I Played Mahjong with Real People and Also Ate Potato Crisps

When it comes to playing mahjong, I am a very recent convert. I’m not good by any stretch of the imagination and I generally make bad decisions, but it’s generally fun and I like the way the game gives you the ability to make constant decisions so that you don’t feel entirely subject to the whims of fate and luck while  still incorporating those very same aspects into the game itself. But as fun as it’s been, I knew I had been missing out on the full experience by playing only against people online and against Char Aznable on my DS.

Then fortune struck. Sub of Subatomic Brainfreeze (aka Dave of Colony Drop), himself a newbie in the wild world of mahjong, notified me that someone was holding a live gathering in the NYC area to play reach mahjong, i.e. the Japanese style of mahjong used in all anime and manga. And so we decided to hit it up, see how we stacked up against these other players who more likely than not had far more experience than we did.

The first thing I noticed was just how tiny the Japanese mahjong tiles are. They are significantly smaller than Chinese tiles, almost to the point of being cute. The second thing I noticed was that playing live is awesome.

Having played against real people with real mahjong tiles at a real mahjong table while eating real Pringles, I have to say that I much prefer it to online mahjong. On a basic level, it’s like playing video games with people next to you on the couch instead of playing against them through X-Box Live. But more than that, I loved the feel of the tiles and the way in which I had to manually pick them up and discard them.

I also loved how there was more to go by than just people’s tiles, like their energy; I’m definitely no Akagi Shigeru, but I think anyone can appreciate that element of the game.

Speaking of Akagi, it turns out that almost everyone there had learned how to play reach mahjong because they saw the anime. Basically, everyone was a nerd and that is definitely an environment to which I’m accustomed. I’m waiting for the people who got into mahjong because of Saki to start arriving.

In the end, I played two games total, one East-only game, and an East-South game that was aborted early due to time constraints, getting second place in the first game and first in the second, scoring a few decent hands and calling, “Pon!” and, “Chi!” with gusto. Knowing my results you might think that I was being modest when I said I wasn’t good, but I really do mean it. I don’t know how to score, I can’t do multi-sided waits, and a lot of it I would chalk up to luck. Next time I play, I’m likely going to end up in last place. But that’s the way mahjong rolls, and it’ll still be fun as hell.

12 thoughts on “I Played Mahjong with Real People and Also Ate Potato Crisps

  1. I can vouch for the fact that the Pringles were in fact real. In the Age of Yipes, all competitive activities demand Pringles. Also, I am man enough to admit that I finished dead last.

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  2. Sounds like a lot of fun. Care to disclose any more information on where this takes place (if it’s a regular event). Maybe I can show off my skills I picked up while playing ero mahjong games.

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  3. I’m glad you went and had fun! I wish I could have made it.. had I done so, I likely would have come in last, bumping you up, and would have been one more Saki fan in the room. (Why my Akagi-obsessed buddies don’t like Saki is a mystery to me..)

    Glad things went well. Hope to see you at future events (not that I’ll be there myself, but.. “we” look forward to seeing you at future events)!

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    • I picked an image of Saki because she is someone who relies on her ability to read people in real life matches to help her win, but does poorly online, illustrating the idea that playing in person adds a certain other element to the game.

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  4. I really enjoy how tactile of a game mahjong is. I got hooked back in 1995 via the Suchie Pai series on the Saturn, and I even bought a set of tiles at the time, but it’s only been in the last couple of months that I’ve actually been finding groups of friends to play with, and it’s amazing how much more fun it is this way.

    I actually spent this last Saturday teaching three people how to play, after which I lost 9 out of 10 games. So, either I’m a really good teacher or a really lousy player. :)

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  5. “I don’t know how to score, I can’t do multi-sided waits, and a lot of it I would chalk up to luck. ”

    This is me, though I can do multi-sided waits unintentionally. I need to start playing online again, since I know some IRC channels. :P

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