Mexican Train Dominoes Rules
Masters Traditional Games has given below the version of the rules to Mexican Train Dominoes that we believe are the most straightforward, elegant and which minimise the chance of repetitive or tedious elements of play. These should be easy to learn but contain all of the necessary ingredients for classic Mexican Train Dominoes. In summary, we think our version of the rules are the most fun!
We are aware that some manufacturers and people play different versions of Mexican Train so we have also listed a bunch of variations at the bottom of the page.
See also: Dominoes.
Mexican Train Equipment
Mexican Train Dominoes are played with a standard set of Double Twelve dominoes. Each set has 91 dominoes and we recommend that dominoes with coloured spots are used because otherwise it becomes difficult to match dominoes at a glance.
Unlike most other games of dominoes, Mexican Train requires some other equipment. Firstly, a special hub is used that has a slot in the middle for the starting double and 8 slots around its edge to start each domino train. Hubs range from expensive manufactured items that go 'Toot Toot' when pressed to home-made efforts that take only a couple of minutes to cut out from a piece of cardboard.
Secondly, two types of marker are required for the game. These can be anything but coins are commonly used - say a penny for each player's train and a 20 pence coin or a 'nickel' for the Mexican Train. Sets specifically marketed for the play of Mexican Train Dominoes usually have differently coloured little plastic trains that are used to mark each player's train.
This applies to all domino games - if you've played any type of dominoes before, skip to the Preparation section.
Each time a player places a domino on the table in Mexican Train, it must conforms to normal domino play. i.e. The domino must be placed so that one end is touching the end of a domino already on the table and such that the end of the new domino matches (shows the same number of dots) the end of domino it is adjacent to. Unless the tile is a double, the tile can be placed square in any one of the three directions as long as the two matching sides are touching fully.
A domino with the same number at either end is called a 'Double'. A Double too, can only be placed adjacent to a matching end of a domino already on the table. However, doubles are always placed perpendicularly across the end of the domino that is already on the table to make a 'T'. A tile played to a double must also be placed accordingly - perpendicular to the double touching at its middle. So unlike the other dominoes, a double can never turn a corner.
The shape of the domino chain develops snake-line at random according to the whims of the players and the limitations of the playing surface.
To begin, the dominoes are shuffled face down in circles with the flat of the hand - producing an attractive sound that has been well-known for centuries. Depending on the number of players, each player draws a set number of dominoes. Up to 4 players take 15 dominoes each, 5 or 6 take 12 each, 7 or 8 take 10 each.
In friendly games, players normally just place their dominoes on edge in a row facing them. The remaining dominoes are termed "sleeping" tiles or "the boneyard".
The hub is placed in the middle of the table and each player selects a slot on the outer edge that is facing them to be the starting point for their train.
One additional slot is chosen to be the starting point for the 'Mexican Train' and the Mexican Train marker is placed in this slot to denote it as such.
The player with the highest double places it in the centre of the Mexican Train Hub.
The First Turn
The player to the left of the player who put down the highest double starts and players then take turns in a clockwise direction.
The first turn made by each player at Mexican Train Dominoes is different to subsequent turns and can require some thought to give the best advantage.
The player starts their 'train' by putting their first domino into their chosen slot on the hub. The end pointing towards the middle must match the central hub domino. They then continue to extend this 'train' by adding more dominoes from their hand until they can't put down any more.
At each subsequent turn, a player can put down only one domino on any of the trains that are available to that player. The turn proceeds as follows:
- If possible, the player plays a domino to one of the available trains (see below) and that is the end of the turn.
- Otherwise, the player takes a domino from the boneyard. If possible, the new domino from the boneyard is played to one of the available trains (see below) and that is the end of the turn.
- If the player still cannot play, then the player places a marker on the domino at the end of their train, thus making that player's train available for all the other player's to use.
Whenever a player plays a domino to their own train, if their train has a marker on it, the marker is removed.
If a player plays a Double, then that player immediately has another turn.
Any of the following trains are available to the player:
- The player's own train.
- The Mexican Train (if not yet started, the player can start the train with a domino matching the central Double).
- Another player's train but only if it is has a marker on it.
The aim is to be the first player to get rid of all the dominoes in their hand. As soon as this happens, even if the last tile is a Double, the game ends.
The winning player scores zero; the other players score the total of the number of spots on the dominoes still left in their hands.
Usually, a series of games are played and whoever has the least points at the end of the series, wins the match.
In the unlikely situation that no player has a double in their hand at the start, players take from the boneyard until someone does pick a Double at which point it is immediately laid in the hub.
If there are 8 players, then there won't be a slot available on the hub for the Mexican Train so it has to start by itself a little way away from the hub.
If a player is unable to start their train in their first turn, they simply put their train marker next to their slot. If, in a later turn, the player draws a domino that enables them to start their train, they can only play this one domino and remove their marker. The opportunity to play multiple dominoes only happens on the first turn.
If a player is unable to play and the boneyard is empty, the player must simply pass and ensure that a marker is placed upon their train.
In the rare case that a player plays out all their dominoes in their first turn, the other players are all allowed to also complete their first turn. Only once each player has completed their first turn does the game end and scores are counted up.
Some people play a match by starting the first game with the Double 12, the second game with the Double 11 and thence on to the final 13th game of the match that starts with the Double blank domino.
Some variations do not have the special first turn and players are allowed to put down only a single tile in their first turn as for their other turns.
Variations on Playing Doubles
There are a whole lot of extended variations for playing Doubles. Masters Traditional Games does not recommend these rules for beginners, children or people preferring more straightforward play as they add extra complexity to the game and new situations that slow the game down somewhat.
The basic and most common additional rule for Doubles play is that where a Double exists at the end of any train, the Double must then be 'satisfied' (laid against) in the next turn, even if the Double is on another player's train that is not marked. All other available trains are ignored and if the player cannot play against the Double immediately or after drawing from the Boneyard, the player must place a marker on their train and play passes to the next player. This rule would not normally apply during the special first round of play.
A variation on the above Doubles rule that a player who plays a Double and who thus has immediately has another turn, is not for this bonus turn required to play against a Double. The player can play against any available train. This of course means that a player can play several Doubles in a row, so that players over the next few turns need to play against two or more Doubles before they can continue in the more normal fashion.
People playing the previous variation, sometimes complicate things further so that in the situation where two or more Doubles are played by one player, each Double has to be played in the reverse order that they were laid down.
When playing the compulsory Double play rule, it can happen that a Double is placed at the end of a train and that all dominoes to match that Double have already been laid. This Double has to then be ignored from that point on (otherwise the game would come to a halt). Some people will then stack the double on the previous tile of the train to indicate that the train has permanently stopped.
These rules are provided by Masters Traditional Games, an Internet shop selling quality traditional games, pub games and unusual games. For general information or for copying and copyright, see our Rules Information page.
Our rules are comprehensive instructions for friendly play. If in doubt, always abide by locally-played or house rules.
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