How Dominoes Works

How to Play Dominoes

Games begin with the downer lays the spinner, the highest double in any of the players' hands.
J. Pat Carter/AP Images

As we've seen, there are scores of variations on the game of dominoes. We'll take a look at how to play a simple dominoes game using the common 28-piece set for the sake of brevity. If it strikes your fancy, you can find rules for all variations of the game throughout the Internet.

All dominoes games begin when a player shuffles the tiles, also called stones, and places them face down to create the boneyard. Each player draws the tiles for his or her initial hand. Since this is a block game, the rest of the dominoes will be left in the boneyard for the rest of the game.


There are a few ways to determine the player who goes first, called the downer and the first piece laid down, called the spinner. The simplest way to determine the spinner and the downer is to lay down the highest double among the players' hands. In a 28-piece set, the highest double is the six. If the double six hasn't been drawn, the player with the next highest double plays that piece as the spinner. Another way to choose who goes first is to draw stones. The player with the heaviest piece, or the piece with the highest number of pips, goes first. Once the downer lays down the spinner, the person to the left of the downer goes next.

The spinner is a special piece; it's the only tile where all four directions around it can be played (other tiles only have one or three directions after they're played, depending on whether L-shaped configurations are allowed). The tiles played on the spinner are also laid perpendicular to the center of the spinner; this creates a shape resembling a plus sign when two successive tiles are played against it.

In any case, the players must lay their tiles down and hook them so that the pips match the pips already played. So if a double six spinner has been laid, a tile with a six-pip end must be connected to it.

Players in a block game continue on, hooking corresponding pips to unconnected pips. If a player doesn't have a tile with an end to hook against an open pip, then the player must pass on that round. (In a draw game, the player could draw tiles from the boneyard or pass.) The person who plays all his tiles first -- and shouts, "Domino!" of course --wins.