Tenpai: My Unlikely Encounter With Mahjong

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Tenpai: My Unlikely Encounter With Mahjong

Postby Ruby Re » Mon Feb 06, 2017 1:00 pm

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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.

My interest in mahjong also correlates with my love of playing board games, card games, and other tabletop games. As part of my research on American mahjong, I hoped that it would be possible to find other people that I could play with. Unfortunately there wasn’t much to be found. There is an American Mah-Jongg Association, but their tournaments aren’t anywhere near where I live. I was a bit disappointed by my findings, but I wasn’t ready to give up on my desire to play this game.

This lead me to mobile gaming. With a minimal amount of effort, I was able to find an app6 that has gameplay similar to what I saw on the show. The app has a long written tutorial, so I tried to pick out the important information to the best of my ability. It took a few hands, but now I am able to at least understand the basics of the game. I have won a few hands, but I still don’t understand the point system. I have been enjoying the app immensely and I hope an understanding will come with time.

I am surprised not only that so many of my interests interconnected in this mahjong quest, but that it ultimately ended in gaming. Even though video games take up a lot of my time, I wouldn’t call them my primary interest. But, I am thankful for their ability to add something into my life that I wouldn’t have been able to obtain otherwise. For now, I will continue to entertain myself with my app, purchase a mahjong set and try to convince my friends they should be playing this super fun game with me, and continue to embrace my nerdiness––since that is what got me here in the first place.

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1 A bit more detailed summary can be found here.
2 This is a fairly simplified definition for a pretty complex game.
3 More detailed info about the Chinese gameplay can be found here.
4 More detailed info about the Japanese gameplay can be found here.
5 More detailed info about the American gameplay can be found here.
6 The app I using is Mahjong 13 tiles. It appears to only be available on the Apple App Store. There is a similar app in the Google Play Store: Hong Kong Style Mahjong.

Thoughts, questions, or concerns? Please leave a comment below or contact me on Twitter @RubyRe_92.
Questions, comments, or concerns? Please leave me a comment below or contact me on Twitter @RubyRe_92
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Ruby Re
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