Towards the end of World War I, an American business owner named Joseph Babcock modified an existing 19th century Chinese game. The game came to be known as Mah Jongg. Mah Jongg is a very fun and challenging puzzle game the American and his friends in Shanghai played to pass time. When he stumbled on the original game while in China, Mr. Babcock decided Americans would really like the game. But he felt it would be too difficult as it was in its original format, so he simplified the rules of the game. He was right, Americans fell heads over heels in love with it.
In its original format, the Chinese game was known by several different names, depending on the region and dialect, but the one that’s known best roughly translates to “Game of the Four Winds.” One of the most enduring rumor about the game has it that Mr. Babcock named his new game after the bird on one of the tiles, which represents a mythical figure named “MAH JONGG”. This basically means “Bird of a Thousand Intelligence.”
There are many variations of MAH JONGG, but they are basically played the same or nearly the same way.
You have several tiles laid out on the table, which usually consist of the following categories, or suits. Circles, (numbered 1 to 9); Chinese characters, (numbered 1 to 9); Flowers (Mum, Plum, Bamboo, and Orchid); Seasons (Spring, Summer, Winter, and Autumn); The Four Winds (North, South, East, and West); Bamboo, (numbered 1 to 9 and The Bird of a Thousand Intelligences) and Dragons. In some cases, the suits are different, but the basic concept is the same for all. The numbers are only for more convenient matching, unless you are playing a scored variation of the game.
The tiles are randomly arranged in a layout of your choosing at the beginning of the game. The number of tiles in the layout can vary from version to version. The object of the game is to clear the tiles by matching two identical tiles until there are no remaining moves left. Each pair is removed from the layout. Tiles must have an open side to be removed, and must not be under another tile, either. You keep matching pairs until no more pairs are available to match.
In some variations, you then shuffle the remaining tiles, placing them randomly in the last positions they occupied, and continue until you have removed all the pairs or there are no more moves left. In other variations, once you get to the point that there are pairs that are no more available, the game is over, and you begin again.
The basic rules are that numbered tiles can only be matched in the same suit, for instance, a nine of circles can only be matched to another nine of circles, but not to a nine of bamboo.
Compass directions can only be matched against the exact same direction, such as with North with North or South with South. Dragons must be the same color. In the case of the Flowers and Seasons, any Flower can be matched with another, and any Season can be matched with another.
Although MAH JONGG is typically a one-player game, there are variations, which can be played by two or more players. Nowadays, people generally play MAH JONGG on their computers or the Internet, but it is still played the old-fashioned way with tiles on a table, as well. It is played just for fun and relaxation, and there are also tournaments. Game and software developers invent new variations all the time. People are playing both alone and against one another on the Internet every day. It is a game enjoyed by the young and the old. MAH JONGG is timeless and remains one of the most popular puzzle games of our time.