Questions about equipment

 OVERVIEW:  Mah-Jong SetsTilesChinese CharactersDragon TilesBonus tilesBlank TilesTalliesRacksTables

Mah-Jong Sets

Q. How many tiles are there in a Mah-Jong set (one used for the BMJA rules)?

A. The minimum number is 144, but it can vary and you need to be wary of unsuitable sets

The set required for BMJA rules must have at least 144 tiles. These are made up as follows:

 4 of each of the one to nine of the Bamboo suit  = 36
 4 of each of the one to nine of the Circles suit  = 36
 4 of each of the one to nine of the Character suit  = 36
 4 of each of the red, white and Green Dragons  = 12
 4 of each of the East, South, West and North Winds  = 16
 4 Flower and 4 Season tiles  = 8
 Total  = 144

You may have 4 spare (blank) tiles. Sometimes these look like the White Dragons. Total = 148.
You may also have 4 Joker tiles. Total = 152

Modern American sets can be used, but they have 8 Joker tiles – and the Red and Green Dragon tiles look different. Beware of modern Japanese sets which have 4 “Red Fives” tiles and no Season tiles. In Malaysia some sets only have 88 tiles – intended for just 3 players.
See Tom Sloper – FAQ 7a. Different types of Mah-Jongg sets

Q. How much do Mah-Jong sets cost?

A. I am no expert on this, but this is my impression. In the UK you can expect to pay at least £30. Prices for new sets can get to around £150. Antique sets are much more expensive; from several hundred to thousands of pounds.

Q. How much is my set worth?

A. See Tom Sloper – FAQ 7h. How much is my set worth?

Q. Where can I buy a Mah-Jong set?

A. See Buying a Mah-Jong set, Websites that sell Mah-Jong sets

Q. Where can I buy an antique/vintage Mah-Jong set?

A. See Donay Games and Mahjong Mahjong

Q. How old is my set?

A. See Tom Sloper – FAQ 7g. How old is my Mah-Jongg set?



Q. What are my tiles made from?

A. Tiles can be made from a variety of materials; plastic (Bakelite, Catalin, celluloid, vinyl), bone, bamboo, ivory, wood, jade and even stone.

More information:  Tom Sloper – FAQ 7c. How to identify what your tiles are made of.  Examples of sets made from various materials: Charli’s Mah Jong Museum.

Q. How can you go Mah-Jong with 4 sets of 3 and a pair (requiring 14 tiles) when you only have 13 tiles in your hand?

A. When you go Mah-Jong, the last tile you pick up, or claim, is not discarded

Q. How can I check if I have the correct number of tiles in my hand?

A. Count off the tiles in threes and there should always be one left over


Chinese Characters

Q. What numbers do the Chinese Characters stand for?

A. 10,000 to 90,000

The top Characters shown on the suit of Chinese Characters are 1 to 9. The bottom Character, normally in red, stands for 10,000.

Q. My set has Character tiles without western style (Arabic) numbers – only Chinese ones. How do I tell what their numbers are?

A. Here is a set with the associated Arabic numbers.

Set of characters

One to four have the corresponding number of marks, so are easy to distinguish.

For the other tiles you need to use your imagination a bit.

  • The 7 could be construed to look like the French 7 (with the stroke through)
  • The 9 looks a bit like an “n” (for nine)
  • With a vivid imagination you could think of the 6 as depicting a person being sick over the side of a ship – “sea sick” (six)!
  • 5 and 8 defeat me

The reason such tiles do not have Arabic numbers is that the set was not made for export to the west. They are (I believe) more rare, and therefore more valuable.


Dragon Tiles

Q. What do the letters, “C”, “F” and “P” stand for on the red, green and White Dragon tiles?

A. “C” on the Red Dragon tile stands for “Chung”, “F” on the Green Dragon tile stands for something like “Fa” and “P” on the White Dragon tile stands for “Po”.

The translation of Chinese Characters to English can be done in various ways and there are different derivations dependent on dialect, so there is sometimes some ambiguity in the etymology.

“Chung” means “centre”. “Hung chung” means “red centre”.
“F” has various possible derivations: “Fa”, “Fa choi”, “Fart choy”, “Chingfa”, “Fat”. “Fa” means “get” but is associated with “Fa choi” which means “get rich”.
“Po” means “white” or “blank”. Some White Dragon tiles are marked with the letter “B” which stands for “bai” or “bai-ban” and means “white” or “white board”.

See Tom Sloper – FAQ 7e. Those mysterious special tiles that come in some Mah-Jongg sets and Wikipedia – Mahjong tiles.


Bonus tiles

Q. What do the numbers (1, 2, 3 & 4) on the Season and Flower tiles mean?

A. They indicate which Wind they belong to.

Going in an anti-clockwise direction, the Winds are associated with these numbers: East – 1, South – 2, West – 3, North – 4. So a Season with the number 2 on it is associated with South Wind.
This has implications for scoring. If you are South Wind and have a Season with 2 on it, you get an extra double. If, in addition, you have a Flower with 2 on it, you get another double.

Q. My Season and Flower tiles do not have numbers on. They have names instead. How do I know what Winds they relate to?

A. For Flower tiles: Plum is 1 (East), Orchid is 2 (South), Chrysanthemum is 3 (West) and Bamboo is 4 (North). For Season tiles: Spring is 1 (East), Summer is 2 (South), Autumn is 3 (West) and Winter is 4 (North)

Very occasionally, Flower tiles with numbers show the Flowers in a different order.

Q. How do I know which bonus tile is a Season and which a Flower? And does it matter?

A. Sometimes it is obvious which are the Flower tiles, but quite often it is not clear as tiles makers, though keeping to themes, used an artistic licence.

The way to tell, is to look for the positioning and/or colour of the numbers on the tiles. These are consistent for each type of tile. For example, the Flower tiles could have green numbers in the top left hand corner while the Season tiles have red numbers in the top right hand corner.


Blank Tiles

Q. What is the blank tile for?

A. It can be a spare tile and/or a White Dragon tile

Where there are 8 of them in the set you just need to put 4 of the blank tiles aside before shuffling. In some sets the White Dragon tile has a rectangular motif. Blank tiles can be used to replace missing tiles. For more information see Tom Sloper – FAQ 7q. “Where to Buy Blank Tiles!”



Q. Do I need tallies to play Mah-Jong?
A. No, but I think it does add some fun to the game. You can score by just using score cards.

Note: Tallies vary and you may need to round to the nearest 10 points and add a coin or different looking tally to give a higher denomination. See More on tallies

Q. The set of tallies that we give to players only gives them 2,000 points. We find that this is sometimes not enough. What can we do?

A. This is a problem which I have noticed as well.

I think the authors of the BMJA rules adopted the tallies used in another form of the game which didn’t result in such high scores (so much). I have mentioned this in my website and suggested some remedies. See More on tallies
The answer, I think, is to either use some coins and assign them the value of 1,000 points or buy a different type of tally and use that (as 1,000 points).

Q. Where can I buy a set of tallies?

A. You may be able to get a set from a specialist toy shop

See Buying tallies, Websites that sell Mah-Jong sets

However, it is quite difficult to find tallies with the traditional markings shown in this website.
Google Shopping is also a good place to look. But note that tallies go by various names; “tallies”, “tally sticks”, “scoring sticks”, “counting sticks”, “money sticks”, “chips”.

Q. What do the markings on my tally sticks mean?

A. They indicate the number of points the tally stick is worth. There are usually 4 different values of tally sticks, but these values can vary.

See More on tallies



Q. Where can I buy Mah-Jong racks?

A. Try Amazon, Google Shopping, shops and websites.



Q. Where can I get a Mah-Jong table?

A. A card table will suffice. If needs be, cover it with a square of green felt.

Look in Google Shopping.

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