Domino games

The Fives Family

This is a family of connecting games with the common characteristic that scoring is based on the total of the exposed ends of the tableau. Each multiple of five counts that number of points for the player who placed the tile that made the total.

There are capture games in which individual tiles with a total of five or ten count for points (particularly Forty-two, but also Sedma and High Fives among the newer games), but they are not part of this family of games. That is a different scoring principle, altho the same tiles are involved.

The bad news about trying to give rules for this family is that it has a long history and the games are popular. Popular domino games, almost by definition, have many local variations and the same game will be known by many different names.

Muggins (or All Fives) and Sniff (or East Coast dominoes) are played more often in Britain and Europe, while Five Up (or West Coast dominoes) is played in the Southwestern United States.

The basic variations within the family are:

  1. Differences in the number of tiles drawn per hand and from that choice, whether or not the game has a boneyard.
  2. The number of spinners in the game:
    1. No spinners (Muggins)
    2. Only the first double is a spinner (Single Spinner)
    3. All doubles are spinners (Five Up)
  3. The scoring of spinners played in line varies. When a double is first played, it is turned crosswise and both halves count toward the total. In some games, the ends stop counting when the open side is played upon; in others, the ends continue counting after the open side is played upon until they are covered with other tiles (Sniff).

Also, the names used for the different games vary somewhat. The nomenclature used in these pages is as follows:

Fives FamilyNo SpinnerFirst Double is SpinnerAll Doubles are Spinners
With boneyardMugginsAll Fives
Five Up
Horse Race
All tiles dealt--Seven-Toed PeteSeven Rocks

Stratagems for the Fives Family

When you have the lead, play a tile worth ten points ([5-5] or [4-6]) if possible to score early. If you do not have one of these tiles, then you can go for a fast five points with [0-5], [1-4] or [2-3] tile instead. Otherwise, you might not get any scores out of these tiles later in the game.

The ability to score usually skips around the table, since a player who has made a multiple of five is not likely to be followed by a second player who has an opening.


There are tiles which are called "repeaters" because they will allow you to score when the tableau is a multiple of five. Some of these tiles change the total by five in either direction when played against an end while other repeaters do not change the total at all. These combinations are always repeaters:

These tiles can never be repeaters, but of course they might bring the total on the tableau to scoring position:

The reason that repeaters are important, besides the obvious fact that they will score points, is that in actual play, they will score 30% to 50% of all the points in a game.

Choice of Tactics

You can play to score, to block or to domino. In the scoring game, you attempt to get the largest score without regard to who dominoes. The scoring game is the obvious strategy and it is probably what you will pursue at the start of the game when you do not know the distribution of the tiles.

In the blocking game, you try to force a blocked game with the intent that you will get the lowest negative score. The blocking game is an end game strategy which depends on counting suits to see that there are no tiles outstanding in the suits on the arms of the layout.

Playing to domino is really a version of the blocking strategy, since you will have the lowest negative score, namely zero. However, it also has the advantage of giving you the lead in the following hand in many variations of the games. That lead can be important if you are close to winning.

Remember that being the one to domino is not always the same thing as getting the most points in a hand. Look for a suit where you are heavy or have control of the remaining tiles and try to get that suit exposed on one or more of the arms of the layout to guarantee you have a play on your next turn.