Improvised Domino sets


I love the way dominoes sound when being shuffled. There is also something pleasing about slapping a heavy domino the table. Full sized dominoes are not going to be blown around by the wind while playing in the park, or ruined when someone spills drink on them. But what do you do when full sized double six set of dominoes is not practical to carry around? Then it is time to look at some field expedient solutions.

Mini Domino sets

When you are traveling a full sized set can be to much bulk in your luggage. This is where a mini set of dominoes can come in handy. You can buy these at many game stores or online for a few bucks. Only a little larger than a deck of cards, but still have many of the advantages a traditional set.

There is sometimes a problem with the mini dominoes in your hand falling over. To fix this try putting them in some wooden racks scrounged from a scrabble game . This way even when playing on a airplane during turbulence they will not fall over.

You can reduce the space the set takes up in you luggage by storing it in a cloth pouch. This way it can be squeezed into whatever space is left in your luggage. A bag is also helpfully when playing in cramped quarters. Instead of having the bone yard on a small table leave them in the bag and draw from there.


Paper Domino set

Want an even lighter set of dominoes? Then maybe you should try a paper set. You can use your computer to print dominoes on card stock or heavy paper. There are a number of websites with dominoes already drawn and ready to print out. They are Super light weight, portable, and cheap.


Field Expedient Domino set

There are times when even the most prepared dominoes player finds themselves without a set. When this happens it is time to make a set from scratch. The art work on a domino set is nothing more complicated than dots and line. So you can make an improvised set out of any material that you can draw on. In the photo below I have used brown card board, stiff paper, rectangles cut from an old camp mattress, strips of duct tape and even some old playing cards. Now I grant you the dominoes below are not things of beauty, but they show that in a pinch you can put together a set from whatever you have where ever you are.



Partnership Dominoes


Grab a partner and try this favorite of Latin America.


Four players playing in teams of two

A set of double six dominoes
Score pad

How to play

Teammates sit across from each other. The game starts by shuffling the dominos face down.

All the players pick one domino from the facedown pile. The player who has most dots on their domino leads the first hand.

A player reshuffles the dominoes and then each player picks seven for their hand.

The lead player puts down any domino they like to start the layout. The lay out has only two ends that can be played on. Each player in turn plays a domino whose number matches either end of the layout on the table. The matching numbers are placed on the lay out so that they touch. Doubles are often placed crossways to help keep track of doubles played.

If a player cannot play on either end of the layout they are skipped. Players can signal this by tapping the table or just saying pass.

The first player to have played all their dominoes wins the hand and is awarded the points left over in the opposing team’s dominoes. Each domino is worth the number of dots it has.

If no player can play on the layout the team with the lowest number of points left in their hand wins all the points in opposing team’s unplayed dominoes.

The player to the right of the person who went out leads the next hand.

The first team to wins 100 points wins the match.


Some people play the holder the double six leads the first domino the match.

You can also play the winner of the hand wins the points from all the unplayed dominoes including the ones held by their partner. The first team to win 200 points wins the match. In this variation your partner may decide to hold onto high point dominoes if they are confident you will win the hand.

Another variation is person who who won the hand leads the next hand.

Shut the Box

While wandering the aisles of your local game shop you may have seen a felt lined tray with the numbers one to nine displayed like the one in the photo above. You may have even seen it in your local pub waiting to be played. This is a dice game called Shut the Box. It is a fast moving game most often found in English pubs ,as well as the occasional German and American ones.


Players two or more

Equipment pair dice shut the box
layout score pad

How to play
The object of the game is to cover as many numbers on the layout as possible to give you the lowest score.

When a number is covered using a box, (like the one shown in the photo above) the player flips over the wood tile with the number on it.

Each player in turn rolls two dice. The player then covers the number or numbers on layout equalling the number rolled on the two dice. For example if a 6 is rolled the player could cover ; 1 and 5, or 2 and 4, or 1and 2 and 3.

Once a number has been covered it can not be used again by the player that turn.

The player continues to roll until a number is rolled that has no combination of uncovered numbers equal to it. For example if if the numbers uncovered are 1, 3, and 9 and the player rolls a 7. When this happens no more numbers are covered and the player’s turn is over.

When the player’s turn is over all of the uncovered numbers are added up to make the players score.

Player with the lowest score wins the round. First player to win three round wins the game.

Many people play that covering all the numbers in one round is an instant win. There is also a variation where you can only cover the number made by the sum of both dice or the number showing on each die. Some people play by keeping a running total of the points scored. The game ends when a player reaches 100. Then the player with the lowest score wins. Another interesting twist is the player’s score at the end of the turn is the number made by reading the uncovered numbers left to right as a single number. For example, if 1, 3 and 9 are left up the score is 139.

Here is a Shut the Box game made with dominos instead of wood tiles.


There are so many variations of this game be sure to ask what are the house rules when joining in.

Now for anyone who is thinking that this game would take up to much room in there luggage while on a trip is in luck. This is because the layout is very easy improvise with light weight material or things you already have. You could draw the layout on a sheet of paper and use counters to cover the numbers you have closed. You can even use playing cards as shown in the photo below. Just flip the card that has the number you chose to close. So all you need to play on the road is a pair of dice and your new light weight improvised layout.


Chess is everywhere you want to be

The reason I wanted to learn traditional games is to fulfill a day-dream of mine. I want to be able to travel the world and play games in any park, pub, or coffeehouse I came upon. I like the idea of learning less known regional games to play with the locals. So why would I start this blog by writing about chess? I took sometime to think about what makes a game easy to play with people in far off lands. This is when I realized that Chess has some advantages that many other traditional games may not.

The most obvious advantage chess has is it is easy to find an opponent. There many players spread all over the world. This means that wherever you are there is a good chance of finding someone who plays chess. From university chess clubs to hustlers playing in the park chess games are found everywhere

Now lets take a look at its consistent rules. The rules of chess have changed very little since the nineteenth century . These are the same rules used in casual games in the park or international tournaments. Many games have variants and house rules that differ from region to region or even player to player. Not so with chess, you play the same way in Moscow as you do Boston.

Another advantage of chess is it can be played with limited language skills Since the rules are consistent around the world you can play a game without talking at all. This is important if you and your opponent do not share a common language. Games can even take place in locations where conversation is difficult like noisy pubs or quite libraries. If you understand the rules of the game usually nothing else needs to be said.

You will also find very few games that have more written about it then chess. There is information not only on rules but the strategies and techniques to use while playing. There are even the records of games played for people to review and replay so they can improve their skills. All these books and articles makes it easier for people to learn and play better.

So if you are want to learn a game that will allow to play with people from the four corners of the earth ,start with chess.