How to Play Dominoes

Tired of just building domino chains? Learn how to play the actual game! Dominoes is super easy and studded with fun, making it a perfect activity for friends and family.

This guide will walk you through two popular variations: Straight Dominoes and Mexican Train.

Before You Start:

  • You'll need a set of dominoes. We recommend a double-9 or double-12 set depending on the number of players.
  • You can play with 2 to 4 players for Straight Dominoes and 2 to 8 players for Mexican Train.

1. Gather Your Crew: Play with 2 to 4 players. You can either:

  • Play individually: Each player competes for the lowest score.
  • Team up: Partner with the player across from you and work together to win.

Tip: If you have more than 4 players, use a double-12 set instead of a double-9 set, as it has more tiles (91 vs. 55).

How to play dominoes

2. Shuffle : To determine who starts the game, shuffle the dominoes facedown and have each player draw a tile without revealing it to others. The player with the highest double domino (or the tile with the most pips if no doubles are drawn) gets the honor of starting the first round. After each round, all tiles are shuffled again, and the process repeats to decide who starts the next one. This way, everyone gets a chance to be the lucky one to kick off the domino fun!

Straight Dominoes

3. Deal: Deal 7 dominoes facedown to each player. Remember, once you pick a tile, it's yours! Keep your hand hidden from others and stand the dominoes on edge in front of you for easier viewing. A hard surface like a table works best for this. 

Playing dominoes

4. Start the Chain: 

The starting player (determined earlier) gets to choose any tile to begin the chain. However, a strategic choice is key! Pick a tile that has connections on both sides, increasing your chances of matching it on your next turn. For instance, if you choose a tile with 3 and 1 pips, but lack other 3 or 1 pip tiles, you might be stuck waiting for others to play before you can go again. Remember, think ahead and choose wisely!

start playing dominoes

5. Match & Connect:

The domino laying begins! Players take turns going counter-clockwise, each adding one tile to the chain on the table. The tile you choose must match the number of pips on one of the open ends of the existing dominoes. Keep playing in this manner until someone uses up all their tiles, marking the end of the round.

Note: Some domino sets have blank tiles. These can only be matched with another blank, or, in some variations, treated as "wild" and assigned any value you need. Choose the rule that suits your game best!

matching tiles in dominoes

6. Can't Play? Draw! If you're stuck and can't form a word with your current tiles, you can draw a new one from the bag. If the new tile connects to a word on the board, you can play it right away. Otherwise, you just add it to your hand and the turn moves to the next player. This way, it's possible to have more than seven tiles in your hand during the game.. 

play dominos fun games

7. Empty Your Hand, Win the Round! The first player to empty their hand wins the round. While each round requires at least seven turns, drawing extra tiles can extend it. But remember, winning a round doesn't guarantee victory. The entire game consists of multiple rounds.

8. Keep Score & Play Again: After each round, players add the number of pips on their remaining tiles (score) to the winner's column. The first player to reach 100 points wins the game. This multi-round format gives everyone a chance to win individual rounds and ultimately emerge victorious.

Bonus Tip: Strategize your moves, block opponents, and have fun!

Mexican Train: 8 Steps to a Domino Adventure (with Infographics)

1. Choose the Engine: Before starting Mexican Train, decide how many tiles each player gets (13 or 10) and choose the matching domino set (double-12 or double-9). Remove the highest double domino from your chosen set and shuffle the rest. This removed domino starts the game in the center. Each new round begins with the next-lowest double domino (double-11, double-10, etc.).

mexican dominos

2. Shuffle & Draw: Shuffle the tiles face-down on the table. Flip them all over so the dots (pips) are hidden. Mix them up thoroughly by hand.

mexican dominoes

3. Build the Train Yard: After shuffling the tiles face-down, each player draws their designated number based on the set and player count. Keep your drawn tiles on their side for easy viewing while hidden from others. The number of tiles per player varies depending on the starting double domino (12 or 9) and the total players (2-8).

4. Start Your Engine: The leftover tiles form a draw pile called the "train yard" or "bone pile." If you can't play any tiles on your turn, draw one from here. If the drawn tile connects to the Mexican train or your personal train, play it. Otherwise, add it to your hand and move to the next player.

5. Branch Out & Play: Once everyone has drawn their tiles and created the draw pile, it's time to start! Place the starting double domino (12 or 9, also called the "engine tile") in the center of the table. You can use a special stand if you have one, otherwise just place it down directly. All players can build their personal trains off this center tile. However, unless a marker is placed on a personal train (indicating a skipped turn), other players cannot add dominoes to it.

6. Stuck? Use a Marker:

Players take turns clockwise around the table. The first player can only add a domino to the "engine tile" (starting domino) if it matches the number on either side of the engine. For example, a double-12 engine requires a domino with a 12 on one side.

A double domino (same number on both sides) is an exception. If you play a double, you get an immediate second turn to play another domino.

If you can't play, even after drawing a tile, use a marker (like a penny) on your personal train. This allows other players to add to it. To regain control, play a domino on your train and remove the marker.

7. Clear the Block & Play Again: The first player to empty their hand wins the round. Players with remaining tiles add the pip totals to their score on a sheet. Aiming for the lowest score across multiple rounds is the goal. A double-12 set has 13 rounds, while a double-9 set has 10. If the draw pile runs out and no one can play, the round ends with everyone scoring their remaining pips.

8. Empty Your Hand, Win the Round! The game continues until all double dominoes are used. Each new round starts with the next-lowest double as the engine tile (double-9, then double-8, etc.). The blank double will be the last engine used. Remember, blank tiles can only be played with other blanks. Between rounds, the used double tiles are shuffled back into the pile with the remaining dominoes.

Bonus Tip: Explore variations, create fun house rules, and enjoy the domino fun!