This is a very established game in the Orient and has been with them since the 1800’s and was developed in China, it wasn’t until the start of this century that the game was played in Japan and the United States before it started to be established in European countries. Its name is actually translated as clattering sparrow; this derives from the noise that the tiles make as they are being shuffled around.
This game closely resembles the card game “Rummy” the only real difference is that tiles are used instead of cards and there are different symbols used to separate the sets.
The scoring system can get a bit complicated and may seem a bit daunting at first but once you have played a few games it does all make sense. Different countries use the same basic rules for playing the game but their scoring methods may vary dependant on locality so always check before you play as to which rules are being used.
The game is designed to be played by four players, their object is to discard tiles and pick tiles up to form sets so that all of their tiles in their hand can be played out as matching sets earning them a score. In some countries this game is even played for money and is proving to be as popular as poker.
The playing set consists of 144 tiles, 4 racks for each player to place their tiles on, and three dice and with a decently priced set you will get a carry case to place it all into.
The 144 tiles are split into several sections; there are 108 suit tiles, 28 honour tiles and 8 bonus tiles (these are not always used in the games).
To understand how the tiles are split into suits think of a pack of cards with four suits, with Mahjong there are only three suits and these are dots (circles), lines (bamboos), and characters.
In each suit the tiles have a numerical value, this ranges from 1-9 and this will be marked on each tile, in each suit there are always four tiles with the same numerical value.
The Honour tiles contain three coloured dragons; these are white, red and green. There are also four tiles that depict directional winds; these are East, South, North and West.
There are four of each design totalling the 28 honour tiles, 12 dragon tiles and 16 wind tiles.
Honour tiles have a higher value than the suit tiles as they are obviously a lot rarer in the complete set.
The Bonus tiles will normally have pictures of flowers or plants on them, the have a numerical value of 1-4 and there are 2 tiles with the same value hence a total of 8 Bonus tiles. If a bonus tile is picked up it is not placed on the rack with the other tiles but is kept at your side and you receive the bonus points and then pick up another tile.
This may seem very complicated at the moment but it will make perfect sense once you start to actually play the game.
The four players will sit at the table each with a rack to place their tiles onto. They take it in turns to roll the dice and the player with the highest score is declared to be called the “East “player. Working anti-clockwise around the table from the East player, the other players are assigned directions in the following order-North, West and then South.
East always deals the first round and the East wind will be the dominant wind for scoring purposes. To stay in control of the game, the East wind must win the round, if the player succeeds then they remain as dealer, if not the next wind anti-clockwise assumes the dealers role (in this case it would be the South player).
The tiles are now placed face down in the centre of the table and shuffled around by all of the players so that they are totally mixed up. Each player then selects 18 tiles in turn and places them face down in a row directly in front of their racks. This is then repeated with all of the players selecting another 18 tiles and placing these face down in a row on top of the original row of 18 tiles, you should now have four walls of tiles that are 18 tiles in length and two tiles deep, these walls are pushed together to make a square with nothing in the middle.
The dealer now rolls the three dice and adds the total score; he then proceeds to count anti-clockwise the same number around each wall. The wall that finishes on the last count will be broken down first.
For example if the total score was eight then east would count around the table anti-clockwise through eight walls starting with his own first. The player who owns that wall would then count eight tiles across starting from the right hand side. The dealer now takes the next four tiles from the counted wall and places them in front of his own rack. He then gives the next four tiles to North who also places them in front of his own rack and the same follows to West and South. This is repeated three times until each player has 12 tiles in front of their racks and if the dealer runs out of tiles from the first wall to be broken down, he simply moves onto the next wall in an anti-clockwise direction and begins dismantling that wall.
The dealer then takes two more tiles so that he has 14 tiles and the rest of the players get one more tile to give them a total of 13. Once all of the dealing has been completed the players can now turn their tiles face up and place them into their racks.
If a Bonus tile is turned up it is taken out of the rack and shown to the other players and is placed to the right of the players hand.
East player will now replace any Bonus tiles with the same number of tiles from the wall that is being dismantled so that he always starts with 14 tiles. North, South and West will also replace their tiles in the same manner; if a player did not possess any Bonus tiles then he simply waits for the other players to finish.
Each player can now arrange their tiles in suit order or numerical order so that they can see straight away which tiles they require to complete a set.
Now the play will start to commence but to describe the moves it is necessary now to also describe the sets and combinations so that the play will make sense.
The object of this game is to finish with a hand that comprises of three combinations; these are called chows, pungs and a pair. When you have achieved this you will have used up all of your tiles and finished with a complete hand that is laid face up on the table.
A pung is a set of three tiles that have the same numerical value and the same suit. This could be three line tiles with the same value, three character tiles with the same value, three dragons with the same colour etc.
If the pung comprises of suit tiles it is cal a suit pung, if it is comprised of honour tiles then it is called an honour pung.
A chow is three tiles of the same suit that follow each other in numerical sequence i.e. 5, 6, 7. These sets do not actually attain you a score, they are used just to complete your hand.
A kong is a set that comprises of four tiles that are the same i.e.4 white dragon tiles, four line tiles of the same numerical value or four honour cards that are the same. This is the hardest combination to complete so realises the highest score in play.
The last set is a pair of the same tiles, unless these are dragon or wind tiles then they are worthless as regards scoring but needed to complete your hand.
East will now begin the play as he has an extra tile to the other players, he will look through his tiles and discard a tile that does not fit in with any combinations that he is trying to collect. This tile is placed face up in the centre of the table and play then goes to the next player in an anti-clockwise fashion. This player now has the choice of picking up the discarded tile but they can only do this if it completes a “chow” for that player. If this is not the case then the player picks up a tile from the wall being dismantled and they will then discard a tile that is of no use to them. If they have picked up the discarded tile then they must turn over the other tiles that complete the “chow” in their hand and place all of the set face up on the table.
Play now goes to the next player who will repeat the process as above. Discarded tiles can only be picked up to complete a chow by the player directly after the player who discarded the tile; there is one exception to this rule, if a player is waiting for a tile that will complete a chow to allow that player to finish their hand then he is allowed to jump out of turn and claim the winning tile.
If a tile is discarded by a player and it will complete a pung or kong for another player out of turn then that player can shout “pung” and take the tile out of turn to complete their set, play will then commence in an anti-clockwise direction from that player. If two players both need the3 same tile to complete a chow or a pung then the player with the pung will take priority and claim the tile.
You have to have three combinations to win the game; these can be three chows or a combination of pungs, kongs and chows, there is no fixed rule on the number of each combination. Combinations achieved by picking up discarded tiles must be placed face up on the table, if a combination is achieved by picking up a tile from the wall, these can be held in the hand so that the other players do not know that you have them.
To score points you must win the round, all of the losing players get no scores added to their totals. The scoring is also affected by how the round ends. If the winning player achieves his finish using a tile from the wall all of the other plays have to give points to the winner equal to the value of the winning tiles. If the winning player wins by using a discarded tile then only the player whose tile was used has to pay out the points.
The scores are worked put as follows:-
There are a set number of rounds, usually 16, which allows each player to be dealer at least 4 times.
The rules and scoring may seem complicated at first but it is very easy to pick the game play up and the more you play, the more skilful you will be!