The Domino Bead Game

The Domino Bead Game is a curiosity. It is not a PlayableVariant as such, but a competitive domino game for two to four players by the great game designer Sid_Sackson?, and inspired by TheNovel.

Sackson describes its genesis thus, in his book A Gamut of Games (third edition, 1992, p.171):

Arthur and Wald Amberstone, the philosophic inventors of Cups [a Mancala variant]... were fascinated by Hermann Hesse's book Magister Ludi known in English as The Bead Game... Hesse never explains the workings of "the bead game" and the Amberstones decided to create their own. Using small chips of varied colors in place of beads, they experimented with the formation of intricate patterns. It was intriguing as a pastime, but never quite jelled as a game.
During a N.Y.G.A. meeting devoted to the bead game, Claude Soucie came up with the idea of using dominoes in place of colored chips. This turned out to be the breakthrough I needed. By our next meeting I had developed The Domino Bead Game. Admittedly, it doesn't embrace all the arts and sciences, but it does call for some new thinking as you try to master a fascinatingly different set of relationships.

"N.Y.G.A." is short for "New York Game Associates", a 1960s game design group of which Sackson was a prominent member. One can see that attempts to create PlayableVariants have been around a long time. It would be interesting to have access to the Amberstones' notes, and to the notes for all the PlayableVariants that have been in development since TheNovel was first published.

The Domino Bead Game was later published in a commercial edition as Wu_Hsing? by Franjos Spieleverlag. This edition has a Chinese theme and uses graphics of the WikiPedia:Chinese_five_elements (wu hsing) rather than the numbers 1 through 5.

Game Play

The Domino Bead Game is unlike any other domino game you are likely to have played. The object is to attain the high score by creating intricate, crossword-like, two-dimensional patterns.

All dominoes containing blanks or sixes are removed from two sets of double-6 dominoes, leaving thirty dominoes, which are distributed among the players. Players "set patterns" by creating repeating sequences of numbers such as 5-4-2-5-4-2 or 1-3-1-3 and must place dominoes so as to extend at least two patterns at once.

You score by multiplying the lengths of the patterns you have just extended. Thus, if you extended one pattern out to length 4 and another pattern out to length 5, you score 4*5, or 20. If you scored by placing a double domino, such as a double-1 or double-4 domino, your score for that turn is multiplied by two, since doubles are harder to place; in this case you would score 20*2 or 40 points. At the end of the game, doubles left in your hand score -5 points, while non-double dominoes score -25.

Interestingly, although the Domino Bead Game employs few or none of the PillarsOfTheGbg and is not a PlayableVariant per se, Marty_Hale-Evans? says that it captures the feel of threading beads on string while making jewelry remarkably well. The linear pattern recognition required in both activities is apparently very similar.


Domino Bead Game rules online

Wu Hsing at BoardgameGeek

Buy Wu Hsing

Buy "A Gamut of Games"