mj_Game Rules and Play

Important Rules:

1. Cannot call a single tile, pair of tiles, or for a closed hand unless for Mah Jongg

2. Cannot call or pass jokers and can only steal them during your turn

3. Cannot use a joker in a single or a pair, ever

There are several variations of Mah Jongg.  The variation played by this app is called “American” Mah Jongg.  Mah Jongg is like the card game, Rummy, but uses tiles instead of cards.  There are 3 tile suits: 1) bamboo (called bams), 2) characters (called craks), and 3) dots.  The names describe the tile design (except the 1 bam tile has a bird design). Figures 1 to 5 show the standard tile designs.

Figure 1.  Bam Tiles (4 of each number) + green dragon, (4 of each green dragon)

Figure 2.  Crak Tiles (4 of each number), + red dragon, (4 of each red dragon)

Figure 3.  Dot Tiles (4 of each number), + white dragon (rectangle or zero design, 4 of each)

The 3 suits each have 10 tiles, the numbers 1 to 9 plus a dragon.  The green dragon goes with bams, red dragon with craks, and white dragon (also called soap) goes with dots.  To remember this: the main color in the bam tiles is green, the main color in the crak tiles is red, and the white dragon looks like a big dot.  The white dragon can also be used as zero with any suit.  There are 4 identical tiles of each number and 4 dragons in each suit.

There are 4 wind tile types, North, East, West, and South; with 4 identical tiles of each type:

Figure 4.  Wind Tiles (4 of each)

There are eight flower and eight joker tiles.  This totals 152 tiles.  Jokers are used as wild “cards” in sets with three or more tiles. 

Figure 5.  Flower and Joker Tiles (8 of each)

Some Mah Jongg sets have different designs on each of the 8 flower tiles, but they are all interchangeable in American Mah Jongg.  In addition to a flower (or some other design), the “flower” tiles often have a season (SPR=spring, for example) and a number.  The season and number are not used in American Mah Jongg. Our MahJonggPro tiles have pictures of our flowers.

The object is to be the first of four players to complete a predefined winning pattern (also called hands) of 14 tiles.  Completing a hand is called getting Mah Jongg.  Winning American Mah Jongg hands are defined each year by the National Mah Jongg League and sold on copyrighted cards.  A simple alternate custom card (called Basic1) is shown in Appendix A and can be used to play if you do not have an American Mah Jongg card yet.  The 2023 American Mah Jongg League card defines 10 groups (also called categories) of winning hands:

1) Year (2023, for example)

2) 13579 (Odd numbers)

3) Like Numbers

4) Addition Hands

5) Quints (contain at least 1 set of 5 matching tiles – needs joker(s))

6) Consecutive Numbers

7) 2468 (Even Numbers)

8) Winds & Dragons

9) 369

10) Singles and Pairs (can’t use jokers)

Each group has a selection of 14-tile patterns that each define a winning Mah Jongg hand.  Each hand has a base value that determines each player’s score after someone completes a winning hand.  The card also indicates if the hand is “Closed” (C) or “eXposed/Open” (X).  Players cannot call a discarded tile for a closed hand unless it is the last tile needed (for Mah Jongg). The groups usually stay about the same from year to year.

The game has 2 sequential phases, 1) Charleston, and 2) Draw/Discard.  A game starts with a Charleston phase where the players exchange up to 3 tiles at a time in up to 7 rounds.  After the Charleston, players take turns drawing and discarding a tile until someone calls Mah Jongg or no more tiles are left.  No tiles left is called a “wall game” because the tile stacks drawn from are called walls.  When this happens the game ends in a draw and no one scores.  Players can call a discarded tile if it can be used to make a set of at least 3 matching tiles.  Players can always call a tile (except jokers) if it is the last tile needed for Mah Jongg (one of the winning hands of 14 tiles).  If a player successfully calls a tile, then it becomes that players turn and they receive the tile and expose it on the top of their rack with the matching tiles.

Other American Mah Jongg terminology you may see:

Pung – a set of 3 identical tiles e.g., 3 Red Dragons

Kong – a set of 4 identical tiles. e.g., 4 Eight Bams.

CharlestonThe game starts with up to 7 rounds of tile exchanges between players called the Charleston.  There are one or two sets of three exchange rounds between players and a “Courtesy” round where tiles can be exchanged with the player across from you.  The first round is called “First Right” where each player selects and passes 3 tiles to the player on their right (counterclockwise).  For example, East passes 3 tiles to the South position, South passes to West, etc.  The next round is called “First Across” where 3 tiles are passed between East and West and 3 tiles are passed between North and South.  West is across from East. North is across from South.  The last of the first set of rounds is “First Left” where, you guessed it, up to 3 tiles are passed to the left.  Note I said up to 3 tiles.  In the First Left round, you can borrow (also called blind pass or steal) up to 3 tiles that would be passed to you and pass those tiles instead of tiles from your hand.  You can’t look at the tiles you borrow to pass.   You blind pass if you don’t have 3 or more tiles you can live without.  The game handles passing borrowed tiles so you don’t have to do anything special; however, you may need to hit done to complete this round because the computer doesn’t know how many tiles you want to borrow.  If “Auto Done” is set, the turn is automatically completed after the number of tiles the across player wants are selected.

After “First Left” (end of first set of 3 rounds) and before “Second Left,” any player can request to stop the Charleston.  If this happens, the second set of Charleston exchanges are skipped and play continues with the Courtesy round.

If not stopped, the next set of 3 Charleston rounds are like the first three, except in the opposite (clockwise) direction starting with “Second Left.”   After “Second Left” are “Second Across” and “Last Right.”  As in “First Left,” players can borrow up to 3 tiles to pass in the “Last Right” round.

The last exchange is called “Courtesy” or “Optional Courtesy.”  Each player chooses up to 3 tiles to pass to the across player.  The players exchange the minimum number of tiles the two players want to pass.  If the across player wants fewer tiles than you have selected, a message will be displayed to select the number of tiles the other player wants (if any).

I know this sounds complicated, but it is easy once you play a few times.  The remaining game play is relatively simple and consists of drawing and discarding tiles.  East already has an extra tile (14 tiles), so East discards first.

Draw and Discard PlayFigure 7 (Table Type “Table 1”) is an example display during Draw and Discard. The other players can call a discarded tile if they can use it in an open hand using 3 or more matching tiles.  If a tile is called, that tile and the matching tiles are shown on the top rack.  The discarded tile can always be called for Mah Jongg, even if for a closed hand and/or if needed for less than a set of 3 matching tiles; however, jokers can never be called, even for Mah Jongg.  If multiple players want a discarded tile, priority goes to the player closest counter clockwise from the discarding player (the player whose turn is next has highest priority).  Priority continues counter clockwise.  If a player calls a tile for Mah Jongg, this takes priority over a player just calling the tile.

The last discarded tile and who discarded it are shown at the lower left side of the white discard area in Figure 7 (Table Type “Table 1”).  The number of tiles left (in the wall to draw) is shown to the right of the discarded tile.  Depending on the “Auto Hold” setting, the primary player may have a limited time to call the discarded tile before the next player draws a tile.  This is how a regular Mah Jongg game is played.  If you don’t call the tile before the next player draws and places the tile on their rack, then you can’t call the tile.  The “Auto Hold” option can be used to make the game easier than normal by automatically selecting hold when you can call a tile and, optionally, only when needed for the hand you are trying to make.  Otherwise, the time to “Hold” or “Call” is determined by the setup parameter, “Discard Pause.”   The hold time left is counted down next to the “Hold” button.  If Hold is set by either “Auto Hold” or pressing the “Hold” button, then “MahJongg” and/or “Call” and “Skip” buttons will be shown.

The discarded tiles are shown in a random order in the white area.  This simulates a game with real tiles where players discard the tiles to a random table location.  You can see what tiles have been discarded, but it is difficult to remember who discarded them.  When the game is completed, after a blank tile space, any remaining tiles are displayed in the order they would have been drawn.

Figure 7.  Discarding Tiles and Holding (Table Type “Table 1”)

If you press the “Hold” button and decide not to call the discarded tile, hit the “Skip” button.  You can cancel a call by hitting the “Cancel” button; however, calling a tile for Mah Jongg cannot be cancelled.  

If there is only one choice, tiles are selected and exposed automatically.  Tiles will also be selected automatically if you are showing a goal hand (Hint).  Otherwise, you need to manually select tiles to show along with the called tile and then press “Done.” Depending on the settings, the app may automatically call Mah Jongg or warn you if you can call a tile for Mah Jongg.