Thursday, August 2, 2007

Game of the Week: Dominoes

During a visit to Jamaica last summer I was struck by how much of a game-playing culture it was -- of at least one game, anyway, dominoes. In Kingston, especially, there were thousands of tiny street-side pubs (which usually had a half-dozen stools or so) and almost invariably had a hand-built sturdy dominoes table in front. More often than not there was a game in progress, too.
When Jamaicans play dominoes, it's obligatory to slap the domino down firmly with a loud crack. The sturdy little domino tables are carefully fashioned to help make that sound, with a relatively thin table top well-mounted within the thick frame. The overall effect is similar to a well-built Japanese Go game, albeit with a rustic island feel instead of the painstakingly wood-worked construction used in Japan.
In the U.S. dominoes is usually played with a rule that a player without a play must keep drawing from the graveyard until play is possible. In Jamaica the style is is allow a player without a legal play to merely pass.
This style of play probably keeps the games a little closer than the alternative U.S. rule, which can result in someone getting stuck with a big draw out of the graveyard that kills any chance of winning that round.
Dominoes are like standard playing cards in that the term really describes a set of game-playing fools, rather than a distinct game because many games can be played using the same tools. Still, there seems to be a basic "dominoes" that most people understand as being "the game" whereas card games are more distinctly differentiated in popular use into games like poker, bridge, war or solitaire.

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