Tiles / Cards
There are three suits, Circles, Bamboos, and Numbers. Each suit has four each of the values 1 to 9 - this means that there are 36 tiles in each suit. Therefore there are four 1 Circles, four 7 Bamboos and so on. In addition to this, there are some extra sets of four tiles: the four winds - East, South, West and North (making 16 wind tiles in all); and, three dragons - Red, Green and White (making 12 dragon tiles). This basic set is the 136 tile set that is used in the Japanese game and is the one used in my program.
Some extra cards are usually added to the 136 tile set four season cards (Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter) and four flowers (in my set, they are Bamboo, Chrysanthemum, Orchid and Plum). Some sets also include further additional cards but the 144 tile set is the one most often found in the game sold in most shops (in the UK anyway).
Object of the game
Each player is dealt 13 tiles. An additional tile is picked up at the beginning of each turn so that the player has the opportunity to make four groups of three tiles and a pair. If this can be done, that player has won that game.
Playing the game
The whole game of Mah Jong is played as 16 games, four east wind games, four south wind games, four west wind games and four north wind games. In each game, a banker is declared (in some versions, the person who is the banker stays the banker throughout the whole set of games) and they deal out the cards. If a banker wins a game, then an extra game is played. If for example, in the third east wind game, the banker wins, then an extra east wind game is played so that there are then five east wind games. There are no limits on the number of extra games played in this way so twenty or more games may make up a whole game of Mah Jong.
Each game is played by shuffling up the tiles and making a four wall structure, each wall being 18 tiles, piled two high so that each wall contains 36 tiles. These walls are then arranged so that they make a square. This procedure is analogous to shuffling a deck of cards.
Each player then throws a dice and the highest scoring is the banker. The banker then throws two dice and counts around the same number of walls. He then throws them again and counts from one end of the chosen wall the same number of tile piles. He then takes this pile out and puts the two tiles on top of the wall at the end continuing in the direction he was counting - this is called the rear. This procedure is analogous to cutting a deck of cards.
After this, he takes two piles (four tiles) at a time and deals them out to each player in turn so that each player receives three piles. Then he gives each player an extra tile and himself two. This means that each player has 13 tiles and the banker has 14. This procedure is analogous to dealing the cards. These reflect the games origin as a paper card game as opposed to the tile-based game that it is today.
Each player then sorts their hand out and any seasons or flowers are laid out and for each one placed down, that player takes either of the two tiles at the rear (or the remaining one if just one is left). When both tiles at the rear are taken, two more are taken from the end of the wall to replace them. If a player has four tiles of a kind (for example four 3 bamboos) he places these down (one tile facing upwards and the rest facing downwards) with the seasons and flowers and takes one from the rear.
After this, each player has 13 playable tiles and the banker has 14. If the banker cannot make a wining hand from the tiles he has, he chooses one tile to place down in the middle (where the discarded tiles are placed) and then it is the turn of the next player. Everyone now has 13 tiles in their hand.
Each player is trying to make a hand of four 3 of a kinds and a pair. If he gets a 4 of a kind, this is placed down and an extra tile is collected from the rear. Normally, a player would take his turn but if he can pick up a discarded tile from the middle to make a three or four of a kind or, if he only needs one tile to win, to make a pair, he can do so out of turn. In the case of making a 3 or 4 of a kind and without finishing the game, play returns at the person next in turn after the person who picked up therefore it is possible to miss a go if the person after you picks up before you get your go.
Normally, a person picks up a tile from the end of the wall (not the end with the two tiles on it) or from the middle and places the tile in their hand, making pairs, 3 and four of a kind. They then take a tile that they don't want and place it, face up, in the area in the middle of the walls so that people can see what it was. If someone can pick it up (either because it is their turn next or because they can make a 3 or 4 of a kind or the pair to win the game) then they can only do so before another tile is placed at the end of the discarded tile row. When the discarded tiles fill a row in the middle, that row is turned over and it is up to the memory of the players to remember which tiles have been placed down.
If you have a pair in your hand and you see a tile discarded, you can pick up out of turn to make a 3 of a kind but you must display this hand straight away (all tiles facing upwards). If you pick up a tile to make a 3 of a kind from the wall, you can keep it in your hand so that you can make a 4 of a kind if you are lucky. If you have a 3 of a kind in your hand and you pick up a tile that has been discarded, you must display it straight away and pick up a tile from the rear. The 4 of a kind that you have just made is called a visible four of a kind and is placed with all four tiles facing upwards.
If you have a 3 of a kind in your hand and you pick up a tile from the wall, you must display it straight away (you cannot make a 5 of a kind and if you have a 4 of a kind in your hand, you cannot collect enough 3 of a kinds to win) and pick up a tile from the rear. The 4 of a kind is called a hidden four of a kind and is placed with only one tile facing upwards.
If you pick up a season or a flower, you need to put it down straight away and pick up another tile from the rear.
In addition to collecting tiles that are the same as each other, you can also collect runs of the same suit (such as a 3, 4 and 5 circles). These do not gain any points but they will count as equivalent to a 3 of a kind as far as going out is concerned. If you have 4 runs and a pair, you go out and, although you don't score many points, nobody else does.
Eventually, you or someone else will get enough runs or 3 or 4 of a kinds and a pair to go out (finish). In this case, the person who goes out is the only one that scores any points.
There are some special hands (the wriggling snake - 1 and 9 of Circles, Ten thousands and bamboos, one of each wind, one of each dragon and any one the same as those mentioned already to make a pair) and there is a special procedure called Conquering The Four of a Kind whereby if you need a particular tile to make a run to go out and it is used in a 4 of a kind, you can take it to make the run.