Play Dominoes to Cure Cabin Fever

On cold winter nights don't rely on TV to provide entertainment. Play dominoes.
By Susan Fries Ezell
January/February 1979
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Two people is the right number to play dominoes with a basic set, although it could accommodate up to four.
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When the snow piles up to the attic window and every night seems six weeks long, any activity—work or play—that can be shared with someone else takes on a special importance.

And, as most MOTHER EARTH NEWS-type people know, television isn't the only way to fill a quiet evening (in fact, TV rates somewhere below the bottom in most any list of entertainment possibilities). Games, for instance, have provided men and women with amusement—and a means of communication— for centuries. Dominoes is one of the oldest table games around.

Although many people who learn to play dominoes as a child eventually discard the game, those speckled rectangles (called "bones" in domino lingo) can be used in some intricate and challenging contests. And a good domino game—no matter how complex—will never be so involved that it gets in the way of conversation. What more could you ask of a game?

Choosing a Domino Set

Most any toy shop (and many department-type stores) carries domino games. The prices of these can range from about $2.00 for a basic set of wooden bones up to a king's ransom for the hand-tooled outfits made of ivory. Most of the latter are unnecessarily fancy, but don't automatically eliminate the slightly more expensive dominoes when you go out to buy. The texture and weight of the playthings, and the tiny "click" you hear as each piece is played, are intrinsic to the mood of the game.

Domino sets are available in three varieties: double-six, double-nine, and double-twelve. These names indicate the maximum number of dots on one bone. The double-six set, with 28 pieces, is standard, but the larger games can make much of your playing more exciting. Start out with a cheap box of sixes, and then—once you're hooked—you'll be ready for the big ones.

Muggins, or Five-Point

Muggins is a good beginner's domino game (those who want to get adventurous should find a copy of The Domino Book by Fredrick Berndt, $5.95 in hard cover from Thomas Nelson, Inc).

In fact, most people who've been exposed to the spotted blocks have encountered muggins in one of its many variations. However, few people today have tried the "formal" rules which make up muggins as our grandparents might have played it.

The difference between simple dominoes and all-out five-point shows up in the scoring. Though you do play by matching the number of dots (also called "pips") on a side of one of your bones to those on a domino already at an end of the "line of play" (the arrangement—on the playing table—of those pieces already set down), you can only make points when the sum of the pips on the outside ends of the series adds up to a multiple of five.  

Play begins with all of the dominoes face down on the playing surface. Each contestant draws one, and the person holding the highest number of spots will begin the hand.

Once the bones used to determine the order of play have been returned to that group sitting spots-down on the table (this central store of dominoes is called a "bone pile"), the chosen player draws seven, then his opponent does the same (muggins is usually a two-person game, though four can play a short version if they limit the draw to five pieces each).

The opening player starts the game by leading any domino in his hand (a six-four, two-three, or the like is a good first play, as it does—since the sum of both ends is a multiple of five—score points). Either side of this first bone is then available for the other gamester to work from. Any time a player can't match one of the ends of the line of play he may draw up to two from the bone pile and then play—if he can—or pass. (If a contestant is able to lay a domino down, he must do it. Sandbagging is definitely not allowed.)

The dominoes form a straight line until the first doublet—a piece with the same number of pips on each end—is played. This double is set at right angles to the line of play, and both sides of it count toward any possible score.

Any other doublets are played perpendicularly, as was the first, and have both ends counted for score until their centers have been played upon ... but these latecomers don't open up new lines of play. That could get too blamed confusing!

When one contestant empties his hand, or when the bone pile has been used and neither hand can play, the game is over.

Whichever player has the fewest total pips in front of him at the end of a match is awarded the difference between that number and the number of dots held by his opponent, rounded off to the nearest five.

That's all there is to muggins. Give it a try, but remember: pocket computers are frowned upon by real domino folks!


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