Object of the game: To be the first team to reach 250 points.
Draw lots at the beginning of the game to determine which player shuffles first. Reshuffle the tiles.
Number of dominoes drawn: Each player draws 9 tiles. This leaves 2 tiles remaining in the boneyard.
The person to the shuffler's left has the first option to bid.
The minimum bid is 50.
There are 9 tricks and each trick is worth one point.
Total of 79 points to be won in each hand: 70 (35 points in a double-6 set x 2 sets) + 9 (9 tricks at 1 point each) = 79.
Your bid is a prediction of how many of the 79 points you will win in that hand. Your bid should be based almost entirely on your own hand. However, if you win the bid, any points won by your partner during that hand will also count towards your bid.
If you hold at least 3 tiles from the same suit in your hand, that is considered a potential bidding hand. That suit will be your trump suit if you win the bid. If you hold 1 or 2 doubles in addition to 3 tiles from the same suit, this is considered a strong hand.
The word "trump" comes from the word "triumph." A domino from the trump suit automatically "triumphs" over other dominoes played. Once trumps for the hand have been declared, all 14 dominoes of that suit rank higher than all 42 other dominoes. Regardless of who plays it, the highest trump played wins any trick. A trump domino only belongs to the trump suit and not also to the other suit represented on its face. The other number on the trump domino only serves to rank trumps among themselves.
For example: If fours are trumps, the 4-4 is the strongest domino of the hand; the 4-6 beats the 4-5; the 4-5 beats the 4-3; and so on, the 4-0 being the lowest trump. The 4-0 for that hand would beat any tile that is not from the 4 suit.
The double is the highest domino of each suit, followed in order by the 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, and blank.
A domino whose ends add up to five or a multiple of five is a “count" domino. There are four count tiles worth 10 points each: 5-5 and 6-4. There are six count tiles worth 5 points each: 5-0, 4-1, and 3 -2. All 5 -count tiles add up to a total of 70 points. A count scores extra points for the team that wins it in a trick.
Bidding continues clockwise around the table, with the shuffler always having the last option to bid. Each player has only one opportunity to bid. The minimum bid is 50. A player must pass if he is unable to bid at least 50 or raise a previous bid. If all 6 players pass, all tiles are returned to the deck and then reshuffled by the player to the left of the last player to shuffle.
The player making the highest bid is the first player and the player to declare which suit is trump for that hand. (A player never reveals the trump suit until he has won the bid and is ready to play the first tile.)
The first player plays a tile from his hand. Play continues to his left. The next five plays made by the other players at the table must "follow suit." This means those five players must play a tile that is of the same suit as the highest end of the first tile played in that trick, unless the first player plays a tile with at least one end from the same suit as what was declared “trumps" for that hand. In that case, the next five plays made must be a tile with an end from the trump suit.
For example, if the 6-4 were played first, the other players would have to follow suit with a 6 from their own hand. But if either end of the first tile played is of the trump suit, then the trump overrides the other number and everyone must follow suit with a trump.
If a player holds more than one playable tile in his hand, he may play any one of them. If a player is unable to follow suit because he does not hold that suit in his hand, he may play any tile from his hand, even a trump.
The player who plays the highest tile of the lead suit or the highest trump wins the trick. The winner of each trick plays the first tile for the next trick, at which time he may play any tile in his hand.
When all six players have each played one tile, these six tiles are collectively a trick. There are nine tricks in each hand. Each trick is worth one point.
One player from each team should collect all the tricks for that team, regardless of which player won the trick. After each trick has been won, the tiles should be moved to one side or corner of the table, the 6 tiles side by side and faceup. This simplifies scoring.
Once all 9 tricks have been played, each team should total their number of tricks (1 point per trick) and their total number of points on count dominoes collected (5 and multiples of 5), respectively.
If the bidding team makes or exceeds their bid, then that team receives credit for all the points they won during that hand. In that case, the opponents also receive credit for any points they won during the hand.
For example: If a team bids 50 and then takes 55 points in the hand, then it has successfully reached its bid and scores 55 points. The opponents receive credit for its 9 points.
If a team fails to reach their bid, then that team scores nothing, and the opposing team receives credit for the original bid they defeated, x plus the actual points they won during the hand.
For example: If your team wins the bid at the beginning of the game with a bid of 57 but took only 55 points in the hand, your team would score 0, and the opponents would score 66 points (their 9 points plus your bid of 57 points).
After each hand, the player to shuffle the tiles rotates to the left (clockwise). Play continues in this same manner.
The first team to reach 250 points wins. If both teams reach 250 points on the same hand, the team that made the bid on that final hand is the winner of the game, regardless of the score.
Variation: A simplified scoring system can be used with one "mark," or point, awarded for the victory of a hand. The first team to win 9 marks wins the match.
The object of a Nel-O bid is to take no tricks. A Nel-O bidder's hand contains tiles so low he believes his opponents will be unable to force him to take a trick. If Nel-O is the winning bid, players must follow suit of the tile that is led on each trick, and there are no trumps. . When a player bids Nel-O, his partner must turn the tiles in his hand facedown on the table until the end of the hand, while the bidder plays out the hand with the opposing team. The bidder leads with the first tile. The opponents follow suit of the higher number of that tile. The player who wins the trick is in the lead. For the remainder of the hand, the goal of the opponents is to play lower tiles than the bidder. The bidder is set if he takes one trick.
Some Nel-O players treat doubles as a separate suit, with every player following suit with a double if a double is led. Most, however, do not play by this rule.
Reprinted with permission of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc., NY, NY from GREAT BOOK OF DOMINO GAMES by Jennifer Kelley, ©1999 by Jennifer Kelley. (The Sterling book is available as PUREMCO'S GREAT BOOK OF DOMINO GAMES)