The Game of Domino

Domino is a game that combines skill and chance. Its rules are easy to learn but difficult to master. Whether you play with one other person or in a domino league, the thrill of the chain reaction and the suspense as the last domino falls is always present. But it is also a great way to teach children math, counting, and hand-eye coordination.

A domino is a rectangular block of wood, ivory, or plastic marked with two groups of spots on one face. The dots are arranged like those on a die and each has a number that corresponds to the pips on adjacent pieces. The pips form a numbering system that is used to identify and rank each domino in order from lowest to highest.

Although the word “domino” derives from a Latin verb meaning to flatten or smooth, the most common sense of the word is that of a large hooded cloak worn over a costume at a carnival season or at a masquerade. A still earlier sense was a cape worn by a priest over his surplice.

The most popular game of domino is called double-six. It is played by one to four players, and the goal is to be the first player to reach a specified total of points. Points are scored by matching an open end to a tile already in play, or when the total is exactly divisible by 5 or 3. A player scores one point for each domino on his side of the table that matches this criteria.

In addition to the standard double-six set, there are many other variations of domino, most involving extending the line of play by adding tiles with matching edges, or blocking opponents’ play by placing a single tile in front of a line of unplayed dominoes. Some domino games even duplicate card games such as bergen and muggins, with players scoring by determining the total number of points remaining on their opponent’s cards.

While modern domino sets are most often made of plastic, they can also be made from a variety of natural materials such as bone (either real or imitation), silver lip ocean pearl oyster shell (“mother-of-pearl” or MOP), ivory, and dark hardwoods such as ebony, with contrasting black or white pips inlaid or painted on the top half thickness of the piece. Such materials are usually more expensive than polymer, but they provide a richer feel and have a more distinctive appearance.

Nick Morris, a woodworking hobbyist, created his own domino out of the tools in his grandmother’s garage. Using a drill press, radial arm saw, scroll saw, belt sander, and welder, he developed a method that others can use to create their own unique domino. It’s not the only method, but it proves that a simple set of dominoes can be an effective way to exercise creative control over a confined workshop and to demonstrate fine craftsmanship. Moreover, the small size of dominoes makes them manageable in a limited space yet detailed enough to demand respect for the craftsman.