Mexican Trains

Article by Joe Celko (71062.1056@CompuServe.COM).
Revision 2
April 19, 1998

This is another version of Trains, with slightly different rules, but much the same goals and strategy. It was first introduced by Cardinal Industries, a New York City, NY domino manufacturer. I have taken the liberty of adding more railroading terms to the game and clearing up some missing information in the short description given on one sheet booklet included in their double six set.


The game uses a double twelve domino set, one marker for each player and one special double marker shared by all the players (optional). Coins or small poker chips will serve as markers, but make sure that the doubles marker is clearly different from the personal markers.


There is a boneyard in this game. The number of players determines the number of tiles in a hand according to this table:

PlayersDouble Twelve


The double twelve, called the engine, is placed first in the center of the table by the player holding it. Play then moves clockwise. If no player has the double twelve, players draw a tile from the boneyard in turn until someone does have the double twelve and can place in the center of the table.

PlasTech Industries (Plano, TX) used to sell a special frame shaped somewhat like a gear wheel to hold the trains and the central domino. The double marker is placed on the engine, since it is the last double to be played at this point in the game.

Each player, starting the with player who set the central double, builds a train in front of himself which spins off of the central double twelve. The central double gives the "engine number" for this round.

This is done as one play, not a tile at time as in Trains. The leftover tiles in his hand are called "empties". The resulting layout of radiating trains is called the "roundhouse", with a line pointing towards each player. A player who cannot play any tiles from his hand on the engine is said to have a train made up of just the engine.

Building trains on the first round is called "working on the railroad" and it has precedence over the other actions that will be described in the "Playing tiles" section. You can consider the first player's move to be a special case of working the railroad, since he both places a double and his train in one move.

Consider this example of the precedence of the rules. Player A sets the engine for the round and then builds his train which ends in a double. Player B, who follows A, ignores the "doubles rule" and builds his train and so forth round the table until the play returns to A. At this point, the building phase is over and play has returned to A, who is subject to the following rules.

Playing Tiles

When everyone has their train in place, each player in turn places tile on the end of trains according to these rules. If a player can place a tile, they must do so in their turn:

1) If the double marker is on the end of a train, then the player is required to play on the marked train. If they cannot, they must draw a tile and the turn passes to the next player. We will say more about playing doubles later. When someone plays on the double, the double marker is moved back to the engine, so other players can reuse it when they play a double. A player can call out "All aboard " to remind the following players that the doubles rules are now in effect.

2) The end of their own train. We will say more about how markers are placed and removed on a player's train later.

3) The end of the train of another player if the other player's train has a marker on it. The marked train is said to be "taking on freight" when a play is made on it. When this train has taken on freight, the personal marker is removed and returns to the owner of the train.

4) If a player is not able to play on an existing train in the roundhouse, the player may start a "Mexican Train". The first car in the "Mexican Train" must start with the engine count, so that it is a part of the roundhouse, like all other trains. After this point in the game, the "Mexican train" acts like a train that always has a marker on the end and it is covered by the rules that apply to any train.

There is no priority as to which train to play on in situations (2), (3) and (4). Much of the game is picking which train will give you the most options for future plays.

If a player is unable to play on the end of his own train or a marked train (i.e. the last double, the Mexican train or another player's train), he must draw a tile from the boneyard. If this new tile can play, he then does so. If this new tile still cannot play, he retains the tile in his hand and places a personal marker on the end of his train. The turn passes to the next player. If a player is unable to play and the boneyard is empty, he simply passes his turn; when nobody can play the game is blocked and then the points are scored.

Playing Doubles

If a player places a double, he must place another tile in the same turn. This second tile can be, but does not have to be, placed on the double. If this second tile is also a double, the player gets to place a third tile under the same rules and so forth until he runs out of doubles. The player has to put the special double marker on the last double played. Alternately, instead of using a special marker, you can simply look for the exposed double on the train to mark it.

The next player is obligated to play on the train with the last double placed, i.e. the one with the special marker on it. If he is not able to do so, he draws a tile from the boneyard and puts a marker on the end of his train. Each of the following players is obligated to play on the double or mark their train in their turn in the same manner. Playing on the double and breaking this pattern of play is called "getting off the train". When the double is played upon, the special marker is returned to the engine.

Assume a player has three doubles, [1-1], [2-2], [3-3] and he holds the [2-6] and [3-4] in his hand. He plays his [1-1], places the doubles marker on the [1-1], and gets another turn. He plays his [2-2], places the doubles marker on the [2-2], and gets another turn. He plays his [3-3] places the doubles marker on the [3-3], and gets another turn.

At this point, he is out of doubles and the [3-3] is marked. Playing a double after a double is the exception to the rule that the next play must be on a marked double. If you think about it for a second, you see that you cannot play a double on a double because you would need identical doubles in the domino set. Chains of doubles are in effect a free play that leaves an obligation for the next player.

At this point, he has one more play coming. If he puts the [3-4] on the [3-3], which frees up the last double played, he has gotten off the train and the double marker returns to the engine.

If he decides to play the [2-6] on the [2-2] or on some other tile for his final play, then the next player is obligated to play on the [3-3] because it is still marked. At this point, he may call out "all abroad threes" to warn the other players of their obligation.

Last Tile

A player must announce when they have one tile left in their hand; this can be done by tapping the table with the final tile or with the marker. When a player forgets to "tap" the table when they are down to one tile, they have to take two more tiles. Anyone who catches him before the play rotates back to the offender can tap him for the two tile penalty. If the play gets back to him and he was not caught, then he can play without penalty. In Texas, the tradition is to call "Uno!" iwhen you have one tile left in any domino games.

The best method is to put the last tile face down in front of the player, so there is no argument as to whether an announcement was made.

The following rounds start with the double eleven, then the double ten and so forth until the final and thirteenth round is played with zero as the "engine number" and the double zero tile as the roundhouse.


Play stops when one player has dominoed or the game is blocked.

Since players without a play are obligated to draw a tile from the boneyard, the boneyard will be empty when the game is blocked.

The player who dominoes gets a score of zero.

In both cases, the players who did not domino score the total of the pips on the tiles left in their hand. The lowest score wins the game after all engine numbers have been used (i.e thirteen rounds with a double twelve set).


It is a good idea to Xerox a score sheet with the engine number down the side and the names of the players across a grid for each game, so that you do not forget the engine number between hands.

The markers should not be placed on the tile on the end of your train, since that would block all or part of the pips. If you are using transparent plastic markers, then you might allow covering the pips.

Be aware of which trains are open for play in your turn. Build the longest possible initial train so that you have the fewest number of tiles to play after the first round.

You can save doubles, but be aware that you could get stuck with them in your hand of the other tiles in their suit have been played. The reason for hoarding doubles is to run them at the last minute, or to block other players be forcing them to play on the double.

One interesting situation can occur that is worth mentioning. If one or more players end their personal trains with a double while working on the railroad, the doubles rules will come into effect on the second round. The last double played must be satisfied, then the double set just before it and so forth around the table. Obviously, this will be in the opposite direction of the deal.

The Game Cabinet - - Ken Tidwell