Mahjong Friends Online

Playing using British and other Western rules ⇒ Communicating with your friendsFree video calling alternatives to ZoomU3A ClubsThree or four individuals playingCouples playingPlaying in one home ⇒ Dealing with interrupted play using Restore ⇒ Request a Mahjong Friends Online tutorial ⇒ Giving feedback and dealing with problems

So what makes Mahjong Friends Online different to the other online game apps out there?

The first point to make is that MFO only allows actual people who know each other to play. There are no strangers – and no bots!

Secondly, instead of expecting you to follow (or choose) one particular set of rules, it just provides you with four walls of Mah-Jong tiles and then lets you play. It will deal the tiles for you, but after that you just move tiles around as you wish (within the normal limitations of Mah-Jong play).

The game is very well explained and easily learnt. I think it works very well and can thoroughly recommend trying it out. It is now in pre-release testing and is free to use.

You can find MFO here

If you have a laptop or desktop computer, MFO will start in your browser window without any installation. Android devices can download the app from Google Play Store. Apple devices like iPads and iPhones (running iOS) will, however, need to download Apple’s TestFlight beta testing app as well as the MFO app. TestFlight will only work on iOS 8.0 and above, so if you have (say) an older iPad you will have to wait until MFO has been fully released (and no longer in beta testing) before you can use it.

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Playing using British and other Western rules

… once you have worked out what devices and video calling application you are going to use. The various permutations and their complications are discussed below.

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Communicating with your friends

Before you begin you will need to decide on who is going to start the game and how you are going to communicate with your fellow players. Although the app allows you to pass text messages between players, it is best to use something like Zoom.

Zoom, of course, only allows you 40 minutes free play so it’s worth looking for an alternative. . There are a number of free ones available (see the list below). MFO suggests Jitsi.

There are some potential problems here which I have tried to give some help with in the detail that follows. Your solution will depend on what devices you have and how important social interaction is to you as opposed to merely playing the game.

Covid has meant a lot of Mah-Jong players have missed out on meeting their club friends so I would imagine being able to see others, as well as talk to them, would be desirable. MFO calls Zoom a “voice chat app” but it is possible – with the right devices – to also see your opponents whilst you are playing.

If being able to see and chat with others is important to you, and you are unable to find a satisfactory way of doing this using MFO, then you may find my suggestion for how you can use your own Mah-Jong set to play remotely works better for you.

For convenience in what follows, I will refer just to Zoom – but this should be interpreted as meaning “Zoom / Jitsi / etc.”. (And please note that my experience is limited to two couples playing, using desktops and tablets – so what follows entails some conjecture.)

Free video calling alternatives to Zoom

There are plenty of video calling applications which will allow you to see and chat to your opponents for free. So you do not have to pay for Zoom meetings. Here’s a list of recommended ones:

U3A Clubs

If you belong to a U3A Mah-Jong group, your local organisation may have taken out a subscription with Zoom or an equivalent service. This may allow your club leader to organise  the meetings and to allocate members to break-out groups to play.

Three or four individuals playing

If an individual only has one device to run both MFO and Zoom then having the Zoom window in the background would allow only chatting during the game. You could then switch to the Zoom window at the end of a game for some socializing. However, if the device screen size is large enough you might prefer having the two windows alongside one another so that you could see the others all the time.

If an individual has two devices – maybe a desktop and a tablet or smartphone – then he/she would be able to see the other players (say) on the desktop and play on the smaller device. Or vice versa.

Couples playing

This can present some difficulties.
Couples would probably want to be together (in the same room) yet would need to have different devices to play on. If they only have two devices, each running MFO and Zoom, you can sometimes get sound feedback. The answer may then be to only have Zoom on in one device.
At the end of each game both might then turn to the Zoom window to socialize.

I would suggest that the better arrangement, if possible, is to use three devices. Ideally this would be a desktop running the Zoom window (so that the other players could be seen during the game) and to use tablets (or maybe smartphones) to run the individual MFO sessions. This would allow the couple to sit alongside one another.

If two couples are playing this way then a simple FaceTime or Skype session would suffice.

Playing in one home

If there are three or four (or maybe, even two) people – living in the same home – who enjoy Mah-Jong , but don’t have a set,  then they could use MFO to play on their tablets or smartphones. Communication then is no problem!

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Dealing with interrupted play using Restore

Occasionally – when a network connection is unstable – a player may get disconnected. In most cases he/she will be re-connected automatically, but sometimes this doesn’t happen.

In this case you will need to follow this procedure:

  • All players leave the unfinished game by clicking on “Game” then “Exit
  • The leader creates a new game
  • The other players enter the new game code
  • The leader starts the game
  • DO NOT deal (or move) any tiles
  • Restore the old game by clicking on “Game” then “Restore
    • NB. This cannot be done by the player who was disconnected – only by someone who clicked on “Exit”

This procedure can also be followed to restore a game that you were unable to complete in your previous session.

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Request a Mahjong Friends Online tutorial

A limited number of online tutorials are currently being organised for UK players.
Please click here if you are interested.

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Giving feedback and dealing with problems

The software seems very robust, but the developers are still looking to make improvements. So if you have any comments, questions or suggestions then they would welcome some feedback. . Click here to go to the feedback page

If you encounter a problem then you can also report this on the feedback form. It would help if you could give as much detail as possible about the circumstances that led to it.

Sometimes you may find that one of the players gets disconnected. This is unlikely to be a software problem and you can deal with it as explained below (see: “Dealing with interrupted play using Restore).

Should you get into a situation where you can’t get rid of a problem (and Restore doesn’t work), it’s best if all players come out of MFO altogether (close down any tablet/smartphone apps) then start another game afresh. Make a note of your scores before you do so. You can then re-instate them by paying others before you resume.

If you are using a tablet or smartphone a MFO session can run down your device battery, so it is worth charging it fully before you start.