Mahjong (sometimes known in English as mah-jongg, known in Japan as mājan, and known in China as either májiàng or máquè) is a traditional tile game utilizing a special collection of small tiles known as "mahjong tiles". Its name is sometimes confused in English territories with the solitaire variant.
Believed to have originated in 19th century China, it is a multiplayer draw-and-discard game (similar to the card game Rummy) where players attempt to form a winning hand of 14 tiles (17 in the Taiwanese variant) by taking turns drawing a tile from the "wall" and discarding one in front of them (where other players have a limited opportunity to take that tile for their hand). While it is considered a game of chance due to the random tile draw, it contains numerous elements of skill-based gameplay (as players can analyze which hands to go for and, through their opponent's discards, which hands they're aiming for).
While it is one of the most popular table games throughout East Asia, particularly in China and Japan, it is played in some capacity throughout the world. Numerous regional variants of the game exist, changing some of the rules and scoring systems while adding/removing certain tiles. It is commonly played with four players, although three-player and two-player variants exist.
Along with casual play, mahjong is sometimes associated in some regions with both sport (with special rules and regional organizations) and illegal gambling (as players play games with real money). Some manga, anime, and television dramas delve into both of these topics, such as Saki (a sports series involving a high school club entering tournaments) and Akagi (a gambling series involving a young man's challenge against gangsters, usually involving cheating).
Mahjong in Video Games
Mahjong has been a common video game genre in Japan since the early 1980's, appearing in some capacity for numerous computers, game consoles, handhelds, and arcade machines. These games commonly use the Japanese variant (also known as "riichi mahjong" for its unique rule of declaring "riichi"), with very few of them sold outside of Japan.
Mahjong games developed outside of Japan tend to use other regional variants, or to have enough customizable rules to support multiple variants. Most of the Western-developed games tend to be 1990's shareware (such as Four Winds Mah Jong and Mah Jongg for Windows), with two notable commercial exceptions: Shanghai: Dynasty and Shanghai: Second Dynasty. Taiwanese mahjong games also tend to use the 17-tile Taiwanese variant.
Video Mahjong Tables
In 1980, prior to the rise of the standard form of video mahjong, Data East developed the 1980 game Telejan (a combination of the words "television" and "mājan"). While it uses similar dedicated hardware to arcade games, Telejan was not sold for commercial arcade use, instead being sold to mahjong parlors as a substitute for traditional mahjong tables.
Telejan utilizes a dedicated cabinet resembling traditional sit-down table cabinets, with some unique features:
- Each player has an assortment of button controls (which would later become commonplace for arcade-style mahjong machines): 14 discard buttons (one for each tile of the player's hand), and buttons for declaring Chi, Pon, Kan, Riichi, and Agari (which is used for both Ron and Tsumo). Telejan (and its arcade sequel) assigned the discard buttons numerically (from "1" to "9", then from "0" to "4"), while most games released after that assigned the discard buttons alphabetically (from "A" to "N").
- Special "blocker" pieces are placed in front of each player's assortment of tiles, between the television monitor and the glass panel above it, to prevent other players from cheating and seeing other pieces.
Currently, information about the original release of Telejan is sparse. The only known image of the machine is from the game's flyer (shown right). It did receive an arcade sequel, titled DS Telejan, which also used special "blocker" pieces.
There are also currently no information about any other video mahjong tables of this kind.
Early "Janputer" Games
The first known commercial mahjong game released was the 1981 arcade game Janputer (a combination of the words "mājan" and "computer"), developed by Alpha Denshi. Popular in coffee shops at the time, it was sold as a sit-down table cabinet with a unique assortment of button controls for each player (utilizing the same structure as Telejan).
As an arcade game meant for short sessions, the game uses a one-on-one variant against a computer opponent with some simplified rules (such as the lack of player winds) and a game timer that slowly depletes (which is partly restored on a win and further depleted on a loss), with the credit ending if players end the round with negative time.
Throughout the years, multiple companies would build on the formula in both arcades and home consoles, improving on the simulation aspect and introducing rule variants and game modes. Along with two-player variants, games were made with more traditional three-player and four-player variants. In addition, gambling variants (known as "BET" variants) were made that allows players to gamble credits (with higher payouts for higher-scoring hands, although it is rigged against the player like other video gambling games).
As companies improved upon on the mechanics of arcade mahjong games, the game's adult nature spun off into another group of mahjong games, known as "datsui mahjong" (or "nugase mahjong", both loosely translating to "undressing mahjong"). Better known outside of Japan as "strip mahjong" (due to its similarities with strip poker), these eroge has players playing against a female opponent who undresses as they win hands against her. Early games included digitized pictures of real-life women (mostly idols), while later games included hand-drawn anime-style women.
It is the most common type of arcade mahjong games found throughout the 1980's and 1990's, with most of them manufactured by Nihon Bussan. Some notable series includes Psikyo's Taisen Hot Gimmick, SETA's Super Real Mahjong, Jaleco's Idol Janshi Suchie-Pai, Video System's Idol Mahjong Final Romance, and Sammy's Mahjong Hyper Reaction. Some of these games were released uncensored for less-restrictive consoles, such as the Sega Saturn and 3DO, and on multiple computers. Some games received censored releases for some consoles (such as the Sony PlayStation), replacing nudity with cosplay, minimal clothing, and erotic poses.
Most of these games were solely one-on-one, and have special power-ups that can be acquired by winning matches and/or mini-games. Some of these games include interactive undressing, bonus mini-games, multiplayer play (through dual-linked arcade cabinets), or other gimmicks. Due to the arcade nature of restricting lengthy gameplay, these games like to cheat against the player by giving the opponent an early high-scoring hand.
Due to more restrictive regulations by JAMMA in the late 1990's (restricting the amount of nudity and sexual acts in Japanese arcade games), strip mahjong games became obsolete early in the 2000's. Some manufacturers instead opted for a DVD-based system (where the adult scenes are stored in separate DVD discs), while some focused on tamer "cosplay" forms of strip mahjong.
Professional Mahjong Games
Since the 1990's, there have been multiple series of mahjong games that are focused solely on the competitive side of mahjong, featuring accurate simulation, tournament play, and AI opponents reminiscent of professional mahjong players. Some of these games also feature training tools, including quizzes to test player's hand-reading and discard-reading skills.
Prior to the Internet, very few mahjong games supported multiplayer against human opponents (relying on either multiple linked machines or a "screen blocker" tool). While some games had dial-up multiplayer support (such as Tel-Tel Mahjong), the first Internet-based mahjong service was the 1997 Windows PC client Tonpūsō.
With the popularity of Tonpūsō, numerous online and network services has been made both on computers (such as Tenhou and Janryumon) and in arcades (including Sega's MJ series and Konami's Mahjong Fight Club series), with a later focus on touch-based devices (smartphones and tablets). Some of these games utilize online ranking systems, allowing players to match against those of similar skill.
Some of the online games are free-to-play, utilizing microtransactions, loot boxes, and gacha systems for customizing both the player's view of the table and the player's character. One of the most popular free-to-play mahjong games is Mahjong Soul.
Mahjong has also been part of multiple table game compilations (usually paired with the hanafuda card game Koi Koi) and has been included as a mini-game in some games of different genres (such as the Yakuza series and Final Fantasy XIV).
The concept of forming mahjong hands through other means has been explored with some arcade puzzle games (such as the block-pusher game Mr. Jong, the block-breaker games Jongbou, and the falling-block game China Town). One of these games, the ball-and-paddle game PT Mahjong, was released in 1979, prior to both Telejan and Janputer. Mahjong tiles have also been used for other games, most notably the mahjong solitaire genre of puzzle games.
In mahjong, players are given a hand of 13 tiles and must take turns drawing a tile from the "wall" and discarding one of their tiles (or the tile they drew) into their discard pile. The first player to have a winning hand and declare "mahjong" wins the round and is given a certain amount of points by other players.
Hands are usually made with multiple 3-4 tile "melds" and a 2-tile "pair", with each meld consisting of either a "Pong" (or "Pon", three of the same tile), a "Kong" (or "Kan", four of the same tile), or "Chow" (or "Chi", three sequential Simple tiles of the same type).