Unplugged: Knock Down Those Rainy Day Blues

domino fallSummertime is upon us, and that means lots of chances for the younger ones to drive their parent’s crazy with so-called “boredom” and other funny business. “Go play outside” is the best play in a parent’s playbook, but what happens when it’s raining outside? This summer, GamerDad Unplugged will try to help fill in those gaps with a few handy ideas. First up – Dominoes!

Now, we’re not talking here about the basic game of Dominoes, whether Mexican Train or whatever is your preference. Today we’re going to take a look at domino toppling… stacking those little rectangles up in a row and watching them all fall down. Sound a bit staid and boring?  Just give a friendly little YouTube search on dominoes to give your kids (or yourself) a little inspiration.

You can buy a standard set of dominoes to do double-duty as a game and activity. Typically advertised by listing the highest value dominoes. A “double-nines” set will provide you with 55 dominoes, so I’d recommend going with at least a “double-twelve” set (91 dominoes) or a “double-fifteen” (136 dominoes). Now, standard dominoes on the cheap end can be cost effective (running about $0.10/domino), but I don’t care to use regular dominoes in my creations. Standard dominoes often have aesthetically pleasing rounded corners and edges that make it harder to reliably stand them up on end.

So if a standard set of dominoes is not what we want, I’ve found three good options available. There are the dominoes of choice for hard-core domino topplers found at Bulk Dominoes, the easy to find and easy to use Domino Rally sets by Goliath Games, and the luxurious all-wood European classic domino toy set sold by HABA. To make thing easier, lets compare the various domino sets to an equivalent type of car.

Dominoes by Bulk Dominoes
Sold in sets of 100 for about $13 + shipping. About $0.13 per domino.

Dominoes.BulkDominoes.light_green_dominoes_grandeBulk Dominoes sells high quality plastic dominoes specifically for people who want to set them up and knock them down. These dominoes are the sports cars of the domino world. They are solid plastic, heavy, and have extremely straight edges. They’re not designed to be “cute” – they don’t come with extra bits or with any painted on symbols. However, they do come in a wide range of colors. Used by many hard-core domino-heads, if your kids (or you!) want to set up huge swaths of complicated layouts, this is probably your set of choice.

 

 

 

Domino Rally Sets by Goliath Games
Classic Set of 115 dominoes for $16 or Rally Racing 150 dominoes for $22. Both around $0.14 per domino.

domino-rally-racingGoliath Games sells several domino sets under the brand name Domino Rally. I consider these as sort of inexpensive family mini-vans of the domino world. The sets are somewhat cheap and aren’t designed for overall performance. However, these sets have several little “tricked out” extras that make it a good set for kids who are just going to want to “fool around” with the dominoes and not attempt any sort of grandiose plan. Most of the dominoes in these sets are smallish plastic dominoes that look and feel fairly cheap. They’re inset on both sides to save plastic, and so are lightweight. While that might make them more portable, I find they are more sensitive to set up and thus more difficult to use in large numbers. However, there are two factors that make these sets unique. The obvious one is the large number of “tricks” included in each set. These include loops, stairs, launchers, and other things to add flair to a setup. The second feature that make these sets unique are the auto-setup dominoes. About a third of the dominoes in each set are attached to straight or curved tracks. Since the dominoes are attached to the track, they automatically are lined and up and have the correct spacing. What really makes these shine is how they can be setup in an instant. The dominoes are attached to the track so that they fall down in one direction. Tilt the track back the other direction and the dominoes are instantly set back up again. Using just these tracks one can set up a short track exclusively of track dominoes, knock them down, and then set them back up again in a minute or two. This is perfect for short-attention span kids. The tricks with this set set up in a similarly quick and easy way. I’d give these sets the highest recommendation if it weren’t for the majority of dominoes being traditionally “loose” ones. They small and lightweight and thus are a bit harder to set up – a glaring contrast as the “trick” ones in the sets are so easy.

Domino Race Set by HABA 
Set of 240 dominoes plus a few extras like bridges and stairs for $75. About $0.31 per domino.

domino race habaHABA is well known for its yellow-boxed children’s games made with high quality wooden components. The HABA brand doesn’t fail in the domino category either. These dominoes are the Rolls Royce of the domino world. The dominoes are solid wood with good edges and a nice heft. The set has dominoes of many different colors, including a fair number of dominoes topped with endearing little animal faces. The set also has a few stairs, bridges, and even a little bell to ring. While far more expensive than any of the above sets, I keep thinking this set is the type of thing you pass down to your kids or grandkids. The Domino Rally sets might start to lose their luster with time, these HABA dominoes will continue on with even more style than the Bulk Dominoes.

Conclusions:
As you can see, there isn’t a clear winner here. Your choice will depend entirely on your needs. If you’re looking for a quick domino fix with a minimum of concentration and fuss, the Goliath Games Domino Rally series is for you. If you’re looking to make the biggest, meanest, coolest domino setup this side of the Atlantic, go with dominoes from Bulk Dominoes. Finally, those wanting to spend a bit of extra money to get a traditional, robust, timeless set of dominoes that look and feel like a great early learning toy should go with the HABA set.

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