KGMBSP: Setting Up, Suits, and a Playthrough

I hate reading instructions for many video games especially RPGs. Before writing this, I just played Rune Factory: Tides of Destiny; it explained what “a bed is.” I pressed the X button rapidly, skipping all the unnecessary text. I’m not that stupid, y’know~. Sadly, riichi mahjong doesn’t allow you to do that. It’s better to actually take the time and learn what the hell you are doing. The problem with riichi mahjong though is that all the rules use moonspeak terms. Words like yaku will probably not enter into one’s mind quickly enough to understand what’s going on.

And there’s no way to get out of it. Hopefully, I’ll describe the rules in an entertaining fashion for people with no attention span or are impatient to deal with it. I suggest reading it slowly and going back whenever you don’t understand a thing.

Game Setup

The first thing you must do is to find where to sit. First, you find the north, east, south, and west tiles from the mahjong set. Shuffle them and put them facedown. Like the coin toss in football to decide which team is home and away, you have to pick one tile from four facedown tiles on the table. This is your seat wind.

The four tiles are:

  • North/Pei (北)
  • South/Nan (南)
  • West/Sha (西)
  • East/Ton (東)

The player who got the east tile will choose a seat. Then, we go counterclockwise; the south will sit on the east’s right; the west on the south’s right; and finally the north on the west’s right.

This is how a typical mahjong game would look like:

Note that each seat has walls, a stack of tiles. In this game, the west wall is broken. It means that the tiles each players are using come from the west wall. How you decide which wall to break is extra information. I assume people will play riichi mahjong online and I have no experience playing it physically.

You will definitely realize setting up is a hassle and annoying to learn. This is why online mahjong exist. However, it is important to understand how to set up. I think of it as learning how to set up chess pieces in the correct order. It’s the same thing; it gives mahjong order and form.

Suit Vocabulary

I hate vocab but let’s be adults (or young adults for you below 18) and stop bitching about it. The suits are important to differentiate and you should know what they are:

  • Suited tiles — there are three suits in mahjong: bamboo/souzu/sou, circles/pins/pinzu, and characters/man/wan
  • Honor tiles — you already had a taste of them; they include the directional tiles (NSEW) and the three dragon tiles
  • Dragon tiles — the three are based on the color of their kanji (except white which is blank): red/chun, green/hatsu, white/shiro/tofu (because it looks like a tofu)

The character tiles are in kanji so I suggest memorizing the numbers. This is the only thing you need to learn Japanese-wise.

A Simple Playthrough

Note: After reviewing this section again, I am thinking of rewriting this section. For now, I’ll leave it here and at some point I’ll rewrite this section. Maybe an update later in the evening.

Now, let’s talk about winning. How do you win?

Apparently, you’re supposed to get 4 sets and one pair to win. Well, that’s what Wikipedia and other blogs say.

I have 13 tiles and I’m currently at the South seat. I just drew a tile and it’s 4-sou/bamboo. Hm, what should I do? They look really disconnected, though I think I can whip up something big. I only have one pair; this looks a bit hard from the get-go. Well, I’ll just discard the west tile for now.

I wonder what a set is. According to other websites, it is either a sequence or a triplet. A sequence is a successive chain of tiles (1-2-3, 5-6-7). Triplets are three of the same kind.

On my second turn:

I just got a sequence. Notice that the new tile I got (9-sou/bamboo) finishes one sequence of 7-8-9-sou. Welp, this is still an unfinished hand though. I’ll discard the 7-man for now because it’s doing nothing at the moment.

My third turn:

Oh jeez, another 8-sou. This time, it completes a different set: three 8-sou. It also means the 9-sou is practically useless. I better discard it.

But Kastel, isn’t that a waste?

Yeah, but if we dump the 9-sou, we can actually get two pairs. One of the pairs can become a triplet. You’re supposed to think on your feet when you play mahjong. Instead of being close-minded, you need to figure out ways to better your waits, a fancy way to say how many tiles you can use to complete a set. Mahjong is a game on increasing your chances to survive in a game.

Thus, let’s discard the 9-sou.

Update: Angry Bitmap noted that I could have kept the 9-sou and gone for an iipeikou, a yaku where you get two sequences of the same suit. This is true. However, when Sleepykastel wrote this at 5AM, he forgot to mention that two 9-sous are already played (one discarded and the other chi’d). If I somehow got another 9-sou by pure luck, I may have the lucky chance to upgrade it to a ryanmen (two sided or more) wait. This is a mistake by me because I was focused onto writing about my hand and thought I don’t need to write about the other players’ discards. I apologize to Bitmap who is currently working his butt off as I write this update.

However, because such a thing happened, it is logical to discard the 9-sou.

Suppose if such a thing did not happen, then it will make sense to throw out the 8-sou. I’ll patiently wait for another 9-sou.

On my fifth turn, I got a 2-sou and therefore completing another set (2-3-4-sou). I currently have two sets and two pairs. If I get one more set, I’m in tenpai, meaning I’m one tile away from winning. Right now, I’m in iishanten, two tiles away from winning. I’ll assume you’re intelligent and moe enough to understand what 3shantens and et cetera are.

Just by gut, I’ll discard the 3-pin. I don’t really have much of a choice since I have to destroy a set in the works anyway to get another completed set.

Until my eighth turn, I kept discarding the newly gotten tiles; this is the turn I do things differently:

Yesssssss, I finally got a set! This time, it completes 2-3-4-man. I have decided to call out riichi; this means I am ‘ready’ and have decided to gamble on 1,000 points on me winning the hand.

You’re gambling 1,000 points?!

Yes, this is an optional thing. The stakes are higher and you might lose it; however, you’ll get one han, a score multiplier. The more hans you have, the higher your score will be.

With riichi, you must discard the only tile that you don’t need (in this case, my 2-pin). In this mode, you cannot discard any other tiles but the ones you get from the wall. You are basically stuck with this tile set. It’s frightening and other players might try not to play offensively. But again, it is worth it and you get a good score.

The tile I can win on is 7-sou and the east tile.

And because I’m the teacher, I must look cool. This is my ninth turn:

The east tile completes a triplet set and therefore I win! I call out tsumo, meaning I self-picked it from the wall. Everyone must pay points to me. I am literally boss.

Suppose someone drops the east or 7-sou: I would still win by calling out ron. It’s winning via someone else’s discards. In that scenario, the player who discarded will have to pay points to me; everyone else is not affected.

This is the scoring:

My hand’s score is leveled up with the riichi, ippatsu, menzen tsumo, and uradora yakus. I’ll explain what the yakus are at a later time, but know that this is a p. cool Saki hand for beginners to marvel at.

You will see that mahjong is not just luck. Someone once compared it to poker with brick tiles and that might seem adequate but it isn’t. I actually ignored other players’ discards for this playthrough because it adds another level of difficulty; you can read what they’re trying to do. So really, it’s poker with a bit of chess. You need to think and learn how to manipulate your tiles into making a marvelous hand that will astound people.

And there is still more to learn. I’m merely scratching the surface of the rules.

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16 thoughts on “KGMBSP: Setting Up, Suits, and a Playthrough

    • The problem is that you really need to explain every single aspect of mahjong in an absurdly in-depth style. Just barely explaining the rules is absurd. JayIsGames’s article on the GameDesign mahjong is sparse and explains literally nothing; you can get the same information from skimming through Wikipedia.

      The lack of detail in the mentioned guide and Osamuko’s Complete Beginner’s Guide inspired me to write comprehensively. While the guide is good, it still lacks a lot of what I believe to be essential aspects of the game.

      I am going to admit this guide is basically a giant infodump. And in this style I am writing, I’ll have to make it into 14 parts or more. That said, I have no choice. The rules of mahjong are complex. Nailing every single bit is a must in my perspective. I also got feedback from beginner players on how to win so I added more information.

      This guide is written for the sake of players who tried to play mahjong but couldn’t at the first time. And you can’t avoid using actual mahjong terminology to explain things.

      The best way to learn mahjong is of course trial-and-error. But some people might find it better to do both trial-and-error and read on something comprehensive. My job is to interest people in developing their skills for mahjong, not ask them to play immediately.

      • Actually, I find the infodumping helpful; you might also be surprised to learn I’m not a saki player. I’ve been interested in learning riichi mahjong for a while now, but I’ve never found a guide that was accessible and easy to read, so I tried a bit and eventually gave up. But then Kastel-sensei shows up to save the day!

        I do already play Taiwanese mahjong, so the only parts (I think) I really needed explanations on were dora and yaku; those articles were pretty helpful. And strategy, I guess, though I’m guessing more in depth stuff will be coming later?

        Anyways, just here to say I don’t think you need to write less; imo this is a good amount to start with, and the rest just needs to be learned by actually playing and getting used to how it works.

      • I plan to write about defense to some depth and I might skim over yakus, but that’s what I thought about doras as well; it became a full-length article.

        I’ve covered most of the basic attack techniques on the chii and pon chapter; the only thing I am missing is damaten. It’d be a while before I go to there but I hope you will keep reading.

  1. Have you ever pulled off a Rinshan Kaihou like Saki does? I did it once online. I’m surprised I did it too because I still have so much to learn in Mahjong. I barely scraped the surface. But your blog is helpful!

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