Everything is Oll Korrect!

An eclectic bibliophile's journal…

Tag: mahjong

Mah Jongg: The Art of the Game

Last year, we talked about the happy game of mahjong, focusing on how I got into the game and recommending a few resources for others wanting to get started. Today, though, let’s look at the art of the game, that is, the art of the tiles themselves. When people first encounter mahjong, the tiles are, naturally, the first thing they notice and as with Western playing cards there have been many lovely designs over the years by many artists. So, let’s check out the book Mah Jongg: The Art of the Game, by Ann M. Israel and Gregg Swain, with photography by Michael Arnaud.

Israel and Swain begin with some brief introductory material and a history of mahjong (though they use the American-style spelling “mah jongg”). These are simply to orient the reader and are an appetiser to the main course, but they deserve credit for not promoting the old marketing hype about the ancient origins of mahjong; as they point out, its origins lie in the mid-19th Century. Most of the rest of the book is divided by tile material, paper, bamboo and wood, bakelite and catalin, pyralin and French ivory, Chinese bakelite, common metals, bone and bamboo, and precious materials. It ends with box art and a chapter on miscellany such as ephemera and photos of people playing mahjong.

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The Happy Game of Mahjong

It’s hard to remember, but I’m pretty sure I first learned about mahjong (not mahjong solitaire) in the same way I’ve learned about most things in my life, Japanese cartoons. It looked interesting so when I saw a mahjong set for sale at a Half Price Books years ago I went ahead and bought it, got a book on mahjong, and never learned how to play. I didn’t know anyone who played and the mahjong software selection is bad enough now and was even worse then.

My interest was rekindled a few months ago after playing gin rummy for a while and one of my Twitter friends mentioned that he’d learned the basics of mahjong by thinking of it as essentially a rummy game. After all, the premise is that you’re forming tiles into sets, either sequences (e.g., 1-2-3 of the same suit) or three or four of a kind to form a winning hand. I re-read my book, managed to find a decent mahjong iOS app to practice with, and even found a group in my area to play with IRL.

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