Playing Dominoes

You’ve seen it in movies, perhaps at a children’s birthday party: a single domino is tipped over, and soon all the others follow suit in a beautiful cascade of motion. Domino is the name of the game, and it’s also a metaphor for any series of events that start with one small trigger and lead to larger–and sometimes catastrophic–consequences.

A domino is a flat, thumb-sized tile bearing from one to six dots or pips (or, less commonly, letters). It’s often played with hands outstretched and fingers extended, and the aim is to create chains of dominoes on the table so that they touch and fall over in a sequence determined by the rules of the game. Dominoes can be played with any number of players.

The tiles are arranged in a line, either lengthwise (the dominoes are played end to end) or across the table, with the opening end of each domino facing one another. This configuration is called the “layout,” “string” or “line of play.” The open ends of each domino must always be facing the same direction, and they may only be joined to other tiles in a line of play.

Each player places a domino onto the table in turn. The first player must place the domino so that its pips are touching, or “on”, the open end of the last domino played. A player must also ensure that the domino is positioned so that the number showing on its face is visible at both ends of the domino chain, as this allows each end to be counted when a score is made.

Once the domino is positioned, the other players must then place their own tiles on the table, positioning them so that they are touching at least one end of the chain and, ideally, both ends. The goal is to build a chain of dominoes that, when played, shows the highest possible number of spots on both ends. The winner is the partner whose partners combined total of all spots on their remaining dominoes is the least.

Dominoes are typically constructed from wood, although they’ve been made from other materials as well. Natural materials like bone, silver lip ocean pearl oyster shell (mother of pearl or MOP), ivory, and dark hardwoods such as ebony, often have a more distinctive look than polymer sets, and can feel heavier and more substantial in the hand.

As a result, they’re more expensive than the polymer varieties. Nevertheless, some people enjoy collecting dominoes and building their own sets from unique materials. Some of these sets can be quite elaborate, featuring curved lines, grids that form pictures when the pieces fall and even 3D structures such as towers and pyramids. Other players create intricate pieces of domino art, using straight lines or curved lines to form designs that can be mapped out on paper. This art can be as simple or complex as the artist wants, and can involve arrows to show the way the dominoes should fall when they’re positioned on the table.