Dominoes are small rectangular wood or plastic blocks with one or more faces bearing numbers resembling those on dice. They are used to play a variety of games, both simple and complex. A domino can also be a term used to refer to a set of these pieces that have been arranged on the table in long lines, with each end touching the other so that they form a chain. The chains can be either straight or curved, and they can be painted or not. There is a great deal of room for artistic expression in the arrangement of the pieces and they can be used to create designs such as stacked walls and 3D structures.
A player places a domino tile, called a “taker,” so that its two matching ends touch the end of a previous domino. The domino chains thus develop snake-like shapes that develop at random according to the whims of the players and the limitations of the playing surface. A single tile played to a double results in a chain that is a “snake-line.” The shape of the chain continues to grow until the player decides to stop it by placing a tile onto the table or by declaring to all players that the game has ended.
The number of pips on each domino determines its suit and the rules of various games. In most European domino games, the first player to place a tile so that its match is adjacent wins that round. The next player plays to that tile and so on until the end of the line is reached or a player “chips out.”
There are many rules for seating arrangements in domino games for more than one person. In some games, the seat of the player with the highest numbered domino is determined by lot. In other games, the first player to play a domino of the right suit wins that round. In a partnership game, partners sit opposite each other.
Some games have additional rules that govern how the heaviest dominos, either doubles or singles, are used. The heaviest domino is often the one that carries the most points. The heaviest dominos are sometimes referred to as spinners, because they “spin” or “sway” when they fall and may cause other pieces to tip over in the direction of the player.
A domino, as a word, may have had an even earlier meaning than the games that use it. It was once a reference to a hooded cape worn with a mask at a masquerade. In English, the word later came to be associated with a playing piece that contrasted with a priest’s white surplice. It was not until after 1750 that the domino game and the term appeared in France. Both the game and the word are now used in many languages around the world. The most common materials used for dominoes are bone, silver lip ocean pearl oyster shell (mother of pearl), ivory, and ebony, with black or white pips.