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The History of Dominoes

Maddy Marcus / June 9, 2020
The History of Dominoes

When a lot of people think of dominoes, they think of the complex chain reactions like the nearly 5 million dominoes toppled for the world record.

But long before people were toppling dominoes, they were playing the game. Let's look at the long history of dominoes around the world. 

History of Dominoes - The Origin Story

The tiles that make up a set of dominoes are based on an ordinary six-sided die. Each tile has two numbers, mimicking a pair of dice.

The question of where did dominoes originate isn't completely clear. A similar game existed in ancient Egypt, thousands of years ago.

But we can trace the dominoes game we recognize today back to 11th century China. While the materials and crafting methods were different, the basic set of tiles was similar to what we have today.

Dominoes migrated from China to Italy in the 18th century, marking their introduction to Europe and Western culture. The arbiter of the French language officially accepted the name "domino" in 1798.

The Development of Dominoes

While the origin of dominoes in the West has its roots in China, there are some slight differences in the set of tiles.

The Chinese set includes 32 tiles made up of all possible combinations you could throw with a pair of dice (21 tiles) and 11 duplicates. The Western set, also called a double-six set, has 28 tiles - the same 21 combinations plus 7 blank combinations.

There are some variations of the standard set of dominoes as well. A double-nine set has tiles up to a double-9 (55 tiles in total) and a double-twelve set has tiles up to a double-12 (91 tiles in total).

Following its introduction in Europe, the game of dominoes became popular in coffee houses throughout the area.

In modern times, it's still a favorite in coffee shops around Europe but has become a popular pub game as well.

Dominoes Today

Over time, people have come up with different ways of playing dominoes. There are more than 50 officially-recognized variations of the game today.

Many of the games fall into one of three different "families" of the game:

  • Fives
  • Trains
  • Playing cards

Fives refers to the way the games get scored, with players collecting points when the board total is divisible by 5. Variations can use any other number as the key to collecting points.

Train-style games build out from a central hub in chains called "trains". The object is to get rid of as many tiles as possible and the winner is the player with the fewest points at the end of the game.

Playing cards-style games are based on card games but use dominoes instead of playing cards. These games were often created to get around religious restrictions against playing cards.

Where to Play the Game of Dominoes

Knowing the history of dominoes can make the game more enjoyable. Knowing you're playing the same game that someone could have been playing several centuries ago adds to the fun.

You do have a big advantage though. You can play online if you don't have someone else to play with. Play for free at with our Domino Dash game or traditional Dominoes.