Finding online sites that play Mah-Jong can be difficult as the most popular ‘Mah-Jong’ sites are tile-matching ones, which bear no relationship to the real game. My searches have found some genuine ones which allow you to play against opponents:
The first website allows you to play using virtually any Mahjong rules. The second two offer a variety of rules. The next four are dedicated to American National Mah-Jongg League (NMJL) rules. And the last one is for Chinese Official rules.
One has to distinguish between two forms of play. In one, you play against computer controlled opponents (or ‘bots’) and in the other you play against real people (sometimes strangers). If you wish to play by American National Mah-Jongg League rules you will need a subscription to the League to get a copy of them. They come on an ‘NMJL card’ (and the rules change each year).
Finally, it is possible to play online using your own set…
If you want to play online, but not use an online game, then there is a method that you can employ which involves using your own Mah-Jong set. You communicate using Zoom or something similar. It works for individuals or for couples playing together.
The method is explained in my book, “How to Play Mah-Jong Remotely” which is available from Amazon. Your can find more information about it here
There are workarounds to deal with the obvious problem of not being able to exchange tiles between households and other consequences. But the rules of the game are little changed and it presents similar challenges to the normal game.
Whilst there are some downsides, this way of playing probably gives a better experience if you think that socialising with your friends is the most important consideration. It also means that you can play using real Mah-Jong sets – and there is no cost involved. . (There are free alternatives to Zoom.).
‘Mahjong Friends Online‘ is a new game (currently free while in pre-release) which uses a different approach to the others. It doesn’t prescribe any particular type, or types, of Mah-Jong play but instead provides you with four walls of tiles which you can move around as you wish.
So it looks as if it will cater for most Mah-Jong rules. It is the one online game that I have experience of and I have given a detailed explanation of how to get started with it. It is the only online game, to the best of my knowledge, that allows you to play using British rules against people you know.
‘Four Winds Mah Jong‘ does not actually give you an online game on its website. Instead the site provides an application which players download and run on their computers. If you wish to play by British rules against bots it apparently gives a you a good game. However, you may find there are technical problems if you try to play against real people. A free trial is available to download.
The application allows players to customise many aspects of the rules, including imposing caps on the number of chows and whether or not to permit dirty/mixed hands or to require clean/single-suit hands.
To change the number of allowed chows, go to File > Preferences > Rules > Winning & Draw. Then select from the “Rule preset” drop-down list at the top-right of this box. You can see the restrictions on clean hands (“No mixed suits”) and the maximum number of chows both in this window, in the section titled “Restrictions on winning”.
If you select a specific Rule preset, e.g. “British Official”, then you cannot change the parameters. However, if instead you go to the bottom of the drop-down list and select “Customized”, the parameters become available to edit. And now you can cap the number of chows allowed and force players to play clean.
In addition, multi-player on a local network and across the Internet may be possible, but require some advanced knowledge of how to configure one’s Internet router and firewall. As every router is different, the game programmer does not give specific instructions, but the game’s Help file gives details of which network ports and protocols must be permitted for a multi-player game to work; see the FAQ section for those details.
‘MahJong Time‘ does not provide a game with BMJA rules. However, it does play a number of other rules including American, Chinese Official and Hong Kong. You can host a game or join an existing one. There were problems, however, as the site (at one time) used Adobe Flash which was not supported beyond the end of 2020.
Before then I was given this information:
There is a free trial, but it only allows you to join an existing game. Payment involves a complex system of “coins” and “chips” which buy you entry into games. The free trial allows between one and four free games per day (1000 chips allocated per day, minimum entry fee per game is 250 chips).
The ‘National Mah-Jong League’ site doesn’t offer a free trial. The subscription is an up-front payment of $50 (2020). In addition you must have an active subscription to the League itself, costing $8. For this you get a membership number (required for registration) and a printed copy of the current year’s list of rules and permitted hands. A large-print version costs $9.
‘My Jongg.net‘ offers a fully-functional free tier, capped at 8 hands per day. Like Real Mah Jongg, it plays in any modern web browser which supports HTML 5. It’s support for previous years’ NMJL cards goes back several years (e.g in 2020 it allowed you to play by 2014 rules).
‘Real Mah Jongg‘ offers a fully-functional fourteen-day trial. It plays in any modern web browser which can support HTML 5, so isn’t restricted solely to a limited range of computers. You must have a copy of the NMJL card to know the valid hands. However, the game supports NMJL cards from more than one year (e.g in 2020 it allowed you to play by 2017, 2018, and 2019 rules).
‘I Love Mahj’ looks to be very good. It allows you to see and talk to the other players which means that you don’t need to use Zoom / FaceTime / etc. This looks to be an advantage but you may find the other players’ images are on the small side – in which case it might be better to use Zoom etc. on a different device.
“Play Mahjong” is dedicated to the Chinese Official rules maintained by “World Mahjong Association” and used in the “World Mahjong Championship”. It enforces the rules of Mahjong and automatically scores hands (which can be hard for new players). It also has bots so people can practice by themselves or still play when they only have 2 or 3 people.
I have only used Mahjong Friends Online to play Mah-Jong and I am indebted to Alex Morris for providing me with information about ‘Four Winds Mah Jong“, “Mahjong Time”, “National Mah-Jongg League”, “MyJongg.net” and “Real Mah Jongg“. His knowledge comes from trying, unsuccessfully (despite his IT skills), to play BJMA rules online against real people then settling eventually for the NMJL game. This was before “Mahjong Friends Online” was released.