As someone who seems to always be a part of too many fandoms, has too many interests, and not enough time to tend to them all, I find it interesting when some of these aspects find a way to connect to each other.
Watching anime is one of my favorite pastimes and I am currently watching an anime series called Saki. The show follows a high school mahjong club as they prepare and compete to attend the national mahjong tournament1. After reaching a little over the halfway point of the first season, I concluded that it might be a good idea to get a sense of what is going on during the game. So, I began my research. The first important bit of information that I came across was that mahjong is not a super popular game outside of Asia; most people don't recognize that there is a difference between the solitaire games (like the one I played as a kid) and the real game of mahjong that is presented in the anime. Solitaire mahjong is a matching game, while mahjong is played with four people and is similar to gin rummy. Each player has thirteen tiles and the goal is to come up with as many pairs, runs, three of a kind, or four of a kind with the thirteen tiles that they have in conjunction with the fourteenth tile that they draw2. There are also three types of mahjong: Chinese, Japanese, and American.
In all three varieties of mahjong, there are four players and the game begins by rolling dice to determine which wind each player will play. The player with the highest number sits as the East wind and will be the dealer, followed by the South, North, and West winds, and the game moves counter-clockwise. After this simple start to the game, the rules vary depending on the type of mahjong being played. In the Chinese3 and Japanese versions of the game, each player picks up and discards a tile each hand with the goal of obtaining a winning hand with all 14 tiles, however, Japanese4 mahjong also uses riichi sticks that are used for bets and scoring. The American version uses a card of standard hand, has more tiles, and includes joker tiles. The game also begins with the "charleston," which is the passing of three unwanted tiles from one player to another5. Each version of mahjong also has different point systems, which makes the game even more complicated.