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House Rules for Dominoes

When I lived in New Orleans I learned to play the domino game All Fives. This was my first exposure to using dominoes as a fun four-person point-scoring game.

The version I learned was closely associated with that city's prison culture and included trash talk as an important part of the game. These house rules record the rule variations I learned in New Orleans, but are primarily my effort to introduce goads, a way to modify and formalize that flavorful trash talk element to be suitable for children.

Playing Dominoes link to here link to tables of contents

Playing the game New Orleans style involves a few bits of domino culture.

The First Play

Players do not determine who plays first by drawing a tile from the boneyard. Instead, the player with the highest double goes first.

That player must play that double as his or her first tile. It is called the spinner.

If no player has a double, each player draws an additional tile from the boneyard. Repeat until one player has a (highest) double.

Hand Grip

A player's hand of dominoes is often set face-down on the table. Spacing the tiles into groups of four aids in picking them up.

If possible, players pick up their dominoes in their hands with a thumbs-high grip.

Lanes and Points

Although tiles can be played from the spinner in all four directions, the horizontal lanes are always created before either vertical lane. This matches the diagram in the rules for All Fives.

However, the ends of the spinner cease to contribute to the point total once both horizontal lanes are created. This differs from that diagram: its examples (c) and (d) would instead be scoring 5 and 15 points, respectively.


Scoring is done with a lines and circles. A line represents five points, whether it is one of the first two long lines or subsequent smaller diagonal lines. A small circle represents ten points. The following diagrams are examples. A full diagram is always fifty points: ten points in the two long lines and forty points in the four corner shapes.

five points ten points fifteen points
twenty points forty-five points fifty points

The game is played to 200 points (four full diagrams).

Goads link to here link to tables of contents

A goad is not an insult. There are several important differences.

The Rules of Goading

1. Only the player who scored the most points during the previous round may use goads. (This means there are no goads during the first round. It also means someone not wanting to participate in goads can avoid them by leaving the game after one round.)

In contrast, a bully says insults whenever he or she wants.

2. The purpose of a goad is for the person saying the goad to flaunt his or her wit. The other players may critique the goad, either verbally (with an appreciative or critical sound such as oooh or aaah) or with a gesture (thumb-up or thumb-down).

In contrast, the purpose of an insult is to making the recipient feel bad and shift everyone's attenton to the recipient. A bully would probably be very surprised if everyone around judged the insult, shifting attention to the bully.

3. A goad must refer to what is happening at that moment in the domino game. As examples, goads often refer to a player's speed, body movments, or luck.

In contrast, an insult need not be situationally relevant.

4. Any player who has not yet made a goad may only be the target of a goad once per round. This is true whether that person has not yet scored the most points during a prior round or that person has done so but then chose not to make goads when he or she was allowed to do so.

In contrast, a bully says as many insults as he or she wants.

5. The best goads refer to a situation in which the person making the goad has already demonstrated doing well. This can be simply bragging without a target, or a comparison to another person. The idea is to hide the hopeful message "You can rise to my level" in the guise of a playful poke or challenge.

In contrast, a bully is not interested in doing well enough to earning the right to challenge people who do the same things to rise to his or her level.

Sample Goads

Here are examples of goads that could follow those rules for goads if they were indeed situationally relevant. To which of these examples might you give a thumbs-up?