Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Outsider's Guide to Dominoes

The nightlife in Kahkabila, at its height, consists of a stiff breeze to frustrate mosquitoes, thumping reggaetón next door, and, occasionally, phosphorescent waves in Pearl Lagoon. It’s in your best interest, while in Bluefields, to learn the table-slapping euphoria of the domino.

Your guide is the Casa bE house guard, Spanish-only. The setting: the all-purpose ping pong table. The rules deviate, develop or diverge, as your guide remembers that having three doubles requires a remix.  Or is it four? Actually, it's pretty likely for someone to draw at least three doubles in a four-person game, maybe even 50%, so maybe this isn’t the best rule...

Think: Calvinball.

Lacking wickets and water balloons and poetic zones, however, dominoes will be a reliable emotional rock of twenty-eight rectangular pieces. Unless you lose one. Each half shows a number between 0 and 6. Each number appears as a part of seven different dominoes, including doubles.

Two players:  All twenty-eight dominoes are scattered and mixed around face down, with each player choosing seven to start with. Whoever draws 6:6 plays this down first, at the center of the table; if no one draws the double six, the cutest person is allowed to choose any tile from their pile to begin with, or the next highest double, or reshuffle. Most likely the first, maybe. The ugly player then plays a tile on either side of this tile.

Players build on either side of the developing line of dominoes, provided they have a tile matching one of the end pieces. I.e., in the case of starting with 6:6, this would be any tile with a 6 on it. If not, draw dominoes from the pile, grunting disapproval, until you have a match. All doubles (0:0, 1:1…) are placed horizontally between the two players to save space, while the non-doubles (everything else) are played vertically. For all that is holy and sacred in the world, do not place doubles vertically. Just don’t do it.


Play alternates between each player, placing down no more than one tile each turn, until either one player goes out or no one can play anything. The last person to have played a tile, in both cases, wins. The loser gets all the points from any tiles remaining in either player’s hand at the end of each round. First person to one hundred points, or fifty, or whatever, loses.

Three players:  Nine dominoes apiece, discarding 0:0.

Four players:  Seven dominoes apiece, teams of two seated opposite.

Kahkabila variation:  Dominoes are evil and must be punished. Choose a sturdy table. Watch your fingertips. Earplugs optional.

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