Domino games

Domino Cribbage

The original game of Cribbage uses a standard deck of 52 playing cards and is said to have been invented in the 1600's by the English gamester Sir John Sucking. He can hardly have invented it from scratch, since references to the similar game of Noddy already appear in the previous century. The scoring devide for Noddy was the Noddy-board, and it was presumably from this that the Cribbage board was developed. This adaptation of the card games to dominoes seems to have first appeared in the Royal Air Force officer's clubs in England during World War II, and was described in volume I of R.C. Bell's Board and Table games from many Civilisations.


The game uses a double six domino set. A Cribbage board is handy, but not absolutely required, for scoring. It is a two player game.

The Deal

One player is desingated the dealer, the other is the non-dealer. All 28 tiles are mixed and each player draws six tiles. After inspecting his hand, he discards two of the six tiles face down into a third hand, called the crib. This the four tiles of the crib will be scored by the dealer at the end of the hand. The dealer and non-dealer exchange roles after each hand.

The Play

The dealer begins the hand by turning over one tile in the boneyard; this is called the starter. The starter belongs to both players for scoring purposes at the end of the hand. The 15 tiles that remain in the boneyard are not used in the hand.

The non-dealer then plays a tile face up in front of himself and announces the total number of pips on the tile. The dealer then does the same, but he announces the running total of his tile and the other player's tile.

The play alternates with each player exposing a new tile and calling out the running total. When a player cannot play a tile from his hand that will keep the total at or under thirty-one, he calls "Go" and exposes no tile. The other player then begins exposing his tiles and calling totals as long as he can play and keep the total at or under thirty-one.

Once a total of thirty-one has been reached or neither player can stay under thirty-one, the count is reset to zero and play begins anew, the opponent of the last player who played a tile playing next. When all tiles in both hands are played, the players score the points in their hands and the crib.

The role of dealer then switches for the next hand.


The first player to get 61 points is the winner. This is one circuit around a cribbage board. Scoring is done while playing the tiles and with combinations in the hands afterwards. A longer game to 121 points (twice round the board) is also possible.

If the tile exposed as the starter is a double, the dealer scores 1 point.

Scores made during play:

These scores are called out along with the running totals as each tile is exposed. They are immediately pegged off on the cribbage board. All of these scores happen while the total is at or under thirty-one. Resetting the counter will start a new series of plays in which points can be scored - it is not possible to score a pair, run etc. by combining tiles played before and after the counter was reset. The combinations are based on the player's own exposed tiles and not the starter, the tiles in the other player's hand, the crib or the boneyard.

  1. 2 points for bringing the total to exactly fifteen.
  2. 2 points for "making a pair" -- playing a tile that has the same total as the previously played tile, whether your tile or your opponent's tile.
  3. 6 points for "making a triplet" -- playing a third tile that has the same total as the two previously played tiles, whether your tile or your opponent's tile.
  4. 12 points for "making a fourth" -- playing a fourth tile that has the same total as the three previously played tiles, whether your tile or your opponent's tile.
  5. 1 point per tile in a run. A run is three or more tiles whose totals are in sequence, but the tiles do not have to have been played in sequence.
  6. 2 points for bringing the total to exactly thirty-one.
  7. 1 point for bringing the total nearest to thirty-one (but not exactly 31) before the count was reset.
  8. 1 point for playing the last tile of the hand, if the final total is less than 31.

Note: Bell also gives a score of 3 for making a total of 15 by playing the last tile, but this is just an example of scoring (a) and (h) together).

Scores made after the play

These scores are counted after all the tiles in the player's hands have been exposed. The non-dealer starts with his own hand, adds the starter to his tiles, tallies that score. Next the dealer adds the starter to his hand tallies his score. Finally the dealer puts his 4-tile hand aside and adds the starter to the crib and tallies the crib for himself. Tiles from the crib are treated as a separate hand, not mixed with tiles from the player's other hand.

The tiles in a hand can be rearranged into several different combinations and used to score many times -- that is one of the defining characteristics of the card game.

  1. 2 points for any combination of tiles that total to fifteen.
  2. 1 point per tile in a run. A run is three or more tiles whose totals are in sequence.
  3. 2 points for a Pair (two tiles with the same total number of pips)
  4. 6 points for a Pair Royal (three tiles with the same total number of pips)
  5. 12 points for a Double Pair Royal (four tiles with the same total number of pips)

Bell, followed by other writers relying on his description, confuses things by giving additional scores for "double runs", "triple runs" and so on. These are not separate combinations but examples of hands that contain several scoring combinations. For example a hand of ([3-0], [4-0], [3-1], [3-2], [4-1]) is what Bell would call a "quadruple run" because you can make fours runs ([3-0], [4-0], [4-1]), ([3-0], [3-1], [4-1]), ([3-0], [3-1], [3-2]) and ([3-0], [4-0], [3-2]) from it. In addition to these you have two pairs, making a total of 16 points.

Comments & Strategy

This game is far inferior to the playing card version. The domino version has retained the scoring, counting and melding conventions of the original game, but the distribution of the totals on the tiles is completely unlike the distribution of pips on playing cards.

For example, since there are four of any pip in a deck of playing cards, triple runs can be built around any pip as the triplet. However, a set of double six dominoes cannot have a triplet built around tiles with a total of 2, 3, 9, 10, 11, or 12.

Picking 5 cards from a 52-card deck gives roughly 2.5 million possible hands. Since exactly one card will be the up-turn, we need look at a mere 12,994,800 hands. The columns represent the score of the hand, the number of hands with that score (out of 12,944,800 possible hands), and the percentage of such hands.

The only numbers that seem to carry over to the domino game are fifteen and thirty-one. Since aces count as one and face cards count as ten in the original card game, the value of an average card is a bit over six and a half, while the total of the average domino tile is exactly six. The predominance of 10-point cards in the card game makes fives particularly valuable, because of the high potential for fifteens. There is no parallel in the domino game, where the tile values are more evenly distributed.

The card game is quite good and is still popular today. The features of playing a running total, the crib and points for melds are all interesting. A proper version of Domino Cribbage could retain these features, but change the scoring combinations to reflect the distribution and nature of domino tiles.