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How do you play the Mexican game Lotería?

Lotería is a traditional Mexican game of chance, similar to bingo, that is played using a deck of 54 cards depicting different images. The name Lotería means “lottery” in Spanish. The game is hugely popular in Mexico and among Mexican communities in the United States and other countries.

What is the history of Lotería?

Lotería originated in Italy in the 15th century. It was brought to Mexico by Spanish missionaries in the 18th century as an educational game to teach Catholic doctrine and Spanish vocabulary to indigenous peoples. The images on the cards were adapted over time to reflect Mexican culture and traditions.

The earliest Mexican Lotería decks featured simple black and white images. In 1887, French businessman Don Clemente Jacques, who owned a lithography company in Mexico City, began mass-producing the first colored Lotería cards under the brand name Don Clemente Galería de Lotería.

In 1890, Don Clemente published the first Lotería game rulebook. It explained the standard rules of play that are still used today. His early decks featured images like La Dama (The Lady), El Gallo (The Rooster), La Rosa (The Rose), and El Nopal (The Cactus).

Over the decades, many graphic artists have designed their own unique Lotería card sets with different artistic styles. Today, the most popular professional deck is the one illustrated by master Lotería artist Tomás Pagan Ortiz in 1963. His vibrantly colorful cards have become the standard Lotería deck.

What are the contents of a Lotería game set?

A standard Lotería game set consists of:

  • A deck of 54 Lotería game boards (carton): Each player gets one of these boards, which has 16 different images arranged in a 4×4 grid.
  • A deck of 54 corresponding image cards (tablas): The caller draws these cards one by one and announces the image on each card to play.
  • A token marker (fichas): Each player gets a supply of these markers to cover images on their game board as they are called out.
  • Optional: playing chips for placing wagers.

What do the Lotería game cards look like?

The 54 Lotería cards each feature a different traditional or folkloric image from Mexican culture. Some of the iconic Lotería cards include:

  • El Gallo (The Rooster)
  • La Dama (The Lady)
  • El Catrín (The Dandy)
  • La Sirena (The Mermaid)
  • La Sandía (The Watermelon)
  • El Nopal (The Cactus)
  • El Borracho (The Drunkard)
  • La Muerte (Death)

The cards have the name of the image stated at the top. The images are bold and colorful in the style of Mexican folk art. Each image has intricate little details to discover. Part of the fun of Lotería is appreciating the artistic renditions on each card.

What are the rules of Lotería?

Lotería follows these basic rules of play:

  1. To start, each player gets a Lotería game board and a supply of markers (beans, coins, etc).
  2. The caller shuffles the deck of image cards and places it face-down.
  3. The caller draws the first card from the deck, announces it to the group, and places it face-up aside to start a discard pile.
  4. Players scan their boards and if they have the called image, they mark it by covering it with a token marker.
  5. The first player to mark a complete row on their board yells out “Lotería!” to win.
  6. The game continues until the Lotería deck runs out or multiple players win.

Some variations on the rules include:

  • Playing in teams
  • Playing for small wagers
  • Using multiple Lotería decks at once
  • Playing to blackout the entire board rather than just one row

What are some Lotería gameplay tips and strategies?

Here are some tips for successfully playing Lotería:

  • Scan your entire Lotería board thoroughly with each called card, don’t just focus on completing one row.
  • Keep your markers ready at hand to cover images quickly.
  • Listen closely to the caller and visualize each announced image.
  • Pay attention to the discard pile to eliminate images from your board.
  • Sit up straight and lean slightly forward to see and hear the action.
  • Yell “Lotería!” loud and clear the instant you complete a row.

Strategies that may improve your chances include:

  • Aim first to complete common images that appear on most boards like El Gallo, La Dama, or La Araña.
  • Try to complete multiple rows at once.
  • Select a Lotería board with familiar images suited to your knowledge.
  • Position yourself close to the caller to hear clearly.

Where can you buy a Lotería game set?

There are a few options for buying a Lotería game set:

  • Mexican grocery stores or botánicas often sell the traditional Don Clemente or Tomás Pagan Lotería decks.
  • Mass retailers like Target, Walmart, or Amazon carry basic Lotería sets.
  • Order specialty designer decks online directly from vendors.
  • Download and print free digital Lotería cards to make your own set.

When buying a Lotería set, check that it includes the full 54-card deck plus at least one game board. High quality card stock and thick boards will last through repeated gameplay. Expect to spend $10-20 for a standard complete set.

Where did Lotería originate?

The game of Lotería originated in Italy in the 15th century, where it was known as “Lo Giuoco del Lotto D’Italia”. The lottery-style game spread across Europe over the following centuries. It was likely introduced to Mexico in 1769 by Spanish missionary José Antonio Alzate who demonstrated it as an educational game. The imagery and name were adapted to Mexican culture as “La Lotería Mexicana”, becoming a popular pastime.

How many people can play Lotería?

Lotería is highly flexible for any size group. A standard deck allows for up to 15 individual players each with their own game board. With paired or team play, groups of 20-30 can easily play. For large gatherings, multiple Lotería decks can be combined and multiple callers used to accommodate 50+ players at once.

What are some variants of Lotería?

Many variants of Lotería gameplay have emerged over the years. Some popular options include:

  • Cover All: Play to cover every space on the entire board to win.
  • Four Corners: Only the four corner images count toward winning.
  • Blackout: Completely cover the whole board to win.
  • Bonuses: Certain boards have special “bonus” spaces for extra ways to win.
  • Progressive: Winning builds across multiple games until the whole deck is played.
  • Teams: Players team up and combine boards to win together.

The classic row-by-row version remains the standard, but Lotería is flexible for creating new ways to change up the gameplay.

What are common Lotería superstitions and traditions?

As a game of chance, Lotería has spawned many player superstitions over the decades. Some common traditions include:

  • Making the sign of the cross before receiving your Lotería board.
  • Using the same lucky marker each game.
  • Shouting “¡Lotería!” even if you haven’t won yet to manifest it.
  • Touching your chip pile when La Araña (the spider) is called.
  • Groaning loudly if La Sirena appears early.
  • Calling out your nearest row when El Borracho is called.

These small rituals add extra flair and fun to gameplay. While not mandatory, embracing the superstitious spirit helps pass time and enjoy the communal experience.

What are some common Lotería announcements?

Lotería callers liven up gameplay with traditional Mexican phrases shouted out along with each card drawn. Common exclamations include:

  • “¡El Gallo!” – When The Rooster appears first.
  • “¡Arriba, arriba!” – Encouraging players to sit up and pay attention.
  • “¡No seas gacho!” – “Don’t be lazy!”, said when players are slow to mark their boards.
  • “¡Ya merito!” – “Almost there!”, warning a nearly won row is one card from completion.
  • “¡Buena suerte!” – Wishing players good luck at the start.

Using these traditional expressions helps energize the feeling of playing Lotería among friends. The caller’s personality in announcing each card is part of the entertainment.

What are some common themes in Lotería card imagery?

The imagery on Lotería cards draws from recognizable aspects of traditional Mexican culture and folklore. Some common themes across multiple cards include:

  • Animals like farm animals (rooster, bull), insects (spider, scorpion), and legendary creatures (mermaid, centaur).
  • Botanicals like corn, prickly pear, flowers, and oak trees.
  • Characters like the lady, drunkard, and dandy depicting Mexican archetypes.
  • Objects like pots, barrels, baskets, and musical instruments.
  • Supernatural elements including death, the devil, and the sun and moon.

By featuring these familiar cultural motifs, Lotería cards offer a colorful glimpse into Mexican lifestyle, humor, and lore.

Does Lotería have any educational value?

Yes, Lotería can support learning in various ways:

  • It reinforces memory, visual scanning, and attention skills as players search for called images.
  • The vocabulary on each card teaches Mexican items, plants, animals, culture, etc.
  • By studying the artwork, players gain appreciation for Mexican aesthetic styles.
  • Numeracy skills develop through locating images by row and column positions.
  • Playing with others provides social lessons in taking turns, patience, and sportsmanship.

Lotería offers a fun way to absorb knowledge while being entertained in a group setting.

What are some key tips for being a good Lotería caller?

To lead an engaging game of Lotería as the caller, keep these tips in mind:

  • Project your voice loudly, clearly, and steadily so all players can hear well.
  • Build suspense when turning over each card before announcing it.
  • Establish a rhythm to your calling to keep the game moving briskly.
  • Use upbeat enthusiasm, humor, and animated expressions as you call cards.
  • Remind players to mark cards quickly and shout when they win.
  • Keep track of the discard pile and remind players of eliminated cards.
  • Accommodate new players by briefly describing each card as you call it.

Your lively hosting sets the tone for an entertaining Lotería game that all will enjoy.

What is the significance of the Lotería card “La Muerte”?

The image of Death (La Muerte) is one of the most iconic Lotería cards. Though macabre, it actually has deep cultural meaning in Mexico related to perspective on mortality and commemorating deceased loved ones.

On Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), it is believed the spirits of ancestors return to celebrate with their living families. La Muerte in Lotería serves as a reminder to embrace life while honoring those who came before us.

When La Muerte appears in gameplay, it sparks a mix of dread and excitement. It is considered very lucky if it completes your winning row, but frustrating if it pops up uselessly at the start. Regardless, it adds a touch of Mexican mysticism to every Lotería match.

What is the significance of the Lotería card “El Catrín”?

El Catrín is one of the most distinguished characters in the Lotería deck. With his elegant suit, cane, and broad-brimmed sombrero, he embodies the charming Mexican archetype of the debonair gentleman.

His name “El Catrín” suggests someone metaphorically “well-dressed and polished.” He represents refined pride, sophistication, and courtesy in Mexican culture.

Beyond symbolizing gentlemanly conduct, El Catrín brings an element of playful mischief to gameplay. When his card is revealed, it is considered lucky but also may signal that disorder and surprises are in store!


With its engaging mix of artistry, language, numbers, memory, and strategy, it is easy to see why the game of Lotería has become such an iconic cultural tradition across Mexico and Mexican-American communities. Beyond just entertainment, gathering for a game of Lotería fosters social bonds, friendly competition, communal pastimes, and educates across generations.

Learning the rituals, vocabulary, and customs around Lotería offers a colorful window into Mexican lifestyle. The 54 vibrant cards practically bring the sights, sounds, humor, and spirit of Mexico to life right on the table. So get ready to yell “¡Lotería!” and see what fun surprises each card reveals!