Dominoes are a form of gaming that requires skill and strategy. Normally twice as long as they are wide, dominoes feature a line down the middle that visually divides each piece into two identically patterned squares. Each side of a domino features an arrangement of spots, called pips, which identify the domino and determine its value (the more pips, the higher the value). A set of dominoes may be marked with an array of symbols, like those on a die, or a blank space for the player to inscribe his own markings. Each domino also has a number on each end of the face, used to identify it by players as it is placed in a chain of play.
Dominos are available in a variety of materials, colors and styles. European-style dominoes are usually made of bone, silver lip ocean pearl oyster shell (mother of pearl), ivory or dark hardwoods such as ebony, with black or white pips inlaid or painted on each. Other types of domino sets are constructed from natural stones (e.g., marble, granite or soapstone); other woods (e.g., sycamore, redwood or cedar); metals (e.g., brass or pewter); and even ceramic clay. Some are glazed and painted, while others have an unglazed, rustic look.
Most games of domino are played between two players. Each player must in turn place a domino on the table positioning it so that one of its ends shows a number, either a single, double or spinner. A double may be played on only two sides or all four, depending on the rules of a particular game. Normally the first domino played must be a double; it is referred to as the lead, set or down.
Before a game begins, the tiles are shuffled and added to a stock from which each player draws for his hand. The player who draws the heaviest tile makes the first play. In some games, players may bye tiles from the stock as well, adding them to their hand.
As the players continue to play, they form chains of dominoes, advancing in length and determining their score. Eventually, a player can “chip out,” placing his last domino and signaling that he is finished with the current round of play. When this happens, the winning players are those whose combined total of all the numbers on their remaining dominoes is lowest. Most of the world’s most popular domino games have similar, if not identical, rules. Occasionally, a variation in the rules of a game exists between regions. However, most of these variations are subtle and have no bearing on the overall outcome of a game. A game’s rules, therefore, are largely determined by tradition. Nevertheless, it is always important to play by the rules.