~ Mexican Train Dominoes ~
The idea is in theory a simple enough take on dominoes. In practice it's a wee bit more complicated.
Not a game I'd heard of until recently, Mexican Train Dominoes has apparently been popular in the States for some time, and only recently found its way over to the UK. Why Mexican rather than Cuban or West Indian I'm not sure, though I'd hazard a guess that it originated from Texas or Southern California. When I came to buy this, there were several other varieties available from the same website although reviews suggested that this was the better quality as other versions apparently didn't last very long.
~ In the tin... ~
... are some dominoes. Lots of them. They range from double blanks (or zero's) up to double twelve's. Over ninety pieces in total. Together with seven different coloured little trains the size of monopoly pieces. There is also the centrepiece which can make a noise resembling what I imagine is a steam train and with a little light which flashes when the middle section is pressed down (batteries are included). The dominoes are sturdy and well made, with the dots coming in a variety of colours rather than bog standard black. The overall look is quite striking and colourful. Even the tin the game comes in is attractive and short of standing on it, it won't sag like cardboard. It's also a synch to pack away afterwards as there are spaces for the dominoes, the centrepiece and the trains, so if any pieces have gone missing, it's easy to tell. So far so good.
~ To play... ~
... I would strongly advise not trying to read the instructions shortly after a large Christmas day dinner and lashings of alcohol. Not only do all the words on the six page multi lingual instruction sheet all blur into one, but for a game recommended for children aged 8 and over, it all seemed horribly complicated. Try reading when sober.
~ Playing: The proper way ~
The idea, once grasped is simple enough. Lots of room is required though, so it's best to clear a table or floor space first. Our first game had three players (I doubled up with the youngest) although up to six players is fine. We then picked 15 dominoes each which should only be seen by the player, so have to be stood up. A further domino is then put in the centrepiece and starts the Mexican train. This should start with the double 12. All the remaining dominoes are then placed face down somewhere central (called, strangely, the Boneyard). Working clockwise (we started with the youngest - and me) the idea is to build your own train, consisting of a row of dominoes working out from the double in the centre and extending towards the player.
The first domino each player uses has to have the same number as the Mexican train centrepiece. All the subsequent dominoes must then correspond to the number which is already placed down, so if the first one played is a twelve/two you then need a domino featuring a two to carry on. If, when it's your turn you aren't able to play, you take a domino from the Boneyard. If you still can't play, you place your mini train on your line (or end domino) and play passes to the next person. The game is over once all the dominoes in the Boneyard have been used and either a player has played their last one, or nobody is able to play the dominoes they have left.
~ Keeping tally ~
The idea is that the Mexican train originally starts with a double 12, and works down to the double zero, means that there is intended to be 13 games played in total before the final score is reached. At the end of each game, players add up the spots on the dominoes they have left. Each spot counts as one penalty point. A player who runs out of dominoes will thus score no penalty points for that game. The winner, as you may have guessed, will be the person who has scored the fewest penalty points over all thirteen games.
This was just too impractical for us when we first played it (remember there were two young children playing who were both under the recommended age of 8 years. And both adults had had a fair bit to drink). We found a better game...
~ My turn, my turn! ~
We opted to play singular games, which in hindsight was sensible. The first game lasted nearly twenty minutes, and we simply wouldn't have had the time or inclination to carry on for another 12 rounds after that. With our first game we picked a double six to use as the centrepiece (simply because that was the first we saw, and it was as good as any). Luckily all three players had a domino with six dots featured. As in the 'proper' version, we decided the winner would be the person who, once the last domino had been played, had the lowest score left on their dominoes. We have found that this way each game lasts long enough to keep the players feeling competitive and boredom doesn't set in.
~ Worth buying? ~
Each subsequent game we've played (and we've persevered!) lasts between 10 and 15 minutes. Even when there have been just two players it takes around the same time as you start off with less dominoes the fewer players there are.
There are lots of versions of this game available to buy online and prices vary widely. I would suggest steering clear of those where customers suggest that the centrepiece is cheaply made and can't withstand any kids heavy handedness. This is impractical considering it's a game aimed at younger participants and specifically no use to us with younger visitors likely to want to play.
The quality is perhaps reflected in the various prices though so I would bear that in mind before choosing which one to buy. Although the Fundex version is one of the more expensive at around £39 (and difficult to get hold of, most retailers were out of stock when I was looking) it's also well made.
Personally, I think it has been worth paying a bit extra for the tin, good quality dominoes and realistic toot of the train hub although you'll need to buy batteries occasionally if you want to hear the train noises.
The game is recommend for children aged 8 and upwards which is probably accurate although we've played this with two younger kids. The counting skills of the youngest player at five years old are already pretty good, but what helped move the game along quicker and helped to keep his attention was that the dominoes are all colour coded. When you're looking at dominoes which have up to 24 dots on them, this is a big help.
~ Verdict ~
This game is far more interesting than ordinary dominoes, and having played it with both my parents and young children it's nice to have a game at the ready which visitors of varying generations can get involved in.
The colour coded dominoes is a nice touch which has helped our younger players to recognise number groupings up to 12. I don't know if that's the case with other versions but something you should consider before buying. I would also recommend getting a version (like this) with a musical hub. If it gets annoying, you simply don't press the centrepiece.
As a rule, I think older children would probably enjoy this, although whether many would want to play for the whole 13 games before a winner is established I don't know.
Lastly, although trains are traditionally more a boys thing, I think with it being dominoes based girls should find this just as appealing. Parents or other doting relatives on the other hand may well be put off by the expensive price.