“All Fall Down”

As a child I had a set of dominoes but I only ever used them to set up and then knock down. I was fascinated later in life by videos of very long lines of dominoes set up and then tapped over to form patterns. But I never knew that they were made to play an adult game.

I have been in diverse settings all my life, and I was first introduced to the serious game of dominoes in my mid-20’s when I was a guest at a mainly African-American Thanksgiving dinner. After a huge meal, and after the pound cakes had been discussed and judged, the dominoes came out. Men set up a card table, four chairs, the box of dominoes and began to play. This was SERIOUS. Unbeknownst to me until then, dominoes can require thoughtful strategy. But what struck me the most was the vigor from the men as they played the tiles. One wasn’t laid down, but thumped down hard enough that the table shook. This was followed by groans and whoops from the other players.

Curious about the game, I read about it on line before writing this post. Because the language was too crude for me to insert a direct link, I am not sending you over to a video. But I did find examples of the raucous play and insults I remember from watching that afternoon. I also learned that the game is very popular in the West Indies.

I wonder about my readers. Did any of you ever play the game or witness an animated game played by others? I would love to know where it occurs.

39 thoughts on ““All Fall Down”

  1. Living in London, I was well aware of how serious West Indian men take this game. Among the white population, it was a rather sedate game, usually reserved for quiet elderly men to play over a pint or two of beer. But when played by West Indians, it became a table-smashing life or death contest! 🙂
    Best wishes, Pete.

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  2. I have experienced the same thing. Some people can be very good at “palming” several of them and yes, slamming them on the table. My grandmother taught me to play and she was competitive, but not as passionate as others I’ve seen.

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  3. I have seen dominoes played very intently by a group of men in Cuba, Cienfuegos I think, and also a village in the hills behind Fethiye in Turkey, But I haven’t witnessed table smashing!

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  4. When I was young I was in the military. Dominoes was a popular game, mostly among the African-American men. They called it “throwing bones” and played with enthusiasm. I definitely enjoyed joining in but was never able to be as strategic or enthusiastic as my opponents.

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  5. My grandmother and her children (West Tennessee) were very good with math, so they enjoyed playing Muggins with dominoes because it involved math. My brother and I just matched the end pieces when we played together. We played with grandsons David and Nathaniel in NY, but again, only matching the ends. They were quite young when we did it.

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        1. Yep – I’ve looked it up online. It involves adding up to five, so a bit advanced for a mixed age bunch of kids. (They preferred Monopoly and Hotel as they got older and could play without us.)

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        2. My uncle could add four columns of figures in his head, so Muggins was easy for him. After high school, during the depression, he began working as a circus clown. After a tent flap knocked him off an elephant, he studied accounting, passing the CPA exam the first time.

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  6. I didn’t realize how serious the game could be. I play dominoes with the children at school, as it is an excellent math game of subitizing, where children learn the concept that a number of dots or objects is actually a number- without having to count.

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  7. We always had dominoes in our home. We were taught to play at an early age, but I never saw the fierce competition. As a matter of fact, we have a game on dominoes downstairs

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  8. We learned to play dominoes as children, along with the easy card games and taught our kids.
    In the more sedate or rural pubs in the UK there’s sometimes a corner where the oldies sit with their pints and play dominoes, but not as often as there used to be. I think there are even local leagues. Comments might get loud if someone’s hearing aid is turned off, but not often raucous.

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  9. I played dominoes With my brothers but it was a very quiet thoughtful game. And the game you describe sounds much more interesting. I have seen games of spades become raucous like you described. We would get large groups and have spades table set up. It was always exciting and a lot of fun.

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  10. No I have never played dominoes but I have played Mahjong which is a Chinese tile game on similar lines. This really does have fervent & serious players. I constantly heard the tiles being shuffled by neighbors playing it with their shouts of joy or annoyance when I lived in Penang.
    Blessings,
    Jennifer

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