OBJECTIVE OF MEXICAN TRAIN: Be the first player to play/eliminate all your dominoes, or play as many high-value dominoes as possible on each turn.
NUMBER OF PLAYERS: 2 to 12 players
MATERIALS: Domino set, center hub, train markers
TYPE OF GAME: Board game
AUDIENCE: All ages
OVERVIEW OF MEXICAN TRAIN
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Mexican Train is a popular domino game using a standard set of dominoes. The game aims to play all your dominoes, forming a “train” of matching tiles that anyone can play on. Unleash your strategic skills as you aim to be the first to play all your dominoes and establish your own “train” of matching tiles. Mexican Train rules gained widespread popularity in the United States during the 2000s. This surge in popularity was partly due to the game being featured on various television shows, including appearances on popular game shows like “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” and “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” Below we will discuss the Mexican Train rules, FAQs, and some strategies to try in your next game!
A similar game of dominoes called Doubles, is also available on our site!
WHAT’S IN THE BOX?
Mexican Train Dominoes is most frequently played with a double-12 set of dominoes, but double-9 sets are equally effective for gameplay.
double-9 set: 55 tiles, suits 0-9; 10 tiles per 10 suits
double-12 set: 91 tiles, suits 0-12; 13 tiles per 13 suits
Unlike most domino games, which use a set of dominoes, Mexican Train has a couple of additional game pieces. The centerpiece hub has a slot in the center for starting the Mexican train and eight slots around the edges for each player’s train. These hubs come with a standard Mexican Train set, but you can easily make your own using cardboard if you lose it. The game also uses train markers. If you lose the train markers, you can use pennies or dimes. More creative options include candy, flat-bottomed marbles, or pawns for other games such as chess or Monopoly.
Here is a photo of the center hub with the engine (highest double) in the center:
SETUP FOR MEXICAN TRAIN
Set the highest double tile in the center slot of the hub and shuffle the remaining dominoes face-down on the table. Each player takes turns drawing dominoes according to the scheme below. You will move aside the remaining tiles in “train yards” or “bone piles” (also referred to as “sleeping piles”) for drawing during play. You may keey your personally drawn tiles a secret or placed face-up on the table’s edge.
|Number of Players
Organize dominoes in hand so that they digress in suit from the engine. For example, in a double-9 set Mexican Train (engine is 9-9), a hand may be organized as such: 9-2, 2-4, 4-6, 6-1, etc. Other remaining tiles are extras; you may use them on the Mexican train or other players’ trains.
STARTING THE GAME
Pick a player to begin the game, and the play moves clockwise afterward.
If the first player has a domino that matches the number of the engine tile, they can either:
- Place the domino in the slot on the hub nearest them, matching end facing toward the engine, to start their personal train OR
- End match the tile to the slot designated for the Mexican Train to start it. The Mexican train is typically available for all players and can be started by any player on their turn. After you start the Mexican train, you may place a train marker on the left to indicate the train is available for play.
- If the first player cannot make a play, follow the directions below under “How to Play Mexican Train.”
HOW TO PLAY MEXICAN TRAIN
On any turn, except for doubles, a player can only place one domino on a train. That is a domino that ends matches available trains for play (Private train, Mexican train, another player’s train with a marker). You must play if you have a playable tile. You may not opt out of playing a tile for strategic purposes.
- If you cannot play, even after drawing a tile, place your train marker beside the end of your personal train. This marker signifies to other players your train is open for them to play on. Your turn has ended, and the play moves on. On your next turn, you may play on any available train. You can remove the marker after successfully playing a tile on your personal train. If no more tiles are in the bone pile and you do not have a playable tile, pass and place a marker by your train.
When a player only has a single tile left, they must notify other players by either tapping it on the table or verbally announcing it.
END OF ROUND
A round ends after when one player has “dominoed” or played all their dominoes, including if that last is a double. A round can also end if the bone pile is dry and no one can make a play. The following rounds begin with a double one digit below the engine of the previous round. For example, after the 12-12 round has finished in a double-12 set, the following will begin with 11-11. The blank double is the final round.
If you are playing a double tile, it is placed across the train you choose to play it on. After a player plays a double, you must play another tile on the double or any available train. The round ends if you do not have another tile to play because the double was your last. If you do not have another tile to play but still have tiles in your hand, draw from the bone pile and play it if possible. If you cannot play, place your marker beside your train.
- In the event of an open double, which is a double that you have not played on yet, all other trains are ineligible to be played upon until a player can satisfy the double. Players who cannot play on the double after drawing a tile must place a marker by their train. Once you close a double, players with markers by their trains can begin attempts to play on their train.
- You may also play two or more doubles in a turn. After you finish playing your doubles, you may play your additional tile that is not a double. You must close doubles in the same order you played them, so you may only play the additional tile on the first double. If you do not have any remaining playable tiles after playing doubles, draw from the bone pile and try to play. If you draw a playable double, play and draw again.
- You may play as many doubles as available in succession. The turn ends after you play the non-double tile or you cannot play on it. If you cannot play one, place a marker by the end of your personal train. Regular train marker rules apply.
- If a double remains open, every player – including the player who played it – must attempt to satisfy it. You must close multiple doubles in the same order you place them. Standard open double rules apply. If it is impossible to close because you must play all other tiles of that denomination, it no longer restricts other eligible trains.
MEXICAN TRAIN STRATEGIES
There are many strategies to improve your win rate at Mexican Train. The most important one is to keep your train private for as long as possible. When you do have to open your train, you will want to close it as soon as possible.
HIGH PIPS FIRST
Another tip is to play out your highest-scoring dominoes first; even if you can’t empty your hand first, you will score fewer points.
OTHER PLAYER INFORMATION
You will want to pay attention to other players’ plays. If you notice a player’s personal train go public, try to play a tile that leaves the end with the same pips that made them go public.
If playing doubles, always play on your personal train when possible; this gives you more play options later. Always strive to close your doubles as well unless you have limited tiles.
After a round has finished and players have played as many dominoes as possible, the player with an empty hand receives a score of 0. At the end of each round, other players sum the number of pips (dots) on their remaining dominoes. Dominoes containing double blanks are worth 50 points.
END OF GAME
Once the game ends, the player with the lowest total score (sum of all end-of-round totals) wins.
If you love the Mexican Train rules, check out another of our domino games called Chicken Foot.
Can You Start Someone Elses Train in Mexican Train?
According to the standard Mexican Train rules, you can only start another player’s train if it is marked.
What Happens If You Can’t Close a Double in Mexican Train?
You must draw from the boneyard. If you still cannot satisfy the double, you will mark your train and pass your turn. All other players have the same responsibility to close the double.
What Happens When You Run Out of Dominoes in the Boneyard?
Play continues as usual, but when players do not have a domino, they must pass and mark their train immediately, as there are no more dominos to draw.
These rules vary from the standard Mexican train rules, in that two-player Mexican Train only uses a double -9 set of dominoes. The 9-9 domino is place to the side and the remainder of the dominoes are shuffled. Each player will take eight dominoes from the boneyard for their starting hand.
On your 1st turn, you will place as many dominoes as you can onto the central 9-9 starting tile. If a player is unable to start their train by making a starting play, they must draw from the boneyard until they can play onto the 9-9. Starting on player’s second turns, they may play on their own trains, the Mexican Train or their opponent’s marked train. All the other standard Mexican Train rules apply.