Thoughts From The Gameroom

The ramblings of a Euro-gamer from South Dakota

It’s Always Something–Mahjong

Posted by sodaklady on May 4, 2007

My interest in Mahjong was renewed when someone posted that they had found an online retailer with copies of Mhing.  “Hmm,” I thought, “I have a Mahjong set and tiles are so much cooler to play with than cards.”  But, of course, at the time there was no one around to play with.

 But have no fear; a few years ago, before I discovered BGG, I bought a pc version called Hong Kong Mahjong which I played a couple of times and enjoyed, so I opened that up and played 3 games against the AIs.  I also dug out the el cheapo set and left it on the kitchen table in hopes that someone would be interested in playing.

 The rules that came with the set (I think they’re the Japanese rules) are not the same ones that the computer game plays, the scoring is complicated and includes points for “type of waiting” (Waiting for two-ended sequence, Waiting for Middle Sequence, Waiting for a pair, etc.).  When my family and I played it many years ago, we didn’t take to it very well and didn’t play very many times before putting it away on the shelf.  The Hong Kong rules (or Chinese) are much more straight-forward and I thought I could persuade someone to play.  Now I needed rules for 2 or 3 players.

 I, of course, checked BGG for 2-player rules and found some where the only change is that you cannot pick up a discarded tile for a chow (sequence of 3).  Just two players, drawing and discarding.  This doesn’t feel quite the same to me because I like the tension that comes from hoping the chow tile I need isn’t discarded by one of the two opponents that I can’t steal from.  (A 3- or 4- of a kind can be picked up from anyone’s discard pile.)

 I came up with my own idea, which is to draw and discard a tile for each of the two “invisible” players.  They have no hand, just the discarded tiles.

 I like this idea for 3 reasons:

  1.   It retains the tension and frustration provided by 4 discard piles.
  2.   It can place some of the Flowers and Seasons in the hands of the “invisible”   players which I think keeps more of the feel a of 4-player game.
  3.   It cycles through the tiles faster and keeps the game from being too long.

 My daughter, surprisingly, saw the Mahjong set on the table and asked if I’d show her how to play.  She remembered the tiles from when she was very little but had never gotten to play.  After teaching her the rules, we tried a couple hands of my variant before she had to go and I think it played very well and felt more like Mahjong instead of just a 2-handed rummy.

 A couple of days later, I managed to play a couple of hands 3-handed with Cori and Richard using the same method of drawing and discarding for the invisible 4th player.  Again, the loss of a real player didn’t change the feel of the game play and Cori agreed that it’s nice to be able to cycle through the tiles faster, especially towards the end of the hand when you’re waiting for the winning tile.

 I know Mahjong isn’t something most gamers would play; it doesn’t require deep thought or give you lots of choices but for people who like card games, it’s superior to vanilla Rummy.  In Rummy, it doesn’t matter what type of sets you make and you have the option of playing on another player’s melded sets, which Mahjong doesn’t allow.  In Mahjong, the more difficult or unique your finished hand is, the higher your score and the more other players pay you.  This gives you options when you first assess your hand: should I go for the easy sequence sets, the harder 3-of-a-kind sets or try for a special hand such as all one suit.

 Mahjong is a more sociable game rather than a gamer’s game and might be just what you need when non-gamers come to visit.  Besides, it’s got clicking, clacking tiles!

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