Opening Mexican Train moves and strategies to help you win
Like most domino games, your opening moves in a game of Mexican Train should set you up to unload as many dominoes as possible. There are three key elements to a winning Mexican Train strategy:
Keep your train private
Pay attention to the scoring and the tiles played
Play matching tiles early and fast
Develop a plan at the beginning of the game that sticks to these three guidelines.
Opening strategy #1: keep your own train private
There’s a bit of messaging you and your opponents are conveying when you play on the public train: "I’m out of moves".
Keep to your personal train for as long as possible. If you can play on multiple trains, opt for your own train first. By playing on public trains or opponent’s open trains, you’re just giving them options. Keep their options limited!
If an opponent’s train is open and you can play a tile, choose a tile that ends in the same number that caused the train to go public in the first place. They likely won’t have a way to play on it or any remaining tiles. This keeps their playable tile options limited to skips and draws.
If your personal train must go public because you’ve run out of options, strive to close it as quickly as possible and remove that train marker.
Playing on the public Mexican Train might communicate you’re out of options—unless you keep them guessing. You could play mostly on your own train, but playing a tile here or there on the public train might confuse some sharp-eyed opponents. Just don’t let it interfere with your plan.
Opening strategy #2: Pay attention to the scores and tiles played
Don’t just focus on your Mexican Train and your next play. Pay attention to the tiles your opponents are playing with.
Notice when you think a player is running out of options. If, for example, another player plays tiles on their Mexican Train and suddenly starts playing on the public Mexican Train, it’s probably a sign they’re out of moves on their own train.
Play the tiles you think will leave your opponent without a move. If they played a series of tiles earlier that ended in |5, for example, and you have tiles that end in |5, your opponent likely has no more tiles to match and will have to draw a domino from the boneyard.
Unload your highest-pip count dominoes first to keep your score low in case you’re not the first to play all your tiles. If you’re playing against two or three players, the game can end fast. Even having only one tile can make or break a three-game match.
Play moves clockwise, so the player to your right is likely to take the brunt of your strategy. Likewise, the player to your left is best positioned to mess with your last domino and subsequent turns.
Opening strategy #3: Play matching tiles and doubles early and fast
Playing doubles is your best way to leapfrogging opponents. If every player only plays one domino per turn, you’re all staying relatively close. You need to get ahead by unloading faster.
Use doubles on your private train to string together plays. If you have the opportunity to play multiple doubles in a string, do so, like 4|5 - 5|5 - 5|12 - 12|12 - 12|1. In this example scenario, you would have played five tiles in two turns.
Remember, when someone plays a double it must be covered and closed. Play two or more doubles only when you can cover them unless your remaining dominoes are limited.
If you don’t have a play on your private Mexican Train, there’s always the public train. You might be communicating you’re out of options, but if other players are already playing there, don’t worry. Remember, the goal is to unload tiles and avoid plucking new tiles from the bone pile.
Bonus strategy: keep talking and hide from your opponents
Human players make human mistakes. Pin people in so they're unable to play and derail someone else's train.
In a physical, social setting you probably don’t want to line up your tiles for others to see. Instead, develop a system (like every third tile) to organize your dominoes. See if you can spot an opponent's similar strategy among all their dominoes, too.