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By Tom Sloper (湯姆 斯洛珀)
2012年 11月 25日
Column #547

What to look for in a mah-jongg set to play with? Not all of us are flush with cash, so we don't want to buy the wrong thing.

Cost - The most attractive and rare sets can be expensive, but there are lots of nice affordable sets. Even reasonablly nice bone and bamboo sets from the 1920s can be found at or below the price of new sets.

Size - The ideal size of the tiles depends on how you plan to use them. If the set will be used to play American mah-jongg by players with normal eyesight, the tiles should be no smaller than 1-⅛" x ⅞" x ½". If the set will be used by players with failing vision, or to play Chinese mah-jongg, then larger tiles might be desirable. For most uses, tiles should be no larger than 1-½" x 1-¼ x ⅞". Be aware that the larger the tiles, the more difficult it will be to find racks that fit (not that all variants require racks).

Authenticity - Don't worry about whether plastic is "authentic." The game was originally played with bone and bamboo tiles, but plastics did exist in the 1920s, and plastic tiles stack better and have nicer weight. Another authenticity issue is the design of the dragon tiles. Only American sets depict dragons on the dragon tiles (left).

The symbols used on Chinese sets (right) are more authentic. There are American sets with authentic dragon designs, if you just look.

Universality - If your set will be used to play only one variant, then buy a set that was intended for that variant. American sets can be used to play all variants that use the traditional 144 tiles. A Japanese set is not suitable for American mah-jongg, or for Chinese variants that need the flower tiles. Chinese and Japanese tiles often do not have Western indices (for example, the letter E, S, W, N on the wind tiles).

Most Americans cannot read the Chinese characters for the winds (above) and cannot read the Chinese numbers on the suit of craks. So it is not recommended to buy a set without indices.

Pleasing to the senses - Many cheap sets (like so-called "travel sets" and 1920s wooden sets) are just not pleasing to the eye or pleasant to play with. Mah-jongg is most enjoyable when the tiles not only look nice but also have a pleasing heft.

Accessories - Only players of American and Western variants think they need racks. Only players of Chinese and Japanese mah-jongg use chips or sticks. The only truly necessary accessory is dice. If you do buy racks, make sure they're the right size for your tiles. In the absence of racks, "rulers" can be useful for straightening walls. See FAQ 7D.


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Photos of the 2007 WMJC in E Mei Shan, China.
Photos of the 2007 OEMC in Copenhagen.
Photos of the Fourth China Majiang Championship and Forum in Tianjin, 2006.
Photos of the Third China Majiang Championship and Forum in Beijing, 2005.
Photos of the 2005 OEMC
Photos of the 2003 CMOC.
Photos of the 2002 WCMJ.

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