What are the Different Types of Dominoes?

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

Games played with dominoes have been popular in Europe and America since the early 18th century, and new domino games are frequently invented. Dominoes originated in India, with the earliest known set dating from 1120 AD, and made their way to Europe through China. The domino tiles were originally intended to represent the different possible throws resulting from a pair of dice.

Boy playing with a ball
Boy playing with a ball

There are a few different types of dominoes available today and a huge number of domino games, including solitaire games. The classic type of dominoes are white tiles of ivory or bone with black dots, or pips, made of ebony. Each domino is divided into two sides, each side with zero to six pips. Each combination of numbers is represented in a complete set of dominoes. The tiles with zero pips on either side, as well as the double zero tile, were a European innovation.

Nowadays dominoes are usually made of plastic or wood with painted pips. They are available with the traditional black pips or with colored pips. In addition to the original Double Six dominoes with zero to six pips on each side of a tile, dominoes are now available in Double Nine, Double Twelve, Double Fifteen, and even Double Eighteen sets. The sets with a large number of dominoes are used for certain group games, such as the popular Mexican Train.

The older Chinese dominoes differ slightly from the European and American variety. They are longer and contain duplicate tiles. Chinese dominoes are divided into two classes: military and civil. Mah Jong evolved from a game played with Chinese dominoes.

Novelty dominoes featuring pictures of cartoon characters or similar pop images are also available. Many novelty domino sets lack pips, however, and therefore are only useful for a limited number of games. Any games involving numbers or scoring, for example, cannot be played with tiles that only have pictures.

In addition to domino table games, many people enjoy setting dominoes on end in a row, pushing the first one over, and watching the "domino effect" as each tile knocks over its neighbor. There are domino sets specifically intended for this activity. Many of these sets contain tricks and special effects, such as a shooting rocket, that can be triggered by the chain of falling dominoes.

Dominoes have evolved a long way since their early use as a stand in for dice. Although dominoes are made in many different materials, colors, and styles today, their origin is recalled in the nickname they still have among aficionados, "bones."

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

In addition to her role as a wiseGEEK editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

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