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Tile games of some form have been known from around 1120 AD in China. Chinese dominoes are longer than Western ones and are divided into two types. They were originally carved in bone or ivory with the indented pips made of ebony. Each Chinese tile represents one of the twenty-one different permutations of throwing two cubic dice although there is a total of thirty-two bones since certain dominoes are duplicated. A set of Chinese bones is divided into two categories - Military and Civilian. The Civilian bones are the set of bones that have duplicates while the Military bones are those that are unique. A variety of different games have been played with these bones and the much more modern tile game of Mah-Jongg evolved from Chinese Dominoes.

The game appeared first in China in the 14th Century but the first recorded reference in Europe is from Italy where they were played in the courts of Venice and Naples. The bones were originally constructed by gluing and pinning two sheets of ebony on either side of the bone tile. This prevented cheating by being able to see the pip value from the back of the tile in certain lights. It also served to produce nice contrasting white pips on black background by allowing the bone to show through holes in the ebony. The pin through the middle of the tile became known as the "spinner", for obvious reasons. Although bones have not been constructed in this way for centuries, tradition has maintained the spinner which can still be found on many modern sets. Many players feel that it is still of benefit since it makes the bones more easy to shuffle and protects their faces.

Although domino bones are clearly of Chinese inheritance, there is a debate over whether the game played by Europeans was brought by the Chinese to Europe in the eighteenth century or, in fact, was invented independently. European dominoes are shorter than Chinese ones and there is a single tile for each permutation of the throw of two dice or a blank making a total of twenty-eight bones. This is the standard or "double-six" set and, as in China, various games can be played with it. Double-twelve sets (91 bones) are popular in America and Double-nine sets (55 bones) also exist.

The game arrived in Britain in the late 18th Century from France (possibly via French prisoners of war) and quickly seems to have become popular in inns and taverns at the time. The word "Domino" is French for a black and white hood worn by Christian priests in winter which is probably where the name of the game is derived from.

Dominoes or variants of it are played in almost all countries of the world but it is most popular in Latin America.