Brian Kick

Kennethe Klotzle

Douglas Scott

| Instructional Objective | Learners & Context | Object of Game | Game Materials |

| Time Required | Rules | Design Process | References |

Instructional Objective

Dominatus enables the student to combine Greek and Latin prefixes, roots, and suffixes to develop common English words that occur in many subject areas, such as science, history, mathematics, literature, and medicine.

The basic meaning or meanings of words can best be realized if a student develops a good working knowledge of prefixes, roots, and suffixes. The greatest number of these has been derived from Greek and Latin. To be more precise, two-thirds of the words we speak, write, and read come from these roots. It is logical then to concentrate on making them a part of one's basic vocabulary. By viewing words etymologically, as words made up of these three parts, the meanings of words become easier to learn and remember. Also, students armed with this etymological knowledge now have "clues" and are better able to "attack" words, that is, to decode them and arrive at a general meaning without having to resort to a dictionary.

Through a greater knowledge of prefixes, roots, and suffixes, the student can realize improvement in spelling. Students can also anticipate becoming better readers.

The following is taken from the Arcadia Unified School District's Middle School Language Arts Curriculum and is typical of what many districts in California expect from their students:

In grades 6,7, and 8, students will apply knowledge of word structure in reading and writing tasks. Students will be able to…

  • use their knowledge of word origins and word relationships to determine the meaning of specialized vocabulary and to understand the meaning of grade level appropriate words;
  • use knowledge of affixes and root words to decode and encode unfamiliar words;
  • analyze how affixes change the meaning and usage of words;
  • expand the study of etymology, Greek and Latin-based morphology, and foreign language influences on English.

Dominatus would be an ideal tool to enable students to complete a very valuable objective outlined by their school district's language arts curriculum. The collection of prefixes, roots, and suffixes in this game makes possible the formation and understanding of numerous words. There are, of course, thousands of these affixes and roots. Dominatus contains the most commonly used of these to form several hundred words. It can become the foundation upon which the student can continue to build his or her house of word understanding.

Learners & Context of Use

The game is designed for 6th, 7th and 8th grade students and will be played at school. Everything that is required to play the game is included within the box except for a pencil and paper to record scores.

Players of the game are expected to have had previous exposure to a classroom lesson that explained the relationship of Greek and Latin roots to the English language. Such a lesson will have also introduced the learners to several roots and their English equivalents.

The game is designed to be played more than once. Each time the game is played students reinforce, and most likely increase their knowledge of Greek and Latin roots.

Object of the Game

In Dominatus, players form English words by assembling tiles which contain Greek and Latin roots. It is the objective of each player to score points from the value of each played tile, from strategically placing the tiles upon bonus squares on the gameboard and defining constructed words correctly. The person who scores the most points at the conclusion of the game wins.

Game Materials

List each of the physical objects one would find in the box. For example, the board, each type of card, each type of prize or token, etc.)

  • Gameboard
    • 24 x 24 inches; two-dimensional grid with imprinted bonus and start areas.
  • Root Tiles
    • 1 x 2 inches; imprinted with Latin and Greek roots
  • 4 Tile Racks
  • Tile Bag

Time Required

It will take less than five minutes for players to draw to see who goes first and to select the initial tiles. An average game will take between 30 and 45 minutes to finish. The game has been designed to be completed in one sitting.

The Rules


Place all tile roots into the tile bag and shuffle them. Each player draws one tile from the bag. The ascending alphabetical order of the tiles determine when the holder of the tile plays. For example, the holder of "alpha" will play before the holder of "auto". Blank tiles take precedence over all other tiles. The tiles are placed back into the bag and reshuffled. Each player draws seven tiles and places them into the tile rack.


  1. One person is elected to tally each player's points.
  2. The first player begins by creating a two- or more root word. One of the tiles placed by the first player must be placed on the capitalized "alpha" symbol located in the center of the board. The tiles must always be placed vertically or horizontally.
  3. Constructed words do not have to be spelled exactly as they are in English; they only have to contain all of the roots of the proposed word.
  4. After the tiles are placed, the current player has the option of defining the constructed word. A correct definition yields 3 points; an incorrect definition results in the loss of three points. The player is not required to define the word, it is only an option. If a questionable definition is offered, any player is allowed to challenge it by referring the Dominatus glossary. The current player completes his/her turn by drawing as many tiles as played. The score keeper then records the total points obtained.
  5. Play continues with the next person to the left. The second player and all subsequent players must build words using the tiles already placed by previous players.
  6. After each player has had at least one turn, subsequent players are allowed to begin building on the lowercase "alpha" symbols placed near the four corners of the board. Moving to the lowercase "alphas" is not required immediately after everyone has had a turn; it is only an option.
  7. *Placement of tiles...
    • Tiles may be added to the beginning or end of already existing words to form longer words
    • All tiles must appear in the same order that the roots would appear in the English form of the word.
    • All tiles must be placed side-to-side (including both vertical and horizontal sides) or at right (90 degree) angles.
    • All tiles placed adjacent to other tiles must always form a complete word. For example, if a player uses three tiles to construct a word horizontally and there are other tiles either directly above or below the placed tiles, each placement must also form valid words in the vertical direction. The player will score points for each word constructed.
  8. Once tiles are placed, they must stay in the same position for the entire game.
  9. The blank tiles may be used to represent any root. The player must state what root it represents when it is placed and it will keep the same meaning throughout the entire game.
  10. Players are allowed to exchange some or all of their tiles with new tiles from the tile bag. If the player chooses to do this, the exchange will be considered as their turn. To exchange tiles, the player must draw from the bag the number of tiles s/he wants to replace. The player then removes the same number of tiles from their rack and places them into the tile bag.
  11. A player may challenge a word before the next player takes a turn. The Dominatus glossary contains root meanings as well as all possible valid words that can be constructed with the included tiles. The glossary is used to validate challenges and that is the only time the glossary may be consulted during the game. If a word is challenged and turns out to be valid, the challenger looses one turn. If a challenged word turns out to be invalid, the player who placed the word must remove the tiles and looses that turn. The challenger of an invalid word will receive the point value of the word, not to include extra points from the bonus squares on the gameboard.
  12. The game ends when...
    • no more plays can be made; or
    • a player uses all of their tiles after all tiles have been drawn.


  1. The point value of each tile is displayed on the bottom-right corner. Blank tiles have no point value.
  2. The score for each turn is determined by adding the total of the tile values to the total obtained from placement over bonus squares.
  3. Players have the option of placing the tile over the entire bonus rectangle or over half of it. If only half of the bonus area is covered, subsequent players are allowed to obtain the bonus from the other half.
  4. Bonus root squares are light blue or dark blue. The light blue squares double the value of the root tile placed over it. The dark blue squares triple the value of the root tile placed over it.
  5. Bonus word squares are pink or red. The pink squares double the value of the word if any tiles are placed on it. The red squares triple the value of the word if any tiles are placed on it. If a word covers a bonus root square and a bonus word square, add the bonus roots then apply the word bonus.
  6. Words that cover two bonus word squares will receive both bonuses. If the word covers two pink squares it will receive four times the value. Words covering two red squares will receive nine times the value.
  7. Bonus squares are only applied when they are first covered. Roots added to words that have already received a bonus will only receive the point value of each root, not the bonus from a previous play.
  8. If a blank tile is placed over a pink or red bonus square, the bonus will still be applied to the word.
  9. If two or more words are constructed within the same turn and cover a bonus square, the bonus will only be applied to the word that covers that square.
  10. At the end of the game, each player must add the point values of each of their remaining tiles. The total points of the remaining for each individual player must be subtracted from the holder's score. If a player used all of their tiles, the sum of all of the other player's tiles must be added to that player's final score.


  1. The player with the highest score wins.
  2. If there is a tie, the player with the most points before adding or subtracting unplayed tiles wins.

*Tile Placement

Design Process

Describe the process you went through in putting the game together. What were your first thoughts? How did you enhance your ideas? What ideas did you consider and reject (and why?). How did you gather background information? What did you do to see if there are similar games out there? What did you do to get feedback on the idea? How did you flesh out the game to the point of having a playable prototype? How did you gather feedback from that? What lessons did you learn from this that you'll carry to your next game design project?

In the early stages of the design process, we thought it would be adequate to not require the exact spelling of words; the roots were the main focus of the game. We then encountered problems with being able to clarify certain words and decided that we would require exact spelling.

We had a couple of ideas on how to force exact spelling. One possibility was to make several vowels freely available. The player could just draw the vowel they needed from a "vowel pile". Another option was to imprint word parts on tiles within parentheses to give the root a wider range of applications. For example, "psych(o)" could be used for "psychic" or "psychopath"

We returned to our initial idea and decided to focus only on roots. We selected roots that were very commonly used and unambiguous. This approach produced a game in which the players can only create words that contain obvious roots.

When we were ready to test our ideas, we constructed rectangular-shaped roots out of paper and played the game on a Scrabble board. This process helped us identify the rules for placement of the tiles. We realized that some arrangements of tiles just didn't "feel" or "look" right. See the middle "invalid" graphic at the end of the rules section as an example.

During testing, we discovered that if too many two-root words were played at the beginning of the game, it would be very difficult or maybe even impossible to continue. To alleviate this problem, we decided to include four other starting points on the board. After everyone has had at least one turn, the other starting points become available; this approach keeps the game moving. The testing process was very beneficial and revealed several problems with our early design.

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Last updated October 25 1999