How to host a Mexican Train Dominoes tournament
You can set up a Mexican Train Dominoes tournament among your family, friends, or community in less than a day. Whether you go all-out with Mexican Train or domino-themed food and drinks
or just establish some friendly rules and competition is up to you.
Follow these steps for a great tournament:
- Find at least six players, but more is better. Try to source players in multiples of three or four, too. This way you can have the right amount of players per game. Like Bridge or Poker, it's hard or impossible to play Mexican Train Dominoes with one or two people unless you're using a Mexican Train Dominoes app.
- Establish consistent rules. This includes using the same style dominoes, how to handle doubles and other house rules.
- Set up consistent tables. You could choose to use tables that seat four, or long rectangular players with multiple games happening at the same table.
- Establish consistent rules on who goes first. This could be the youngest or oldest player on the first round, who draws the double-12 first, the winner of the last round, or the winner of a series of coin flips.
- Establish great prizes. This could be cash, food, or just bragging rights.
Finding and establishing players
Mexican Train Dominoes is a great game for any age group, so encourage older players to ask their kids or grandkids to join in, or invite neighbors over with their friends and family. And because Mexican Train Dominoes is a game of strategy and luck, divide players up by skill level. To keep it simple, just ask players to self-grade themselves as beginners, intermediate, or experienced players.
If you have more than six or nine players, you might find it helpful to write down a chart of each player's name and their skill level. You can write this on a whiteboard or a sheet of paper and use it to track a player's progress.
Download these free Mexican Train Domino tournament brackets. These print-friendly sheets can handle up to 32 players
. A separate one is available for up to 16 players
Keep score with this free scoresheet
Establish consistent rules for your tourney
Be upfront about the rules you're establishing for the tournament and solicit feedback from the players. Most people have variations in play, so consider these as a starter set of rules:
Bonus: We have more detailed Mexican Train dominoes rules you can view or print.
- Choose between either a standard 12-round game, potentially played over two or more days. Or to save time, use a 6-round game to play in a single day.
- Players are assigned tables at random from the tournament organizer based on skill.
- No player can join a game late or substitute in another player.
- The boneyard is either in the center of the table accessible to all players with dominoes face down or in a cloth bag. A small bag is easy to pass around, too.
- Each player begins by drawing 12 tiles.
- Each game begins with the double-12 domino as the start. If the required double-12 isn't drawn, play proceeds to the next lowest double down to double-7. If this still does not produce a starting play, each player draws from the boneyard until a requisite double is drawn.
- Play moves in a clockwise direction from the starting player.
- The winner of each round goes first in the next game.
- A player may open by playing on their own train or with a player playing on the public Mexican Train.
- Players unable to play must draw one domino from the boneyard. If they still aren't able to play, their train is open and must be marked with a coin or other marker.
- If a player plays a double, they must satisfy that double with one additional move. If they can't cover the double, they must draw a tile, and if that fails to cover the double they must open their train and play continues to the next player.
- As play passes clockwise, a player's turn is officially over and if they forget to unmark their train, their train must remain open until the player's next round.
- If the last tile played is a double, it does not need to be covered.
- A player with only one tile left must tap or announce the domino to alert other players.
- When a player plays their last domino, all other players show their tiles face-up. Other players will count up their pips (dots) on their remaining dominoes. The player with the lowest score at the end of six, twelve, or however many rounds you agreed to play wins. An official scorekeeper should verify and record the scores.
Use these rules to understand other ways of playing dominoes, how to handle double domino tiles and playing doubles
, and different rules for two or more doubles.
Set up consistent tables and dominoes
Make sure each table is consistent so players can't see each other's dominos and the playing surface is identical. But also because people playing alongside you may be distracting to some and not others, keep the table setup consistent throughout the tourney.
You could also choose to divide players up by class so only beginners play against beginners, or you could start everyone randomly regardless of play experience. We recommend a good starting point with players competing based on skill level. As winners progress up the tournament rounds, let them compete regardless of skill level.
use consistent domino sets, too, if possible. If you don't have any, you can download this paper set of Mexican Train Dominoes
to cut out.
Establish who goes first
Traditional Mexican Train rules say the player who draws the double-12 tile starts and play moves clockwise. If a player cannot play after the first round, subsequent turns draw until a player finds it or the next lowest double, such as a double-11 or double-10.
But you can shake it up depending on the number of players involved. You could set a rule that the youngest or oldest player goes first. Or after the first game is played, the winner of the last round goes first on the next.
You could also use a series of coin flips since coins are a traditional way to place a marker on a public personal train and already lying around. We've also heard of people who let the player with the MOST number of dominoes left in the last round going first.
Establish great prizes
Cash is always a big hit. You could have each player "buy-in" with some small or modest amount and the winners can earn more as the game continues. Or have a "big pot" at the end one player walks away with. Consider it a game setup fee for your work and use some of the cash to purchase food and drinks for everyone or rent a space.
You could also source a local trophy maker to produce a trophy in the shape of a double blank domino or an actual train or train marker.
Alternatively, you could bring food.
Need some ideas for domino-themed food or party favors? Try these domino-themed recipes for game night or tourneys