to Video Game Mahjong
So you're an anime fan, or gamer, or horny bastard, and you want to crack the code of those mysterious mahjong games. Here's your chance. There's a method to the madness, and you'll find that the game is alot easier than it seems.
Mahjong originated in China, not Japan, meaning that many of the actions and items in the game have irregular Japanese sounds. Instead of using the original Chinese words (or the, IMHO, horrendous English equivalents), I have chosen to use the Japanese pronunciations (and writings), since this article focuses on the Riichi (Japanese) style. The sole exception is the use of 'mahjong' (Chinese) versus 'majan' (Japanese).
History (the Boring Stuff™)
Much like cards in the west, mahjong has no game board. Instead, it utilizes thick white tiles, sort of like anemic, squat dominos.
These are placed on wooden holders Scrabble-style to form your hand, while the rest are used for drawing and various other purposes.
The tiles are divided up into three numbered suites and two honor suites:
It's not a big deal that you memorize the correct names of everything. I myself call them bamboo, circles, winds and dragons. The only thing you need to understand is how to tell them apart.
Needless to say, the tiles with kanji (Chinese characters) will present the most problems. The manzu pictured here have numbers by them for reference, but when it comes to the real game, you'll be left in the dust, so those are important to memorize. One, two, and three are easy, since the number corresponds to the number of strokes. Watch out for seven and nine, and for six and eight, since at first glance they may look alike. Four is easy to identify from it's box-shape, while five usually appears as a large mess of strokes, making it also easy to point out.
For begginner mahjong, the Winds and Dragons are a bit harder to recognize, but luckily, they're not very important when it comes to differentiation (more on that later). Understand that the Dragons are colored (White, Green, Red) while the Winds are black.
Dice are also used to determine who goes first, and small white sticks are used to keep track of money and bets.
This would be an incredibly long section to write about if we were playing table-top mahjong with real tiles. Luckily, we're using modern technology to do all the hard work for us!
In some games, you'll see a hand moving around stacks of tiles (or the tiles just moving themselves). This is the setup, the beginning of the game in which the tiles are tossed, mixed, then restacked into walls, one for each player. This is also the stage where the dealer is determined, which affects money payouts later; that primarily concerns four-player games. 90% of mahjong video games are two-player, so this is of no big concern to us.
To put it all in a nutshell, all 136 tiles are mixed up, in a bag or a box or whatever (imagine how you mixed up tiles in Scrabble). The tiles are divided into two-tile-high walls among the two players. A portion is set aside as "dead tiles" which are unused in the game. One of those tiles is flipped up to reveal the Dora indicator. The rest are used to draw from. The players should then be left with thirteen tiles.
This is the heart of mahjong: creating combinations. You create combinations of three (or two, or four) in your hand. The idea is to make your entire hand a series of combinations. The first one to do so is the winner.
Combinations are divided up like so:
Jantou: A pair of the same number/type and suite
Juntsu: A set of three increasing values of the Shuupai (numbers)
Koutsu: A set of three of the same number/type and suite
Kan: A set of four of the same number/type and suite
Seeing as how there are only four repitions of each tiles in the game, getting a Kan is relatively rare (kind of like getting a four of a kind in poker), however, they are worth more points.
As a beginner, you should concentrate on the Mentsu (the three-tile combinations) and the Jantou. Usually, a winning hand has four Mentsu and one Jantou.
Here we have a juntsu of manzu (7, 8, 9), a juntsu of pinzu (4, 5, 6), a jantou of souzu (1, 1), a koutsu of souzu (4, 4, 4), and a koutsu of wests. Now THERE'S a tongue twister!
In any case, all of the tiles in this hand form to make a series of combinations. This is a winning hand.
Alright, now that you have a basic idea of the pieces and what they do, it's time to get into the actual gameplay.
A full round of mahjong consists of eighteen turns. A turn consists of drawing one tile and discarding one tile, with the ability to steal your opponent's discard in that turn. You and your opponent go back and forth until one of you declares Tsumo or Ron, or if no one has a winning hand, until the eighteenth discard, when Tenpai or Nouten are declared (I'll talk more about declarations in a second).
Of course, you don't have to steal a tile. By stealing, and in turn by making your hand Open, special rules are enforced as to which tiles or actions you must have/do in order to win. Sometimes it's best to ignore what your opponent has put down, even if it completes a combination. Closed hands are easier to win with... so long as there's a bit of luck on your side.
There's a couple of important things to know before you start playing mahjong in the arcade (or emulated, as the case probably is). First of all, the controls. There are primarily two styles of mahjong controllers.
A far more common variation is unique letter- and function-based controller. In this style, there are fourteen buttons, labeled A through N, with five function buttons (pon, chi, kan, riichi, ron/tsumo) and a start button. To draw your tile, you hit N, and to discard your tile, you hit its corresponding letter. When you see a steal opportunity, or to declare riichi, or to ron/tsumo, you also hit its specified button. A good example of this is the Neo-Geo mahjong controller. This style is considerably less time consuming, and is used by far more games. The game below, Wakakusamonogatari Mahjong Yonshimai, is in this style:
In other words, if you steal from your opponent, you either need to declare Riichi (when/if you can) or have a combination of Tsuupai (the winds and dragons). Note that you automatically have a special if you steal a Tsuupai to form a kan or koutsu.
Alright, time to put all that nonsense into a visual form that makes sense. We'll be using Bishoujo Janshi Pretty Sailor for the examples here.
|Written by Ryoga Masaki - 2/15/03