Dominoes – What Are Dominoes and How Do They Work?

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Dominoes are flat pieces of wood with a square or rectangular shape and black or white pips inlaid or painted on each end. They are often made of bone, silver lip ocean pearl oyster shell (mother of pearl or MOP), ivory or a dark hardwood such as ebony, with contrasting black or white pips. MOP and ivory sets are the traditional choices, but a growing number of domino sets are being manufactured from polymer materials such as plastic, which are lighter and more durable than natural stone or other types of wood.

The word domino is derived from the Latin domi (rule) and numeri (number). The word’s early use in English referred to a large, hooded cloak worn together with a mask during carnival season or at a masquerade, and later it denoted a cape that was draped over a priest’s surplice. It is thought that this association inspired the design of the domino piece, which resembles a priest’s cape and its contrast with the white surplice.

A domino set includes all of the individual tiles needed to play any of the many domino games, both single- and multi-player. The most basic set is the double-six set, with 28 tiles shuffled face down and placed in a pile called the stock or boneyard. Each player draws seven tiles from the stock and places them on edge in front of them so that they can see their own, but not their opponents’, tiles. During each turn, a player must match the value of one of his or her own tiles with the total pip count of another tile on its opposite side. The first person to do so wins that round.

There are many different games that can be played with dominoes, including scoring and blocking games. Some are adaptations of card games, and were once popular in areas where religious proscriptions against playing cards prohibited their use. Other games are of a more abstract nature, such as solitaire or trick-taking games.

A skilled player can make the most of a domino set by predicting the position of all other players’ pieces and laying them in advance, or “positioning,” so that when the game ends, the winner has already completed a straight line of all their own pieces, thus avoiding the need to place any extra tiles. Some of these are more complex than others, and can involve a lot of strategic thinking. Many of these games are played competitively, with players trying to be the first to reach a specified goal, often 61 points, in a given round. This can be very exciting for people of all ages, as it requires quick thinking and good hand-eye coordination.