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How to Play Mexican Train Dominoes: 16 Main Things to Consider (Rules, Basics,…)

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

The history of dominoes stretches back to the 12th century in the Chinese “Song” dynasty. However, the modern version of dominoes appeared in the Western world during the 18th century. Interestingly, the roots of Mexican train dominoes can be traced back to a game called Pai Gow in Ancient China.

Mexican Train Dominoes is a simple game to play, and if the rules are understood and followed, it can provide teams of up to eight players with hours of enjoyment. It can be rewarding and frustrating for competitive players, and the temptation to resort to deception and intrigue is very real.

The winner of Mexican Train Dominoes is the player with the lowest score over all the rounds played. The rules governing the play are easy to understand and cover all variables which may arise during the game.

Mexican Train Dominoes – these are 16 things to consider:

1. Consider The Components Of Mexican Train Dominoes

The following components of the game are needed:

  1. The train hub (Train station)
  2. Train tokens
  3. Set of double twelve dominoes
  4. Scorepad or chart

2. There Are Two Ways To Start A Game

Firstly, the hub in the center of the playing table is laid out, and the starting player is selected.

There are two ways to select the starting player:

First – The Player With The Engine Domino Starts 

The first method to choose who starts the game is to turn all the dominoes over, with the faces down, on the table and have each player select their dominoes.

The player who selects the engine domino is the starting player. 

If no one has the correct engine, then each player draws a single domino out of the boneyard until it is found, and the person who chooses the highest value is the starting player.

Second – The First Player To Find The Engine Domino Starts

The players search for the starting domino (The double-12- the “engine”), and the first person to find this starts.

The double-12 is installed in the middle of the hub and acts as the “engine” for round one.

Each subsequent round uses the next value down as the engine i.e. 

  1. Double Eleven
  2. Double Ten
  3. Double Nine
  4. Double Eight
  5. Double Seven
  6. Double Six
  7. Double Five
  8. Double Four
  9. Double Three
  10. Double Two
  11. Double One
  12. Double Zero (Blank Tile)

3. The Dominoes Must Be Dealt Correctly

When the starting player has been chosen, the dominoes are returned to the table with the faces turned down and shuffled.

Each player then draws their dominoes as follows:

  • If there are between two and four, each player selects fifteen dominoes
  • If there are between five and six players, each player selects twelve dominoes
  • If there are between seven and eight players, each player selects eleven dominoes

Note: The number of tiles chosen can be adapted as needed.

The players select their dominoes and stand them on their edge or on a rack, with the marked sides facing the player, so they’re not visible to the opponents.

The player who selected the correct “engine” domino starts by adding it to the hub’s center. 

4. Spare Dominoes Are Stored In The Boneyard

The undealt dominoes are left face down and moved over to the side into an area called the boneyard.

The boneyard plays an essential role during a game of Mexican Train Dominoes because this is the source of “penalty” dominoes drawn during a game if one of the players has no matching domino to place on a train.

Once the dominoes have been dealt to the players, the leftover, boneyard dominoes are kept upside down with the blank side up and shuffled around.

When the boneyard is empty, the round of that game is beginning to draw to a close.

5. The 1st Round Of Dominoes Is Played Differently

If the starting player has one domino, they select a tile where the adjacent side matches the engine.

In the first round, if the player has multiple dominoes with matching sides, they can be placed together in a single move to create a “train.” 

A train with no mark is private, and only the owner of that train can place dominoes on it.

When the player has no more matches, the player on the starter’s left side takes a turn.

6. After The 1st Round Of Dominoes, Different Rules Apply

After the first round, players can only place one domino on their own or a public.

If a player has no match, they must draw a random domino from the selection in the boneyard. The selected domino can be played immediately if there is a match. The new domino is placed on the players’ rack if the selected domino does not match any dominoes on the train.

If there is no match, it is at this point that the player has to mark their train as public.

7. When Space Is Small For Dominoes, Trains May Be “Bent.”

To save space, players can place the dominoes parallel to each other as long as the dominoes don’t impede any of the other players’ trains.

If there is insufficient space to extend the train, an optional play known as “bending” the train is allowed, and the dominoes are placed parallel.

8. A Players Train Turns Public If They Can’t Match A Domino

If a player has no dominoes with matching faces, they place their train token at the point on the hub, which indicates that this is now a “public” train.

This means that any player can place dominoes on that now public train.

Players can revert their train back to “private” if they have a matching domino in subsequent rounds.

9. If The Dominoes Boneyard Is Empty, Trains Turn To Public

If a player cannot match a domino from their rack against their own, or another public train, they would normally be forced to select a new domino from the dominoes in the boneyard.

If the boneyard is empty, they mark their train as public, and the turn moves to the next player.

10. A “Double” Domino On Mexican Train

A domino with an equal number of dots on each side is called a “double.” 

A player with a “double” in the rack must place this at 90 degrees to the preceding domino on the train.

When a double is played, that player must play another domino immediately in a move called “satisfying the double.”

The player places the second domino adjacent to their own or on another public train.

If the player plays a double in the first round of Mexican Train Dominoes, the other players finish the round normally. 

If the players use a double domino in the second or subsequent rounds, they must satisfy the double before they can move on.

If the player cannot satisfy the double, that player must select a new tile from the boneyard. If that domino is playable, it must be placed on the double or public trains to end their turn.

If the drawn domino is a double that can be played, it must be played to satisfy the double. It is done by playing one from the player’s rack, or if there is no match, they must select a new domino from those in the boneyard.

This process continues until the player can play a “non” double or fails to match a single, at which point their train is marked as “public.”

If the player finishes their move without having the dominoes required to satisfy the double, the player to the left must satisfy it. Once again, if the next player cannot do this, they must mark their train as “public.”

11. Sometimes, A Chicken Foot Is Formed In Dominoes

A variation of the standard format of Mexican Train Dominoes is that three dominoes are required instead of “satisfying the double” with a single tile.

The play continues with three dominoes, which form a chicken foot. Until the double is answered, play in that train is stopped.

12. The Winner Is The Player With No Dominoes

When a player has only one domino left, they have to announce this to the table. The announcement is generally made in one of two ways:

  1. Shouting the word “Uno.”
  2. Tapping the tile loudly on the table.

If another player sees that the first has only one tile left and does not announce it, the first player can be forced to collect two new tiles from the boneyard.

The round finishes when a player has no more tiles left.

13. Bluffing is usually not allowed in Mexican Train Dominoes

While bluffing is acceptable in conventional dominoes, it is not permitted in Mexican Train Dominoes.

14. The Nº Of Tiles Dealt Differ In Mexican Train And Dominoes

In conventional dominoes, each player is dealt seven tiles.

In Mexican Train, the number of tiles dealt depends on the number of players. 

  • If there are between two and four, each player selects fifteen dominoes
  • If there are between five and six players, each player selects twelve dominoes
  • If there are between seven and eight players, each player selects eleven dominoes

15. Mexican Train Dominoes Derives From A Chinese Game

The origin of Mexican train dominoes goes back to a Chinese game: Pai Gow. Chinese laborers brought Mexican Train Dominoes to South America in the late 19th century, and Cuban laborers working on the North American train network introduced it to North America.

16. The Game Is Only Called Mexican Train In North America

Mexican Train dominoes only has this name in North America.

In Cuba and South American countries, the game is called:

  • Domino Cubano
  • Longana

Last Word

Mexican Train Dominoes is a simple and enjoyable game, played by up to eight players, and can keep everyone entertained for hours.

JC Franco

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.