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Mexican Train Dominoes: 22 Things to Know (Origins, History, Gameplay,…)

Last Updated on January 25, 2024 by Gamesver Team and JC Franco

If you’re into games of the non-technical type, evenings around a table with a board game may be your favorite social activity. Dominoes is a great option for a family games evening. Did you know that the game of dominoes has several variations, including Mexican train dominoes?

Mexican train is slightly more complex than the traditional dominoes game. Each player has their own train of dominoes to build, but there is also a communal train, known as the Mexican train, which all players are allowed to extend. A full game of Mexican train dominoes consists of thirteen rounds.

“Double or nothing” is a gambling idiom, but it applies to Mexican train dominoes in a different way. The entire game hinges on the doubles players require to start the game and their obligations to play only on open doubles before playing anywhere else! Does that sound confusing? Let’s try to fix that!

These are 22 facts about Mexican train dominoes:

1. Mexican Train Is A Variation Of Dominoes

Mexican train is a variation of the traditional dominoes game, but it has a few extra arms extending from the double twelve tile required to start the game. Each player has their own train, and there is a public Mexican train that everyone may build. 

2. Mexican Train Dominoes Is Based On Chinese Games

Was it Mexico? No! The game’s name is confusing because it actually evolved from a few different Chinese domino games, some dating back to the 12th century. Some of them are Pai Gaw, Tien Gow (Heaven-Nine), Tim U, and Kap Tai Shap.

3. There Is A Story Behind Mexican Train’s Name

At best, the game has few links to anything Mexican, but we can pass on the sketchy reasoning. Chinese laborers brought it to Latin America in the mid to late 19th century. Cubans and other Latinos adopted it, calling it “Domino Cubano.” 

In the 1860s, these Latinos began working on American railroads, and locals started calling the game Mexican train dominoes because of its popularity amongst the Latin American railroad laborers.

4. A Californian Couple Copyrighted Mexican Train Dominoes

A couple from Newport Coast, California, Katie and Roy Parsons, developed and refined the game. In 1994, they copyrighted the rules of the game they called Train. The game currently sells as the Mexican Train dominoes game.

5. Mexican Train Appeals To All Ages

It’s a game that the whole family can enjoy together. Mexican train is simple enough for children to participate alongside the adults, who may employ sneaky strategies to make the game go their way. 

For a few extra hoots of laughter, some include train-type actions. Examples are blowing the whistle every time a player starts his turn and knocking tiles together when doubles are played to sound like two trains passing each other on the track. 

6. The Aim Of Mexican Train Is To Have No Dominoes Left

The aim is to be the first player to get rid of all your dominoes. You’re allowed to place matching dominoes on your private train, the public Mexican train, or on other players’ trains in some circumstances.

7. Some Equipment Is Required For Mexican Train

Mexican train usually uses a double-twelve set of 91 tiles, suitable for up to eight people. Alternate sets can also be used depending on the number of players. You will also need tokens or markers for each person and a pen and paper for scoring.

8. Mexican Train Starts With Twelve Tiles

For six players or less, each person takes twelve tiles. Seven or eight people will each draw ten dominoes, and nine or ten players will take eight tiles. The game starts with the person who has the double-twelve domino. 

9. You Can’t Start Without The Double In Mexican Train

It’s double or nothing! No, we’re not gambling. But you can’t start the game without the double-twelve tile or whichever double corresponds to the game number. Players must draw tiles until somebody finds it.

10. You Must Satisfy The Double In Mexican Train Dominoes

Satisfying the double is a rule that refers to a double that was a player’s last tile that they could play. They must draw from the boneyard to try to find a matching tile. The same applies to the next player if the first could not find a suitable domino. This is called “satisfying the double.”

11. Mexican Train Has Boneyards

Although this sounds quite gruesome, the boneyards are simply piles of face-down dominoes that players draw from when they don’t have suitable tiles to add to any of the trains.

12. You Need Markers In Mexican Train

When a player can’t play, even after drawing a tile from the boneyard, they place a marker on their private train to indicate that it is open to other players. Once a player has placed a matching domino there, the marker is removed, and only the owner can build there again.

13. Everyone Builds Trains In Mexican Train

Once someone has placed the double-twelve tile or relevant double for that round, players begin building their trains from the double placed in the center. Players line up all the dominoes that match each other, and the rest are used to form the Mexican train.

14. There Are 13 Rounds In Mexican Train Dominoes

A complete game of Mexican train consists of thirteen rounds. The first round starts with the double-twelve tile, and the next will begin with the double-eleven, and so it goes until the last game, which uses the double-zero as the starting tile.

15. Use Up All Your Tiles To Win At Mexican Train Dominoes

It’s a race! The first player to use up all their tiles is the winner of that round. 

16. The Lowest Score Wins In Mexican Train 

Players add all the dots on their remaining dominoes to make up their penalty points. The player with the fewest point after all thirteen rounds is the winner. A double-zero tile represents fifty points.

17. Cut-Throat Strategy Makes Mexican Train Nasty

Cut-throat is a strategy where you play a double and leave it unsatisfied, forcing the next player to satisfy it from dominoes they would have used in their private trains.

18. Mexican Train Is Not A Racist Name

Some people have suggested that the game has undertones of racism because of its origin in America, believing that it implies that the Latino rail workers were of a lower class. While that may have been a prevailing attitude of the time, suggesting that this has been transferred to the game’s name is a little far-fetched.

19. There Is Train Terminology In Mexican Train

Here is some funny train terminology of the game:

  • The station is the center double.
  • The starter domino matching the center double is the engine.
  • The train is the line of dominoes.
  • Some rules require a player about to put his last tile down to say, “caboose.”

20. Partnerships Work Well In Mexican Train 

Players can play in teams of two when there are four or more players in the game. Each partner will make a separate train, but either teammate may build on both trains. The train only becomes public when both partners can’t add to their trains. 

21. Mexican Train Merchandise Is Available

There are people crazy enough about Mexican train dominoes who will buy t-shirts and hoodies with dominoes printed on them. Some online stores sell this clothing.

22. You Can Play Mexican Train Online

If you love the game idea but are more of a techy person, you can play the game online on your electronic device.

Last Word

Mexican train dominoes is perhaps the more fun version of the traditional game. It’s suited to the whole family, and it’s likely to have everyone hooting with laughter at the silly actions. Even if you lose, it’s not a train smash because it’s so much fun!

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This article was co-authored by our team of in-house and freelance writers, and reviewed by our editors, who enjoy sharing their knowledge about their favorite games with others!

JC Franco
Editor | + posts

JC Franco serves as a New York-based editor for Gamesver. His interest for board games centers around chess, a pursuit he began in elementary school at the age of 9. Holding a Bachelor’s degree in Business from Mercyhurst University, JC brings a blend of business acumen and creative insight to his role. Beyond his editorial endeavors, he is a certified USPTA professional, imparting his knowledge in tennis to enthusiasts across the New York City Metropolitan area.