The 10 Best Mahjong Sets
This wiki has been updated 37 times since it was first published in September of 2015. Based on 18th century card games, Mahjong traded its cards for tiles sometime in the middle of the 19th century and has never looked back. You can play this popular game for three to four players just about anywhere with one of these stylish and, in many cases, portable sets. We've included options for those who play by Chinese or American game rules, with sets for beginners and traditionalists. When users buy our independently chosen editorial recommendations, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
November 02, 2020:
The Yellow Mountain Imports Vintage has become unavailable since the last update, so we found a similar version by the same manufacturer that offered many of the same luxury features such as wooden racks with brass fittings, but with metal scoring coins instead of plastic, and an attractive sparrow motif on the backs of the tiles.
On closer inspection, the USA MJ Table American seemed to be far too similar to the American-Wholesaler Linda Li, so we replaced it with the Hello Kitty Sanrio to offer younger players something bright and fun to take to friends' houses that won't set them back too much.
We felt the list could also be expanded from 8 items to 10 by including a couple of inexpensive options that offer something different from the others. The first was the Yellow Mountain Imports Indigo, which is actually a set of playing cards instead of tiles, but no rules need to be adapted or changed to play this version. The second one was the Yellow Mountain Imports Decals, a set of stickers used to make new tiles from any blank spares you might have. These decals have the added benefit of allowing you to make your own mahjong set from scratch if you want, without having to hand-paint all the details on every tile.
November 19, 2019:
When choosing a Mahjong set, especially for beginners you'll need to decide if you'd like to play with Chinese or Western rules. Keep in mind that you can apply the Chinese rules to a Western set, but not vice-versa.
The Western version has become quite popular in the US, so we included choices with the extra jokers, Arabic numerals and quality racks like the American-Wholesaler Linda Li and the Yellow Mountain Imports Vintage.
For traditional purists who only play by Chinese rules, the Yellow Mountain Imports Professional is ideal. There are no Arabic numbers on the tiles to help beginners remember all the pieces and no unnecessary extras like the racks and pushers.
Geoffrey Parker Mahjong Set Based in England, bespoke games-maker Geoffrey Parker offers a version of this game where the pieces are hand-carved (from ox bone and bamboo) and painted by China’s foremost Mahjong artist, Mr. Liu Jun. What's more, it comes in a leather-bound trunk with pullout drawers filled with Royal Scot Crystal glasses and decanters, and top-end cigars. Just expect to pay through the nose of course. geoffreyparker.com
Customized Mahjong Set The people at this company offer various sets of tiles at different prices, all of which can be customized with your own choice of design on the back and your own picture laminated on top of the hardcase. customymahjong.com
Mahjong: The Basics
The players make points for the pairs and melds they create.
Mahjong, also known as Mah Jongg, is a Chinese tile game. For most Westerners unfamiliar with this table game, the most similar example would be Rummy. The exception is Mahjong uses tiles instead of cards and the suits differ in various ways.
Mahjong sets come in a kit, and every Mahjong kit will include tiles and dice. You must supply two to four players, a table, and pen and paper is encouraged to record the points scored.
If you are brand new to Mahjong, it can be intimidating. Here is a brief overview of the gameplay. First, the dice (either two or three) are rolled by each player. The player with the highest roll becomes the dealer and the player to their right goes first. The dealer shuffles (if you can call it shuffling), all the tiles in the middle and the players select thirteen tiles each. The remaining tiles are left in the middle which is called the draw pile. Every player must have thirteen tiles at all times.
The object of the game is to pick up tiles from the draw pile to create pairs and melds. The players make points for the pairs and melds they create. A meld is a specific sequence of tiles similar to a set in rummy. There are three different types of melds: pong (three identical tiles), kong (four identical tiles), and chow (three suited tiles in a sequence). A chow is identical to a straight in rummy.
To win the game, a player must create a Mahjong; four melds and one pair. After a player has made Mahjong, the deal is passed to the right until everyone has had a chance to deal. In an official game of Mahjong, each person should experience being the dealer at least twice. The winner is the player with the most points at the end of both rounds.
What You Need Out of Your Set
When deciding on the right kit for your Mahjong playing, first make sure the essentials are included: 144 tiles are standard in Mahjong sets. Some sets will not include the bonus tiles, which are eight in total. They comprise of two sets of four tiles; flowers and seasons, respectively. These are comparable to the jokers used in western cards.
The tiles are unique to Chinese culture because they are engraved with Chinese characters.
The tiles are unique to Chinese culture because they are engraved with Chinese characters. Most non-Chinese speaking players will not be familiar with the meaning of the characters, but one can still recognize and make patterns. Also, most tiles include pictures as well to make the gameplay simpler.
Tiles are separated into three suits: dots, bamboo, and character. Each suit contains four sets of numbered tiles (one through nine), making the total of one hundred and eight tiles. The similarity with western cards: hearts, spades, clubs, and diamonds should be a life raft to cling unto and understand the three suits of Mahjong. There are also honor tiles in Mahjong, classified into two types; dragon and wind. If the bonus tiles are included they split into flowers and seasons, which round out an entire set for Mahjong.
A wind indicator is an optional item in Mahjong kits: it varies in appearance from a cube or a cylinder and it displays the current wind tile.
A compact and durable case is highly recommended; particularly if you are traveling with your set. It's important to note how the tiles are effected in the case and if they are subject to scratching.
Mahjong has it's roots in China, but many South Eastern Asian countries enjoy this pastime. As it is, each country varies the rules slightly: Hong Kong Mahjong is different from Korean Mahjong, for example. Some tiles might be excluded or the number of dice will vary. When purchasing your kit, I recommend you start with a standard American or Chinese approved set.
A Brief History of Mahjong
Mahjong shares it's roots with Rummy and is a classic example of the draw and discard card games which were popular in the 18th and 19th century. Playing Mahjong began with cards and the conversion to tiles happened sometime in the mid 19th century.
From the 1930's onward, several versions of Babcock's rules emerged, each one changing the original Chinese game further and further from the source.
Mahjong became a popular game in the West as well. In 1920, it was imported to the United States and Abercrombie & Fitch became the first game distributor to sell Mahjong sets. Later that year, Joseph Babcock introduced a rule book for playing that was simplified for Americans. Babcock had learned the game studying in China, and his "red book" made gameplay easy.
From the 1930's onward, several versions of Babcock's rules emerged, each one changing the original Chinese game further and further from the source. To this day, numerable versions of Mahjong exist for this reason.
During the rise of The People's Republic of China, the Cultural Revolution banned gambling, which lead to Mahjong's decline. However, today it is still a staple in many Chinese homes. Mahjong parlors are often included in casinos, and Mahjong is often depicted in Chinese media: manga, film, and music.