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Mahjong: The Perfect Game for Family & Friends of Four

Updated on November 3, 2013

I was in high school during my first interaction with the tile board game mahjong. My friend from China had an annual summer barbecue, where his family would mix traditional Chinese dishes with traditional American hot dogs, and spend the afternoon playing mahjong. This family played often, and the father had weekly gambling nights with his friends. It was fun to see the parents, who had been playing much longer than their two teenage children, tease and joke around.

My friend's grandmother was my favorite player... and she didn't even play! She often would join us when there was a heated game of mahjong, and walk around the table speaking only Chinese, pointing and telling everyone what to do. Whenever she came to my seat, I would look around hoping for someone to translate, and instead I was only met with smirks from the other players. Grandma was feisty, and you better believe she knew what she was doing!

If you enjoy strategic cards games, you will easily pick up this game perfect for a family of four and friend groups of four. Whenever I teach new players, I explain that it is similar to the card game rummy, and that usually sets those unfamiliar with the Chinese characters at ease. The game includes three suits and a couple other category of tiles. These "suits" (circles, bamboos, and characters) are paired in runs or sets of three.

When I went to college, I bought my own set of mahjong online and had it shipped to my dorm room. I taught many of my friends to play; there became an obsession with playing. It's very satisfying getting a group of people who enjoy playing, because you need to be quick on your feet to claim a tile and you never know what strategy people are using!

Below is a photo set of pictures I have taken of my mahjong set. I will use these pictures to explain some of the set up and rules. Next up: get your own mahjong set and start the party!

Photo Gallery

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I own a Yellow Mountain Imports mahjong set. It comes with this booklet explaining the pieces and gives easy to follow directions.Circles Suit: Four tiles each of numbers 1-9. These pieces are used to make sets and runs of three.Bamboos Suit: The parrot is the one of bamboo. Four tiles each of numbers 1-9. These pieces are used to make sets and runs of three.Characters Suit: The numbers are translated in booklet; I made cheat sheets for friends. 4 tiles each of numbers 1-9, used to make sets/runs of three.Winds: These honors can only be used to make sets. Four tiles of each Wind.Left to Right: North, South, East, West.Dragons: These honors can only be used to make sets. Four tiles of each Dragon.Flowers/Season: There are four Flower tiles and four Season tiles. They are optional to play with. They are most often used in gambling for points.The walls are built by each player stacking tiles in front of their playing area. Two rows of 17 tiles to make a square (18 tiles w/ Flowers/Seasons).A beginning hand consists of 13 tiles (14 if you are the dealer). I have organized the tiles by suit. One tile is drawn and discarded with each turn.This is a winning hand! A winning hand includes 4 sets/runs, with an additional set of 2. Congrats, you've made mahjong!
I own a Yellow Mountain Imports mahjong set. It comes with this booklet explaining the pieces and gives easy to follow directions.
I own a Yellow Mountain Imports mahjong set. It comes with this booklet explaining the pieces and gives easy to follow directions.
Circles Suit: Four tiles each of numbers 1-9. These pieces are used to make sets and runs of three.
Circles Suit: Four tiles each of numbers 1-9. These pieces are used to make sets and runs of three.
Bamboos Suit: The parrot is the one of bamboo. Four tiles each of numbers 1-9. These pieces are used to make sets and runs of three.
Bamboos Suit: The parrot is the one of bamboo. Four tiles each of numbers 1-9. These pieces are used to make sets and runs of three.
Characters Suit: The numbers are translated in booklet; I made cheat sheets for friends. 4 tiles each of numbers 1-9, used to make sets/runs of three.
Characters Suit: The numbers are translated in booklet; I made cheat sheets for friends. 4 tiles each of numbers 1-9, used to make sets/runs of three.
Winds: These honors can only be used to make sets. Four tiles of each Wind.Left to Right: North, South, East, West.
Winds: These honors can only be used to make sets. Four tiles of each Wind. Left to Right: North, South, East, West.
Dragons: These honors can only be used to make sets. Four tiles of each Dragon.
Dragons: These honors can only be used to make sets. Four tiles of each Dragon.
Flowers/Season: There are four Flower tiles and four Season tiles. They are optional to play with. They are most often used in gambling for points.
Flowers/Season: There are four Flower tiles and four Season tiles. They are optional to play with. They are most often used in gambling for points.
The walls are built by each player stacking tiles in front of their playing area. Two rows of 17 tiles to make a square (18 tiles w/ Flowers/Seasons).
The walls are built by each player stacking tiles in front of their playing area. Two rows of 17 tiles to make a square (18 tiles w/ Flowers/Seasons).
A beginning hand consists of 13 tiles (14 if you are the dealer). I have organized the tiles by suit. One tile is drawn and discarded with each turn.
A beginning hand consists of 13 tiles (14 if you are the dealer). I have organized the tiles by suit. One tile is drawn and discarded with each turn.
This is a winning hand! A winning hand includes 4 sets/runs, with an additional set of 2. Congrats, you've made mahjong!
This is a winning hand! A winning hand includes 4 sets/runs, with an additional set of 2. Congrats, you've made mahjong!

Have you played mahjong?

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All comments about the amazing mahjong welcome!

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    • TheCozyDinosaur profile imageAUTHOR

      TheCozyDinosaur 

      4 years ago

      @artbyrodriguez: Thank you! It was moments like what I described when I first learned that really made me fall in love with mahjong.

    • artbyrodriguez profile image

      Beverly Rodriguez 

      4 years ago from Albany New York

      I really like your personal review of this game. I played it many years ago and remember that it is quite an interesting, classic game.

    • TheCozyDinosaur profile imageAUTHOR

      TheCozyDinosaur 

      4 years ago

      @Elsie Hagley: It sounds like you might be playing the solitaire version, which is what most people think of when they hear of this game! In playing mahjong solitaire, pieces are matched in pairs and the tiles are usually set up in designs and stacked on top of each other face up. If you come across the physical game, give it a try playing rummy-style with a few others!

    • TheCozyDinosaur profile imageAUTHOR

      TheCozyDinosaur 

      4 years ago

      @Aladdins Cave: I'm a pretty big fan of the new lens format. Glad you liked the lens, thanks for stopping by :)

    • Aladdins Cave profile image

      Aladdins Cave 

      4 years ago from Melbourne, Australia

      Interesting new lens's format. Short and simple. Thank you and well done.

      Cheers from DOWNUNDER

    • Elsie Hagley profile image

      Elsie Hagley 

      4 years ago from New Zealand

      I don't know if it's the same, but I play this game on my computer.

      Quite enjoy a game now and then, it matching up pairs until you have no pieces left, or cannot match up any more and then the game is finished.

      Enjoy your review, thanks for sharing.

    • TheCozyDinosaur profile imageAUTHOR

      TheCozyDinosaur 

      4 years ago

      @SusanDeppner: It's impossible to start once I start- mahjong game nights are usually long nights!

    • SusanDeppner profile image

      Susan Deppner 

      4 years ago from Arkansas USA

      I love the story behind your review - what a great childhood memory! Glad your love of the game carried over.

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