See, the counter for mahjong tiles is “-ぱい” so uh it’s a joke that is either incredibly opaque or painfully lame depending on your point of view. Not that clever. Moving on.
I got introduced to Japanese-style mahjong – as opposed to mahjong solitaire, or “shanghai” – in the early days of the 32-bit console wars, when the US was still a second-class market in terms of actually getting new software and when importing games from Japan was just something you DID if you were any kind of gamer at all.
I was also in the height of my “if it’s weird and Japanese it must be inherently superior” craze, which explains why I wound up spending a hundred and five bucks – plus another thirty bucks or so on a import convertor cartridge – on a copy of Suchie-Pai Special for the Saturn.
I’ve never been accused of being smart with my money.
Anyway, I got some vague advice on how to play from a friend who was living in Japan – it was on the order of “you try to make four runs or threes of a kind, plus a pair”, which is technically accurate I suppose, and then I set apart trying to learn Mahjong from a video game with almost no external resources. I bought a couple of books which turned out to be based on Chinese rules and wouldn’t have helped much anyway as this was a 2 player variant.
If you’ve never tried to reverse engineer a surprisingly complicated game by the process of playing it a lot and losing without knowing why you’re losing, I can’t recommend it. Still, spending that much on a single game does give you incentive.
By about a decade later, I had actually built up quite a collection of games for various systems, and I’d realized that I could usually win if I didn’t take any tiles from my opponent’s hand until the game told me that I could either call riichi or ron.
Yes, the sole “yaku” (win condition) that I’d managed to figure out after 10 years was to keep my entire hand concealed until I could call a win.
A couple of years ago, I found some sites that actually got into how to play, with english translated rules and lists of yaku and all kinds of incredibly useful stuff that didn’t exist in the mid 90s and that made it so that I was able to take some of the mahjong games I’d bought over the years and finally finish them in a reasonably expedited fashion.
It was pretty mind-blowing.
I still didn’t get the whole prevailing wind versus seat wind and scoring nonsense, because none of that is really necessary when you’re playing strip mahjong games and you’re usually running your opponent out of clothes rather than points.
Then I watched Saki, and it was taking my first steps into a brand new universe time.
Saki is famously a gateway drug to mahjong addiction. It draws a viewer in with cute girls and barely-concealed yuri overtones…
…but then hits you with a sea of bizarre terminology and people acting ALL DRAMATIC when they’re flinging tiles down on a board and very little of it makes any sense and you start looking up just what a rinshan kaihou IS and then it’s a rabbit hole with no bottom.
As an aside, what IS it with girls not being able to eat ice cream without getting it all over their faces? It just doesn’t make any sense.
OR, if you’ve spent 17 years playing a game with very little understanding of how the game is actually PLAYED, it’s like Oh My God It’s Full Of Stars and then I turn into a weird sort of space baby thing and hit an ape on the head with a monolith.
As analogies go, that one needs some work.
Anyway, I can now play 4-player mahjong against strangers and I actually have a feel for how they’re playing and what they’re likely going to hit me with as far as hands go. I was playing a hand earlier tonight, saw someone pick a particular tile from another player, looked at the board and said to myself “he has a set of green dragon tiles”.
When he crushed me, some few minutes later, he had a set of green dragon tiles.
So, I feel like I’m making progress after quite a long time of being stuck and it’s a pretty heady feeling.
Usually I think I was born at just about the perfect time. I got to grow up during and experience the arcade boom and the home computer revolution, I got to play Dungeons and Dragons before the advent of MMOs, read comic books as a kid before DC had heard of the word “Crisis”, and I ran smack-dab into anime fandom in the late 80s, just in time to watch that industry bloom and explode and collapse.
Seriously, just about perfect timing all-in-all.
However, in this rare occasion, it might have been nice to have been born just a little bit later so I wouldn’t have had to struggle along on my own for QUITE so long.