) is common in the north of England and in North America. In America double twelve sets (91 tiles) are also found, and some double fifteen sets (136 tiles) have recently become available.

It is also possible to obtain dominoes in card form, essentially the same design with a number of spots at each end, but printed on playing-card stock.

Oriental Dominoes and Domino Cards

Dominoes originated in China, and Chinese dominoes are still used in China, in Mongolia and in places with Chinese communities. Chinese dominoes can be recognised from the fact that

  1. they have no blanks;
  2. the spots of the ones and fours and half of the spots on the double six are red - this reflects the fact that Chinese dice also have red ones and fours;
  3. they are somewhat longer than Western dominoes in relation to their width;
  4. eleven of the dominoes are duplicated, so that there are 32 dominoes in the set altogether.

The duplicated dominoes are 6-6, 1-1, 4-4, 3-1, 5-5, 3-3, 2-2, 6-5, 6-4, 6-1, 5-1, and in some games they rank in that order from high to low. The unique dominoes are 6-3, 5-4, 6-2, 5-3, 5-2, 4-3, 4-2, 4-1, 3-2, 2-1. Eight of these are grouped into pairs having 9, 8, 7 and 5 spots. The remaining two (4-2 and 2-1) also form a pair which in some games counts as the highest of all, beating a pair of double sixes.

Andrew Smith has provided a PDF file of 21 domino cards which could be used to make your own pack.

In China, dominoes also exist in the form of long narrow cards with the value of the domino on each end. These come in packs of 32 for Tien Gow but more commonly in larger packs: there are packs 84 cards (with four of each possible card) from Hong Kong and Hubei, packs of 115 cards (with 5 of each card plus 2 sets of 5 jokers) from Si Chuan and packs of 48 cards used in Northwest China.

In Indonesia, games are played with a set of 28 dominoes, equivalent in structure to the Western double six set including blanks, but with the spots printed in red on white card.

Domino Games

For an index of games played with domino tiles, both Western and Oriental, whose rules are available on pagat.com, see the Domino Games page.

Games with Western dominoes are mostly connecting games in which the tiles are played to form a layout, with adjacent ends matching. However there are also many games in which the tiles are used in the manner of playing-cards to play trick-taking games and other types of card game. Some of these are direct adaptations of card games while others were devised specifically for dominoes.

Chinese dominoes and domino cards are to some extent interchangeable. They are sometimes used for connecting games, but often they are used like playing-cards. There are trick-taking games, climbing games, draw and discard games, fishing games, partition games and solitaire games.

Other web sites

The Domino Plaza site has a good collection of information about games played with dominoes.

Randy Rasa's Domino-Games.com site offers a comprehensive listing of domino software for Windows, Macintosh, PocketPC, PalmOS, and of places to play dominoes online, as well as information on domino rules and history, and a listing of online sources for buying dominoes.

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This page is maintained by John McLeod (john@pagat.com).   © John McLeod, 2000, 2004, 2020. Last updated: 19th May 2021

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