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Abstraction: Riichi Mahjong

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25 Mar 2021 00:00 #321208 by DukeofChutney
In China, Mahjong is a family game, very similar to...

Mahjong is not the solatre game that used to be installed on windows. It’s a 4 player set collection game played across East Asia with awesome chunky tiles that are so satisfying to clack together. Traditionally they are made of bone, these days often plastic and they come with three main suits; bamboo, coins, and characters, then some special tiles; dragons, and winds. I want to talk about specifically Japanese ‘Riichi’ Mahjong. Best shouted REEECCHH like a squirrel in mortal danger.

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25 Mar 2021 10:20 #321209 by the_jake_1973
When I was learning Mahjong, I was really surprised at the variety of scoring as you moved from region to region...or even within region for that matter. I have a decent set, but have not gotten my group to sit down for a play.

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25 Mar 2021 11:38 #321217 by ubarose
Replied by ubarose on topic Abstraction: Riichi Mahjong
I tried to learn Mahjong. Got my ass kicked consistently by a group of ladies in their 80's.

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25 Mar 2021 12:00 #321222 by Gary Sax
^I'm guessing that's the modal first experience with Mahjong
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25 Mar 2021 12:19 - 25 Mar 2021 12:19 #321225 by Jackwraith
I learned a bit of "mahj" as a kid, too; playing with my grandmother and her friends, but got clobbered and lost interest and mostly forgot about it. They played the Yaku style that Duke mentions, but I later discovered a Hoyle ruleset that doesn't use the Yaku combinations and instead just scores hands based on one table (open sets are worth X, closed sets are worth Y, sets of dragons are worth Z, etc.) I found those rules because my housemate at the time was playing the tile-matching videogame constantly and mentioned it to her mother, who thought she was talking about actual Mahjong and got her a really nice set for Christmas. The rules, unfortunately, were basically unintelligible (this was in the mid-80s) so I found a book that had Hoyle rules for all kinds of classic games and learned to play with those "neutral" rules. I taught my then-girlfriend and her son and his girlfriend and we played constantly. There were many evenings when the three of them would come over and we would play until midnight. We had a glass-topped kitchen table in our apartment and my housemate would say that the sound of us playing tiles was like listening to castanets. (clickclickclickclickclick)

I loved the game and when we split up, my housemate walked off with my toaster oven so I kept the mahj set and still have it today. I've taught a few other people to play since then but no one has really taken a shine to it the way that first group did. I think it's kind of a perfect "two couples" game and hoped that my ex-wife would latch onto it in the same way and find a pair of our friends who would play, but she never did.
Last edit: 25 Mar 2021 12:19 by Jackwraith.
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25 Mar 2021 18:59 #321259 by jason10mm
I feel like articles such as this should come with recommended "how to play" guides and TWBG affiliate amazon links to basic/fancy/luuuuuuuuxury versions of these games :)

As a kid my folks had a whole cabinet with stuff like this, likely scored at yard sales over the years. We rarely learned the rules, just invented games with the pieces.

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25 Mar 2021 19:49 #321262 by DukeofChutney
I try to avoid to much rules explanation in my articles and tend to gloss over stuff and over simplify as when i read reviews I am never interested in rules re-reads. In Majhongs case I dont fully understand the scoring system that Riichi uses and never played the many other variations out there. I play it on steam using the Kemono app which is a fairly good entry point.

The more common scoring systems of X points for a four of a kind, Y for a three and Z for a run of three, draw one discard one, first out scores are quite easy to learn, but the game gets more interested if a few extra layers are added. The Hoyle rules sound interesting.
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25 Mar 2021 21:27 #321265 by ubarose
Replied by ubarose on topic Abstraction: Riichi Mahjong
Ok. I added some Amazon affiliate links to mahjong sets at the bottom of the article.

When I played, the women had Mahjong cards that had the scoring on them. Every year the scoring changes, and you have to order a new card from the National Mahjong League. They cost like $10 each. Everyone had to have a card, no sharing. So my first hurtle was these seemly sweet old ladies gate-keeping me because I didn’t have a card. Finally they agreed to teach me using last years cards, which they all had, and someone sold me an extra one that some else had. And then the kicked my ass. And then they proposed that next time we play for money.
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25 Mar 2021 22:43 #321267 by Gary Sax
That's some cold shit.
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30 Mar 2021 09:11 #321404 by Vysetron

ubarose wrote: Ok. I added some Amazon affiliate links to mahjong sets at the bottom of the article.

When I played, the women had Mahjong cards that had the scoring on them. Every year the scoring changes, and you have to order a new card from the National Mahjong League. They cost like $10 each. Everyone had to have a card, no sharing. So my first hurtle was these seemly sweet old ladies gate-keeping me because I didn’t have a card. Finally they agreed to teach me using last years cards, which they all had, and someone sold me an extra one that some else had. And then the kicked my ass. And then they proposed that next time we play for money.


We learned on American Mahjong too (schooled by grandmas, as is tradition), and those cards are The Actual Dumbest Thing about what's otherwise a pretty alright ruleset. Ended up moving over to Riichi and never looked back, but I'd sit in on an American game if the opportunity arose.

Won't lie, a significant part of why I've been reviewing almost nothing but video games is that 75% of what would be board game time has just been Mahjong for the last few months.
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