Dominoes, sometimes called bones, cards or men, are rectangular blocks of wood or masonry normally twice as long as they are wide. Each is marked on both sides with from one to six pips or dots, usually in the shape of squares and bearing a value from 6 down to none or blank. Each domino is capable of forming an edge-to-edge chain with any other piece of the same type, and a line of these pieces, or a string, may be drawn across a table. A number of games are played with these dominoes, and some of them are quite complex.
Most dominoes are in a game set, arranged in a circular or angular pattern, and each of the six different shapes has its own peculiar rules. There are also a number of other games, some of which are quite simple and others very difficult. Almost all of these games have their own rules, but most can be grouped into four categories: bidding, blocking, scoring and round games.
To begin playing a domino game, the tiles must be shuffled, and each player draws a single tile from the stock, or pile, according to the rules of the particular game being played. The player who draws the domino with the greatest number of pips seats himself at the table, or is “seated,” to make the first play.
As the players continue to draw and match their tiles, a line of dominoes is drawn across the table. This line is known as the line of play. Normally the line is formed by placing the open end of each domino against the closed end of any other domino in the line of play, but there are some games where this is not possible.
Once the dominoes have been placed in this line, the players continue to make plays by matching adjacent pips of the tiles in their hands. This continues until a player cannot make any further plays, or chips out. Generally, play stops when the line of play becomes so long that no player can continue; the winners are those whose combined total of pips on the dominoes left in their hands is the lowest.
After all the players have drawn their dominoes, any extra tiles in the stock may be bought (see Passing and Byeing) for use later in the game. This practice makes the game more interesting, but is not essential to most of the games on this site.
The name of the game, and the word domino itself, derives from an earlier sense of the term, referring to a long hooded cloak worn over a mask during carnival season or at a masquerade. The word probably came to refer to the black domino, contrasting with the white surplice, by the mid-19th century. Some of the more popular games of domino are named after this earlier sense, including the game of tichelon and the teddy bear game. Other games are named after the person or location where they were invented.