Hispanic Heritage Month – Play Lotería

It’s Hispanic Heritage Month from now until October 15th — so I thought I’d write something.  There are plenty of great ways to celebrate but I’m going to talk about playing Lotería — sometimes called Mexican Bingo.  Order takeout from your favorite Mexican-owned restaurant and it makes for a fun themed game night!

Lotería History

Lotería has been played for hundreds of years, but interestingly it started in Italy.  It traveled to Spain and in ~1700s it made its way to Mexico.  While it was initially something the upper class Spaniards played, eventually it morphed into a game played at Mexican fairs.  The most recognizable version of the game is the one published by the French businessman Don Clemente Jaques in 1887 — which has changed very little between then and today.  And the reason his version likely became most popular was because it was given to Mexican soldiers in their supplies.  Interesting huh? 

Traditional Don Clemente Loteria game showing one playing card with five calling cards in front

What Makes Lotería Cool?

Now that you’ve got the general backstory – what makes Lotería so much cooler than regular Bingo? Unlike Bingo, Lotería doesn’t just include letters and numbers.  There’s no B-7, instead on the 54 cards you have images.  While many share ties to Tarot cards, the others are iconic to Mexican culture.  When the caller flips a card from the deck, they’re going to either call out the name of the image — or more traditionally, they’re going to sing or recite the verse that goes with the card.  For example, for the “El diablito” (the little devil) card the caller may say, Pórtate bien cuatito, si no te lleva el coloradito” which translates to Behave yourself buddy, or the little red one will take you away.”  They may also create their own little poems or riddles and they can be funny or racy to fit the audience, but you get the idea — the call is far cooler than just a letter and a number.

How to play Lotería

Lotería cards are 4×4, so obviously there’s no free space in the middle. Agree in advance to the winning conditions.  You can fill the whole card, have one line across or down, a 2×2 square somewhere on your board, or the 4 corners — it’s up to you! If you want to be traditional about it, you’ll use dried beans to mark your spaces instead of plastic chips. Better for the environment too to skip the plastic!

Where to Buy Lotería

Loteria games are relatively cheap and a basic set will cost you less $10.  You can likely find them at Mexican stores/markets in your area, or you can easily purchase them online.  If you nab the low-cost traditional Loteria set from Amazon I’ll list below (ad blocker off if you can’t see it), it will include some of the traditional phrases if you’d like to try them (this is the set I have).  Wikipedia also lists them if you just want to take a peek.

Millennial Loteria game with box one playing card deck of card showing "La Feminist" and a bag of "bitcoins" and a coin with a check mark

If you’re looking for something a bit different there’s a pretty awesome looking Millennial Lotería game that has some more current and discussion-worthy images in the game.  And it comes with “Bitcoins” to mark your spaces – ha! I actually saw this at my local Target, but I’m not sure if that’s a more local item as I live in a rather Hispanic neighborhood.  Either way — I highly recommend giving Lotería a try if you haven’t played before!