How to Play Texas 42

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Texas 42 - Game of the Ages

Texas 42 is a truly addictive sort of game and is undoubtedly one of the best things to come out of the number 42 since Life, the Universe, and Everything, and one of the best things to come out of Texas since... well, it's quite possibly one of the best things ever to come out of Texas. The rules outlined below are just one set of house rules for Texas 42 - there are some variations listed at the bottom of the article, and many more can be found online, including tournament rulebooks.

Getting Started

To play Texas 42, a few things are required. First, find a set of double-six dominoes. There are twenty-eight dominoes in a double six set - every possible combination of blanks, ones, twos, threes, fours, fives and sixes, including doubles; It is important to have the right kind. The second requirement is three friends. Or enemies. Or... robots. You need four people total to play the game. It doesn't really matter if they're friends or enemies or robots so long as they can play. Friends have been shown to work well in most cases.

After acquiring these things which are necessary, it is a good idea to find a table. Card tables work very nicely for this, as it is important to the flow of play that no player be able to see another's hand and it is convenient if everyone can easily reach the table's center. Players sit down at this table, with the players sitting opposite eachother being partners. It is considered good form to say hello to your partner and scowl at the other team. Cursing or shaking your fists at the enemy is also acceptable.


There are a number of conventions used in this article's examples which the readers will hopefully find as straightforward as the author. Whenever specific dominoes are referred to, a dash-separated number pair is used, with all digits being obvious except perhaps the blank, which will be denoted by a zero. Further, every example in this book will use the same four players, namely Albert, Burton, C3PO and Drachmire. For anyone who cares to know, these are our hero, his friend, robot and enemy, respectively. On occasion, they may also be called by names such as Al, 3PO, Ally-Boy, D-Man, Burty, Threep, Big A, B52, Mire and others, but they will more commonly be referred to as A, B, C and D.

Flow of Play

A game of 42 consists of two to thirteen hands, played by two teams of two players each. Winning a hand awards a team one to four marks and the first team to amass seven marks is considered to have won the game. Each of the said hands in turn consists of a bidding phase and a play phase.

Both the conditions of play and the number of marks at stake are decided in the bidding phase of a hand. Players bid on the strength of their hands, with the winning bidder deciding the mode in which play will procede. The play phase is itself a series of seven "tricks", in which the team that won the bid either makes the bid or is stopped.

Shaking, Drawing and Bidding

To begin, place all of the dominoes face down in the center of the table. Pick one player to "shake" the dominoes first. There is no hard and fast method for this, but drawing dominoes works well. Shaking is the domino equivalent of shuffling: just move them around til no one knows which one is where. It can take some practice to effectively shake the dominoes without throwing any off the table - in the event of a drop or flip, just get them all back together and shake again. Following the shake, each of the players who did not shake pulls a hand of seven (7) dominoes, then the player who shook takes the remaining seven. Since there are twenty-eight dominoes all together, there should be none left over unless somebody screwed up.

Once each player has a hand of seven dominoes, everyone may look at their hands. However, no one may communicate anything about what he, she or it is holding to the other players at the table, including to a partner. In fact, no such "table talk" of any kind is allowed. However, chatting merrily about the weather or continuing to grimace at the opponents to one's right and left is completely legitimate. Play then proceeds to the bidding phase, beginning with the person to the left of the person who did the shaking. I will get to specifically what you bid on in a moment. Once the first player has bid, bidding proceeds to the left, ending with the person by whom the shaking of dominoes occurred. A player may bid or pass on his turn, but if all 3 prior players have passed, the shaker is forced to bid.

Players bid, as in most bidding games, on the strength of their hands. Winning the bid gives a player control, but a high winning bid makes it more difficult to achieve victory. The minimum allowable bid is 30 - there are a total of 42 possible points in a round and a bid-winner must acquire at least as many points as he/she/it bid to achieve victory for the round. Bidding 42, or "mark" is allowable from the start and is extremely risky, but allows the bidder to specify Special Rules which may prove beneficial. A mark bid may only be outbid by a higher mark bid, in the form of 2-mark, 3-mark, etc. 2-mark is the maximum allowable starting bid, and a player may only bid one mark higher than the player she is outbidding. This kind of bidding should only be done on extremely strong hands, as the team winning a round is said to have won a number of rounds equal to the number of marks bid in these cases. Once each player has had a chance to bid and a winning bidder determined, play may proceed.

Playing the Hand

The player who won the bid initiates play by deciding exactly how the game will be played and then throwing the first domino of the first trick. Generally, this means that the player is allowed to pick a suit to be trump, but if the winning bid was a mark bid, then that player may also put Special Rules into effect. Typically, dominoes have two suits (i.e. the 3-6 can be the 6th 3 or the 3rd 6), but once the trump suit is decided, each of the 7 trumps is ONLY a member of that suit. The other side of the trump domino only decides a domino's rank within the suit.

Once a trump is decided, the bid-winning player is in control and may "lead" any domino it wishes. The higher side of the leading domino is the suit of the trick, unless it is a trump, in which case the trump side is the suit. The player to the leading player's left follows first, then the player to his left and so on until each player has thrown one domino. Following players MUST throw a domino in the same suit as the leading domino if they have one. Once all four dominoes of the trick have been played, the player that won the trick collects the trick for her team. This player then leads the next trick. The winner of a trick is determined as follows: if no trumps were played, the highest domino in the lead suit wins. Doubles are always the highest in their suit. If trumps were present, the highest trump wins. IMPORTANT: A highest trump will always win a trick it is played in, but players must still follow suit and trumps are ONLY trumps, so you cannot play a trump to win a trick if you have something else of the leading suit.

Play continues in this fashion until all seven tricks have been played. The winning team of the round is determined by whether the team that won the bid acquired points greater than or equal to its bid between them. Points are tallied as follows: one point is awarded for each trick (7 total); five points are awarded for each domino with five dots (0-5, 3-2, 4-1) (15 total); ten points are awarded for each domino with ten spots (5-5, 6-4) (20 total). The astute will quickly realize that it is, as such, extremely important to win tricks in which the point-bearing dominoes are present. If the bid-winning player did not meet the bid, the other team is victorious.

And That's It

A game continues until one team has won seven rounds. Victories in hands where 2-mark or higher was bid are considered to equal a number of victories equal to the magnitude of the bid (i.e. a 3-mark bid means that whoever wins the round is considered to have won 3 rounds toward overall victory). Gloating over the losers is encouraged and traditionally a consolation round is then played so that everyone is still friends/enemies/robots afterward.

Special Rules and Bids

There is one Special Bid allowed in Texas 42, the "3-Mark Plunge". So fundamentally dangerous is this bid that its name alone is enough to make many players squeamish. It allows a player to surpass the typical 2-mark bid limit, under certain conditions. A player who bids 3-Mark Plunge must have at least four doubles in his hand. Play proceeds as normal, with the notable exception that the bidding player's PARTNER chooses the trump and leads. This is obviously very dangerous because said partner may well have a thoroughly horrible hand of dominoes. As with all mark bids, all 42 points must be acquired for the bidding player and her partner to achieve victory.

There are also a couple other special modes of play for mark bids. "Follow Me" is exactly like the normal mode, except that there is no trump, which favors a high, dominating hand. By contrast, "Nel-O" is as different from the normal course of play as an African swallow is from a European swallow.


Nel-O is typically only allowed when the shaking player is forced to bid and bids mark and is designed as an alternative when forced into bidding on a low hand. In Nel-O, the bidding player's partner does not play. There is no trump, and the bidding player must attempt to lose every trick for victory. The bidding player is allowed to decide whether doubles will be considered high (as usual), low, or a suit-of-their-own for the course of the round. If suit-of-their-own is called, the doubles cease to belong to their usual suits and become, as the name suggests, a suit all to themselves, with the 6/6 being highest and the double blank lowest. Tricks are stacked on top of each other, as the ability to recall what has been played is key in this mode. (In usual play it has less bearing and points must be remembered so previous tricks are left face-up on the table).


- In some forms of the rules, players may call the trump suit "sevens". As there are no seven dominoes in a double six set, this refers to all those dominoes whose sides sum to seven. They are ranked within the suit by their higher end - thus, 6/1 beats 5/2 beats 4/3. Obviously there are only 3 trumps instead of seven, so this throws a wrench into the whole game mechanic; It is advised to leave this out until the players are sufficiently versed in the game to hunger for the additional flavor this option can provide.

  • Some tables place the bidding limit at two or TWICE the previous mark, instead of just one higher. This practice is highly debated, as it can lead to a side winning the game in only one hand.

  • Some houses require drawing dominoes to decide the first shaker and even to pick partners.

  • Many of the special rules are disallowed at some tables.

  • Some players refer to dominoes as "bones".

In general, it is always considered good practice to agree on the rules before play begins, as one might expect.

Texas 42 is a game of fierce competition, bloody rivalries, delectable meals, and occasional Jedi Mind Tricks. It can be played in the comfort of a home, the friendly atmosphere of a bar or restaurant, or atop a remote mountain peak. It requires four players, which is exactly too many people to have a threesome and somewhat too few people to have a party, making it ideally suited to college students. Most importantly, it is fun and boasts an emergent, elegant depth of play the likes of which few games can boast.

5/5 + 6/4 + 3/2 + 4/1 + 5/0 + 7 tricks = 42

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