Coronavirus needn’t stop you playing Mah-Jong. .Here’s how to do it…
Two couples with their own sets and suitable tables can play in their own homes and connect remotely using Skype, FaceTime, etc. .
(It could also work with just one couple and a single person).
Using two sets will mean that there are 8 of each tile. So one just has to work with the consequences of that. And, of course, with some of the difficulties of physical separation.
Besides giving some help to club members in this crisis, it also offers a way in which friends and families can play the game when they live in different parts of the country or even on different continents.
The explanation of how to do this relates to BMJA rules – but perhaps it would work for other Mah-Jong rules as well.
Preparing to play
Each couple needs to sit next to one another in the opposite corner to the tablet/desktop computer/smart phone so that they can see the other couple’s faces (and, if possible, their table). The larger the screen, the better.
Note that there is a slight advantage in being the person on the left (precedence would give that player the benefit if there is any contention when trying to claim a tile to make a pung or go Mah-Jong) so you may wish to throw the dice to decide on that.
Build both walls then throw dice to decide who is to be East Wind.
One couple elects to take charge of the tallies and places the other couple’s tallies alongside their walls. Or you could use a score sheet.
East throws two dice to locate the wall to be broken then the player at that wall (possibly in the other home) throws the dice again and counts along it to determine where the wall is to be broken (and the kong box formed).
The couple in the other home break their wall in the same place and create their kong box.
Each person (starting with East and followed by South, West and North Wind) then takes their tiles from their wall four at a time and then one in the normal fashion, with East Wind taking the final tile.
Any Flower or Season tiles are replaced from the respective kong boxes.
Playing the game
The rules for playing the game are the same except, of course, that couples can only pick up from their wall and one has to make allowances for the physical separation.
Discarding a tile
When a player discards a tile he/she must first show it to the other couple, announce it clearly to the others and the player who is next to take a tile from the wall must allow sufficient time for everyone to take note of, or claim, the discarded tile.
You can keep a record of the other couple’s discards using this checklist.
Claiming a discarded tile remotely
When a player calls ‘chow’, ‘pung’ or ‘kong’ for a tile discarded in the other home that tile should be placed in the rack associated with the player making the call. The exposed set is then laid down with a gap to indicate the missing tile.
Precedence when contesting a pung
Because there are eight of each tile, it is possible that two players may make a claim for the same tile to create a pung. The normal rules of precedence hold (the player to the right of the discarder takes precedence).
A drawn game
The game is drawn when there are no more tiles available (when required) in either of the home walls. The likelihood of this happening is, of course, very much reduced.
Exchanges of tiles prior to playing can only be made once between players in the same household. When there are only three people playing no exchanges can be made.
This form of the game would seem to make it easier to collect a higher scoring hand, so one may want to alter one’s strategy accordingly. However, the certainty that most sets will emerge as one approaches the end of the wall is replaced by only a probability of seeing them.
The probabilities become interesting if one plays another game using the same two walls…
Playing another game using the same walls
Since there are double the number of tiles being used one might consider playing another game using the same walls. There is a good chance that you can do it. And it saves rebuilding the walls unnecessarily.
Here’s a suggestion of how one might proceed.
Agreeing how this might work
If one waits until the end of the first game to decide whether or not to play a second game, players might have different opinions about its merits. A player whose Flower/Season tiles have already appeared may be less inclined.
One could simply commit to do it whatever the remaining state of the walls.
Or you could agree – before play starts – to proceed only if ‘sufficient’ tiles remain to give a satisfactory game…
Establishing a position for the last ‘game on’ tile
Settle on a place in the wall, beyond which a second game would not be played.
Perhaps an appropriate point would be half way around the live wall. Note that the same kong box will be used for both games.
Locate this position, as explained below, then place a paper marker between the tiles to indicate it. (It needs to be done for the walls in both homes). If a tile – the last ‘game on’ tile – is drawn from the wall beyond this point (in either home) then another game is not played.
Otherwise it is game on!
If the end of the live wall is 7 tiles along South Wind’s wall (from right to left)
then the last ‘game on’ tile would be after 10 tiles along North Wind’s wall
Preparing to play
Any tiles in the players’ hands are now declared to be discarded and placed with the other discarded tiles.
This would include any Flower or Season tiles and also the tiles claimed from the other home to form pungs or kongs
East Wind will be decided by the result of the previous game.
Keeping a note of the other home’s discards
Playing two games makes it more difficult to remember all the other home’s discards so keeping a note of them may be necessary.
However, I suggest that this should be done in a way which does not interfere too much with the smooth running of the game, so each individual should try to keep a record without making special requests.
During play, this would involve keeping a note as each tile is discarded and each pung/kong made.
During scoring, it would involve making a note of every concealed set or special hand.
NB. Do not include any tiles punged or konged from your own home’s tiles.
Dealing out the tiles
Dealing proceeds in the fashion already indicated (starting with East Wind). And may be a bit more difficult because the blocks of four tiles may sometimes be less easily picked up.
Any Flower or Season tiles are replaced from the respective kong boxes in the normal fashion.
The kong box remaining from the first game is used.
A drawn game
The game is drawn when there are no more tiles available (when required) in either of the home walls.
To add some variety I suggest it results in a Goulash being played for the first game from the next walls built.
Since this wouldn’t apply to any subsequent game for the next walls, joker tiles should not be substituted for 2 Bamboos.
Rules & playing aids
Mah-Jong, British Rules . – . An illustrated explanation of the BMJA rules . (PDF version)
Mah-Jong, British Rules . – . Printed book for UK customers
- Mah-Jong, British Rules playing aids
To Tricia Parry, for her suggestion about re-using a wall after one game.
To my Mah-Jong partners for their forbearance.