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Most domino games are block games or draw games. In draw games, players draw from the boneyard when they have no matching bone. In block games, players pass and forfeit the turn when they have no matching bone. Otherwise, there is no difference. Both generally consist of several hands of dominoes played until one of the players accumulates an agreed upon number of points and wins the series. Points are generally earned only by the first player in each hand to go out (play his or her last bone, also called to domino) and win the hand. The primary object is thus to play all one's bones before an opponent does.

There are many existing rules for determining which player is the leader (or downer), the player to make the first play of the hand. In some rules, the lead is determined by lottery. The bones are shuffled face down on the table, and each player draws one bone. The player with the highest double, or heaviest bone, or other agreed upon prize is designated the leader. By this rule, the leader then reshuffles the bones before the final deal. By other rules, the final deal determines the leader. Playing the first bone of a hand is sometimes called setting the first bone, leading the first bone, downing the first bone, or posing the first bone, and the bone so set, led, downed, or posed is called the set, the lead, the down, or the pose. After the first hand, the winner of the previous hand is usually the leader for the next. By some rules, however, the lead rotates player to player across hands.

After the final shuffle the bones are dealt; each player in turn draws the number of bones required. The stock of bones left behind is called the boneyard, and the bones therein are said to be sleeping. If the leader was determined by lottery, the leader sets by placing any bone face up on the table. If the leader was not determined by lottery, the player with the highest double leads with that double, and if no player has a double, the hand is reshuffled and redealt.

The next player, and all players in turn, must play a bone with an end that matches one of the open ends of the layout. Play continues until one of the players goes out (and calls "out!" or "domino!") and wins the hand or until all the players are blocked. If all the players are blocked the player with the lightest hand wins.

In block games, players who cannot match on their turn must forfeit the turn by knocking (passing)--accomplished by rapping twice on the table or by saying, "go" or "pass". In draw games, players who cannot match must draw bones from the boneyard until obtaining a playable bone. According to most rules, the last two bones in the boneyard may not be drawn. If the boneyard is exhausted (only two bones left), the player knocks.

The winning player scores a point for each pip on each bone still held by each opponent. If no player went out, however, and the win was determined by the lightest hand, the winning player sometimes scores a point for each pip on each bone still held by each opponent, and sometimes only the excess held by opponents. A game is generally played to 100 points, the tally being kept with paper and pencil or on a cribbage board.

There are a few other versions of the game such as All Threes and Fives & Threes. Information on these is available from mastergames.com