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Regular Dominoes vs. Mexican Train Dominoes: 16 Things to Consider

“Do you play dominoes?” is like asking somebody, “Do you play cards?” Just as there is no singular card game, there is no singular dominoes game. There are many different domino games, each of which comes with variations. For example, playing regular or “straight” dominoes is very different from Mexican Train. However, there are some similarities. 

Both regular dominoes and Mexican Train have roots in the Chinese game Pai gow. In regular dominoes, players can bluff, adding an element of strategy not allowed in Mexican Train. In Mexican Train, there are extra pieces, a central “train station,” and markers. 

Deciding which game of dominoes to play often depends on the number of players and their ages. For example, children might do better with Mexican Train because there is little bluffing. However, even if you enjoy games with bluffing, regular dominoes might not be a good pick if you want to play with eleven other friends. 

Regular Dominoes vs. Mexican Train Dominoes – Similarities, differences, and more.

1. Regular Dominoes & Mexican Train Originated From China

Regular dominoes and Mexican Train originated from China. They have similarities to a gambling game called Pai gow, played with 32 Chinese tiles. However, playing Pai gow is closer to a card game than modern dominoes.  

2. Mexican Train Dominoes Is “Mexican” In the United States

Mexican Train is only called “Mexican Train” in the United States. Elsewhere, it is known as “Domino Cubano” or “Longana.” 

The game was initially popular in Cuba and other parts of Latin America. Thus, Cuban laborers brought the game to the United States when they came to work on the railways in the 1860s. 

The game caught on, spreading across the United States. However, in an awkward moment in history, US citizens didn’t seem to grasp the difference between Cubans and Mexicans. Thus, they called the version of dominoes played by the Cuban railroad workers “Mexican Train.” 

3. Mexican Train Dominoes Is Like Chicken Foot

Mexican Train is a lot like Chicken Foot. It is believed the former inspired the latter. Consequently, most Mexican Train sets also contain directions for Chicken Foot. 

4. Public Domain: Regular Dominoes Vs. Mexican Train

Dominoes are considered in the public domain. Thus, nobody owns the intellectual property of regular dominoes. 

However, Mexican Train isn’t necessarily in the public domain. In 1994, Roy and Katie Parsons copyrighted a set of rules for Mexican Train. The couple went on to sell the rights to the Puremeco Company. One of their modifications is adding sound to the station hub, which holds the domino in the center of the game.  

5. Players: Regular Dominoes Vs. Mexican Train

Regular dominoes are usually played with two to four players. However, it can be adapted for up to eight players by having them draw five dominoes instead of seven. 

Mexican Train can be played with as little as two players, but playing with at least four is recommended. The game is easily adaptable to additional players, adding sets of dominoes to expand to twelve or more players. 

6. Teams Are Allowed In Regular Dominoes & Mexican Train

Regular dominoes and Mexican Train can be played in teams. 

7. Sets: Regular Dominoes Vs. Mexican Train

Regular dominoes are typically played with a set of Double 6, which has 28 tiles. 

Mexican Train uses sets based on the number of players and the game’s version. Suggestions include:

  • 2-4 players = Double 9, 55 tiles
  • 2-8 players = Double 12, 91 tiles
  • 9-12 players = Double 15, 136 tiles
  • 9-12 players = Double 18, 190 tiles

8. Hands: Regular Dominoes Vs. Mexican Train

In regular dominoes, each player begins with a hand of seven tiles. 

In Mexican Train, the hand depends on how many are playing and which version of the game is being played. 

In one version, the hands are distributed as follows:

  • 2 players = 16 tiles
  • 3 players = 15 tiles
  • 4 players = 14 tiles
  • 5 players = 12 tiles
  • 6 players = 11 tiles
  • 7 players = 10 tiles
  • 8 players = 9 tiles

In a second version, played with a double-nine set, the hands are distributed as follows:

  • 2-4 players = 10 dominoes
  • 5-6 players = 9 dominoes
  • 7-8 players = 7 dominoes 

9. Mexican Train Has More Equipment Than Regular Dominoes

Mexican Train has more equipment than regular dominoes:

  • A station (where the centerpiece sits)
  • Markers (indicate if it is a player’s train or public)

10. The First Tile: Regular Dominoes Vs. Mexican Train

In regular dominoes, the first tile is up to the first player. 

However, in Mexican Train, the first domino is the double twelve, and this “engine” is parked at the “station” and serves as the center of the game. 

11. Bluffing: Legal In Regular Dominoes, Not In Mexican Train

In regular dominoes, players can pass even if they have a tile they could play. However, this is not legal in Mexican Train. The rules in Mexican Train insist a player puts down a tile if they can make a play. 

12. Adding On: Regular Dominoes Vs. Mexican Train

In regular dominoes, the tiles played are open for other players to add on to if they have a matching tile. The only personal tiles a player can claim are the ones they’ve been dealt or drew from the boneyard. 

However, in Mexican Train, there are “trains” that are private and those that are public. Thus, a player can only add to a train (row of dominoes) if it is their own (private) or a public one. Therefore, even if they have a matching tile that would work on an opponent’s train, they can’t add on if it is marked “private.” 

13. Get Rid Of Tiles in Regular Dominoes & Mexican Train

Like regular dominoes, in Mexican Train, it is good to get rid of your tiles before the rest of the players. In either game, this is accomplished by making a play in each turn without having to draw from the boneyard. 

14. Doubles: Regular Dominoes Vs. Mexican Train

Playing a double tile (same number of pips on each end) in regular dominoes gets you extra points if playing “straight.” 

However, playing a double tile in Mexican Train will give the player a second turn at putting down a tile. First, the double is placed perpendicular to the tile before it is in its train. Then the player puts down a second tile, a move called “satisfying the double.” However, the second tile does not have to be placed on the same train. 

15. High Score For Regular Dominoes; Low For Mexican Train

In regular dominoes, players aim for a high score, ideally 250. 

However, in Mexican Train, players want a low score. Mexican Train is played in rounds, and the scores are tallied to declare the overall winner. Thus, even if you come in second or third in a round, you want your score to be as low as possible. 

16. Strategy: Regular Dominoes Vs. Mexican Train

Regular dominoes depend less on luck than Mexican Train, partly because a player can bluff. However, Mexican Train still requires players to consider how long to keep their train private, how to use their doubles, and change the end of public trains. Thus, neither game is pure luck. 

Last Word

Regular dominoes and Mexican Train are both suited for two or more players. However, you’ll probably have more fun playing regular dominoes if you are in a smaller group. If you are a larger group, Mexican Train is easier to expand. Enjoy.