OK, Overwatch is fun now.

Nearly two years ago, I wrote a post entitled “I’m not meant to play Overwatch“, based on my experience during a free weekend in which I tried the game and wound up losing 19 out of 20 matches. I felt that this was a pretty good indication that it wasn’t for me.

I desperately WANTED to play it, because it has an amazingly appealing and energetic art style and is just chock-full of grade-A waifus (and, I suppose, husbandos) to suit every taste, but there is not a lot of fun in being beaten down constantly.

Then they introduced a character that was a hamster piloting a giant death ball. And I really liked the idea of playing as a hamster piloting a giant death ball, but I still didn’t buy it, because I was still pretty sure that it wasn’t for me.

On the other hand, I had someone give me a spare key that they had gotten as part of a Humble Monthly Bundle. And, you know, free is a good price to try out a game again, even if you’re pretty sure it isn’t for you. So, I downloaded it, and picked the hamster, and ran around in the tutorial a bit to get the hang of the controls. I still wasn’t 100% feeling it, though, so I closed the game to give it some thought.

When you close Overwatch, it takes you back to the game launcher, and there was an advertisement on that saying that I’d get a free loot box for linking my Blizzard account to my Twitch Prime account. Since I have Amazon Prime, I also have Twitch Prime, and free loot is always good… so I went through the process, and this is what came out of the loot box when I opened it:

Er. Mah. Gahd.

IT’S A KITTY CAT MECH.

IT HAS A PINK RIBBON ON ITS TAIL.

ERMAGAHD.

Ahem.

Anyway. Given the opportunity of playing as a Korean former esports champion piloting a kitty cat mech, I naturally retired the hamster and gave this new character a try. It turns out that Ms. D.Va here is a character designed to basically harass snipers and annoying flying characters and… well, in general make life annoying for squishy DPS types, which just meshes wonderfully with my personality. My wife will attest to the amount of cackling she hears coming from the general direction of my gaming PC while I am doing this.

When I can’t play as D.Va, I have been playing Mercy. Several months of playing a priest in WoW battlegrounds prepared me for the experience of having the direct attention of every opposing team member, so it hasn’t been too bad of an time and people seem to like having someone around to heal them.  I do occasionally wonder whether the default skin shouldn’t just have a bullseye on the chest.

My only really embarrassing moment thus far came during a match where I was playing as Mercy, got cut off from the rest of my team, and decided to switch to her sidearm and try to take a few of the opposing team with me.  I got three kills in a row, basically by accident, and the game decided to highlight this as the “Play of the Game” to make it look like the healer was just running around shooting people.

Oops.

Also, I got a cool Mercy skin out of a Halloween box.  I mean, you don’t actually see these skins while you’re playing but at least you can play dress-up on the character selection screen and that matters.

Anyway, my opinion of the game has radically improved. Naturally, the next step was to buy some MERCH to show my newfound appreciation, and this lead me to the “Overwatch” section of my local Hot Topic, where I found a D.Va and Meka Funko Pop, and a T-shirt, and even a mug…

…and then I put them all back on the shelf, walked out, and ordered myself an unlicensed and work-inappropriate mousepad from Amazon.

I’d feel bad about that, but… well, I am not an especially deep or complex person and I find enjoyment in having a wrist support shaped like a butt.

Posted in PC Gaming, videogames | 4 Comments

Seriously Budget PC Gaming

A few months back, I brought home some gutted PCs from a local business’s electronics recycling pile, based on the notion that I always have projects going that need new server hardware and some of them looked like they had some years left in them. They’d all been rudely ripped open and had their hard drives pulled out, and some had lost their RAM as well.

They’ve been sitting in my garage ever since, and my wife has been polite enough not to point this out.

In an unrelated bit of news, I bought a cheap video card for my Linux server since it was getting used more these days. Specifically, a 2 GB Nvidia 1050. I chose this card because it didn’t need any auxilary power inputs and because it was, well, pretty cheap. It was $121, but I had a bunch of Amazon credit built up from using their credit card and getting cash-back points and that covered most of it.

Anyway. I put the video card in the Linux box, verified that it worked, and then had a crazy idea.

I confess to being more than a little penny-wise and pound-foolish when it comes to PC gaming. Sure, I’ll watch my Steam Wishlist like a hawk, waiting for games to drop to 70% off, but on the other hand I REALLY want to be able to turn up all of the shinies and run games in 4k, and that comes with a price.

So, I’m not usually a guy to talk about “budget” gaming.

Still… I got to wondering what I could make out of one of the computers I’d literally saved from the trash heap.

The most promising candidate from the stack was a Dell Vostro 260. This is a home-or-small-business-oriented box from 2012, with an Intel i5-2400 processor. If you’re not lucky enough to grab one out of a pile of scrap machines, you can get one off eBay for under a hundred bucks, which will likely have the 500GB hard drive and 4-8GB of RAM standard at the time of production. There are an endless number of similarly-uninspiring boxes from the same era.

The Vostro is not designed for upgrading – it only has a single PCI-e x16 slot and 2 DRAM slots. The hard drive mounts on some annoying proprietary rails, and those were pulled out along with the hard drive when it was being prepared for recycling. Fortunately, there was a second hard drive bay that still had rails in it, but I’ll never be able to add another disk unless I track down some more Dell rails.

Finally, it doesn’t have much in the way of a power supply. It’s a 300W supply with barely enough connectors to support the drive bays. You’re not putting a “serious” graphics card in here… but the 1050 isn’t a “serious” graphics card.

Or is it?

As I mentioned, most of the machines in my pile had been stripped of RAM, but I scrounged through some of the other boxes and came up with 8 GB of 1333MHz DDR3 DRAM, the most this thing will support.

If I’d needed to buy RAM, this might actually have been kind of expensive – there’s enough computers that use DDR3 that the stuff is still in some demand. If you’re starting from the step of buying an older PC, try to get the 8GB up-front.

The hard drive I used was a 3TB 5400rpm drive that had been part of a NAS that I’d upgraded – slow, but high capacity. Again, “budget” is being helped by the fact that I had stuff lying around.

After I added some storage, the next feat was to get an OS installed on the thing. It had originally shipped with Windows 7, and the product key sticker was still stuck to the case, so all I needed to get was a Windows 7 installation disc. Microsoft makes ISOs available online, so that part was easy enough. I understand that you can also use a Windows 7 key to activate Windows 10, and I am actually a big fan of Windows 10, but for the purpose of this experiment I am sticking with Windows 7.

I hit a small snag after the Windows 7 install completed – the OS didn’t have a driver for the network hardware, so it wasn’t able to get out to the internet for updates. Fortunately, Dell makes drivers pretty easy to find on their web site, so I just sneakernetted the driver over on a USB thumb drive and I was off to the races for a three hour Windows Update download session… and then a long install session, and… well, really you should plan to watch your “new” PC churn for a good 5 or 6 hours, all-told, before you will be able to do anything past that. I strongly recommend just letting the computer sit at the desktop while it chugs away. This is where I REALLY felt that slow drive – while the PC was in this initial state, getting anything done was painfully slow and accompanied by the sound of a hard drive straining to keep up.

The final step was to figure out why it made a constant infuriating rattling noise, and I finally tracked it down to a side panel that had been warped when it was being gutted. I put it over my knee and bent it back the other way and the rattle was gone. This thing does NOT have a particularly high-quality case, is the point I’m trying to get at.

After that, the obvious thing to do was install some games and see how they ran.

I went through my Steam library to find games with built-in benchmarks, and came up with Batman: Arkham City (2011), Batman: Arkham Origins (2013), Bioshock Infinite (2013), F.E.A.R. (2005), Just Cause 2 (2010), Rise of the Tomb Raider (2016), and Tomb Raider (2013). Square-Enix also published a stand-along benchmarking tool for FFXV, so I downloaded that as well, and I installed Dark Souls III and Skyrim: Special Edition as good games to try out, even if they didn’t have formal benchmarks. For the heck of it, I put Overwatch and WoW on as well – they’re Blizzard games, so there really wasn’t any question on whether they’d run smoothly, but what the hell.

I’m not playing WoW, just to be clear. Blizzard sent me a 3-day “try our new expansion!” code, and it seemed a good use of it.

My testing methodology was not particularly exhaustive. I loaded up each game, set it to 1920×1080, turned off V-Sync if I could, and set the graphics quality to “Medium” or “Normal”, then ran the benchmark. I then ran the benchmark a second time, this time with the game set to higher quality settings.

Batman: Arkham City runs brilliantly in both Normal Mode and in “DX11 Enhanced” modes. There was a notable “hitch” when the benchmark changed scenes – that 5400rpm drive really hurts loading times – but it still clocked in at an average 82 FPS in Normal, 73 FPS DX11 Enhanced.

Batman: Arkham Origins likewise ran like a charm and turned in an average 143 FPS on Normal. This game has a lot of PhysX enhancements that tank the framerate hard when you turn them on, but even with that I still saw an average 65 FPS in “super shiny” mode.

Bioshock Infinite has an external benchmarking tool. On Normal, it gave me an average 181 FPS, and even setting it to “Ultra DX11” still clocked in at 133 FPS.

F.E.A.R…. well, I confess F.E.A.R. doesn’t even belong in this list. It’s a 13 year old game! I have it in here because it used to give my Core2Duo fits trying to keep up and I wanted to see how it would run.

For the record, an average 286 FPS. I felt a little satisfaction.

Just Cause 2 has three benchmarks, but I ran through the Concrete Jungle one on Normal and Maxed settings. 83 and 67 FPS, respectively.

Rise of the Tomb Raider was the first game to really make this box sweat. On “Medium”, it managed an overall average of 54 FPS, but setting it up to Very High tanked the average frame rate dramatically – I couldn’t even break double-digits, and the hard drive sounded like a rock polisher while it was running.

It turns out that RotTR is designed kind of oddly. If it can’t load all of its textures into the graphics card’s VRAM, it uses the swapfile pretty hard-core, and the swapfile was on a painfully slow 5400rpm drive I’ve been griping about throughout this post. Moving the swapfile to an SSD brought the average FPS up from 9 to 25, and setting the Texture Quality to Low while keeping all other graphics options at “Very High” levels delivered an average 42 FPS.

Still, playing on Medium sounds about the sweet spot.

Finally, the box didn’t even flinch at running the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot on Normal or High (or Ultra!) settings. I had it all the way up to the “Ultimate” graphics setting before I could even get the average FPS down to 58.

The FFXV benchmark doesn’t report any FPS numbers. It instead runs through a 6.5 minute demo and gives you a score – the higher, the better – at the end. On “Standard” settings, this machine scored 3619, which Square says will deliver an acceptable game experience. Dropping the benchmark down to the “Lite” settings came in rather better, at 4715.

For the games without demos – Skyrim Special Edition and Dark Souls III – I mostly just turned on Steam’s FPS display and ran around and killed a few things. Skyrim delivered a pretty solid 60fps on the “High” graphics setting, but Dark Souls was a bit more taxing. On “Medium”, I saw frequent dips below 60fps, though never below 40.

I rolled through all of these scrolls and pots and crates.  Stuff was flying EVERYWHERE.  Framerate dropped to 51.

The Blizzard games, as you might expect, had no trouble. I played several matches of Overwatch with the graphics set to “High”, and the in-game counter said anything other than “59” or “60”. I probably had Vsync on, come to think of it.

I got a quad kill with D.Va’s ult. I’d like to thank everyone who made this PotG possible.  Specifically, the other team for not running away in time.

WoW doesn’t have named graphics settings, but it recommended that I use quality “4” graphics. I elected to turn it up to 7 – I like the number 7 – and ran around, took some flight paths and healed a group through the Halloween event dungeon without seeing the frame rate drop below the high 70s.

Yes, I queued for a group as a healer despite not having played in over a year.  I’d have felt bad about that if anyone had died.

So, that was an awful lot of time spent proving that I have wasted a lot of money chasing the 4K demon. The computer I used for all of these tests was – LITERALLY – a piece of garbage and was being thrown out as no longer fit for purpose. Adding a $120 graphics card and replacing the bits that had been stripped out of it turned it into a PC able to play DECADES worth of games at full 1080P quality. For another 60 bucks, I could have gotten the 1050ti with 4GB of VRAM and been just ridiculously ahead of the power curve.

If you need me, I shall be sobbing quietly in the corner.

Posted in PC Gaming, videogames | 3 Comments

Linux Gaming, Bioshock Infinite, and gamepads

A couple of days ago, I mentioned that I had accidentally deleted every game installed on my Linux PC.  Which, you know… well, I won’t kvetch too much because technically I DID tell the upgrade to go ahead and remove stuff, and I didn’t really have that many things installed. It also gave me an excuse to look through Steam and see which Linux games I actually own.

It turned out that there’s a Linux port of Bioshock Infinite, and I still need to play the Rapture DLCs for that, so I figured I’d go ahead and install it.  40 GB download, by the way.  Thankfully I’m nowhere near my bandwidth cap for the month.

Anyway, I installed and ran it, and it was working just fine until I tried to enable my Xbox 360 controller. There was a “controller” option in the options menu, but the game steadfastly refused to recognized that I had one plugged in.

Off I went to google, where I found an explanation of why:

It appears that /dev/input/js0 is owned by root:input and has 664 access so you have to add your user to the group “input”.

The degree to which this is “useful” is… let’s call it relative.  It gave me the basic problem – my user account didn’t have rights to use the gamepad – but with no steps on how to solve, and I don’t usually need to add users to groups so I didn’t really know how to make this happen.

You also don’t seem to be able to add users to groups through the Ubuntu control panel, so it was off to the commmand line.

For the record, if you want to add a user to group “input”, this is how you do it in Ubuntu:

sudo usermod -a -G input <user name>

And after this, I can happily report that gamepad support appears to be working fine in Bioshock Infinite.  I don’t think we’re getting any closer to the year of the Linux desktop, though.

 

Posted in linux gaming, videogames | Leave a comment

How to have every one of your installed games deleted at once.

When I built my current desktop, I had a lot of perfectly serviceable parts left from the last computer that needed something to do, so I put together a Linux server.  This was far from my first Linux system, but it’s the first one I’ve ever built that wasn’t a small form factor PC or a NUC or something, and I’ve been using it for all sorts of general PC tasks – hosting VMs, Blu-Ray ripping, light gaming thanks to Steam’s Linux initiative (It has an Nvidia GT710 in it.  I mean LIGHT gaming.)

Anyway, it’s been running Ubuntu 16.04 LTS for a while, and I just noticed that 18.04.1 LTS had been released and that I could now upgrade.

To give the Canonical team their due props, upgrading went really smoothly.  It occasionally stopped and asked me if I wanted to keep changes that I’d made to system configuration files, but otherwise it was entirely automated.

Then I got a prompt of “You have 425 obsolete packages, do you want to remove them?”

…man, that’s a lot of obsolete packages.  Hmm.

Oh, well, what the hell. We’ve come this far, so we might as well.

It happily churned away and got me a bunch of disk space back and rebooted into a shiny new Unity-free Ubuntu desktop.

Hmm, all of the Steam shortcuts on the desktop look funny.  Well, let’s launch Steam.  Hmm.  Steam isn’t installed.  Must have been an obsolete package.  Let’s reinstall Steam.

Narrator Voice: He reinstalled Steam.

Steam came up, but my library was completely empty… and, come to think of it, that is RATHER a lot of free disk space.

Soooooo… short version, Steam puts itself and all installed games into a .steam directory in your home directory, and it appears that Ubuntu’s “getting rid of obsolete packages” just nukes the entire directory from orbit.

It was the only way to be sure, I guess.

So, my advice: If you’re going to be gaming on Linux, move the Steam Library install location somewhere else or face the possible consequences.

Posted in PC Gaming, videogames | Leave a comment

Not the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen in a thrift store, but…

I work swing shift, and it’s not quite the rainy season here, so I frequently go on a walk for my dinner break.  We live next to the main commercial drag in a smallish town in Oregon, so I have a fine selection of my choice of fast food providers.

Anyway, we also have three or four large thrift stores at this end of town, so I wandered into one after eating.  They have a big glass display case where they keep video games and movies, and sometimes there are interesting things in it.

Today was VERY interesting, because it was full of anime DVDs and laserdiscs – and some seriously unusual ones, at that.  They had stuff like the CAV “Green Legend Ran” box set that Pioneer put out back in the day, all kinds of DVD box sets from the late 90s… it obviously all came from the same collection.  The newest thing I saw at a quick glance was a DVD set of Mahoutsukai Tai!/Magic User’s Club, so… maybe 2000 or so?

Tucked in behind the Green Legend Ran box, though, I could see a spine that made me ask one of the employees if he wouldn’t mind opening the case and showing it to me.

So.  That’s the 1993 Dirty Pair Complete TV and OVA  series box set, something I would have very much liked to have owned back in the day.  Nine CLV laserdiscs,  original price a little over Y57000, current value… well, not very much.  The odds of them ever finding a buyer for this thing are basically zero, but let’s set that aside for the moment and wonder at the notion that this thing wound its way across the Pacific and eventually wound up in this case.

I mean, there are basically two scenarios, right?

One, the owner got fed up of storing or moving laserdiscs and finally just donated them to the first person who would take them – this is what happened to the bulk of my LDs, as an aside – or, two, some seriously old-school fan in town passed away and whoever inherited his or her stuff had no idea what to do with all of these weird shiny things.  Which, I’m saddened to consider, is pretty likely.

…and, no, I didn’t buy it.  I don’t own a laserdisc player any more, LDs look like crap on modern TVs anyway, and all I would be doing with it is pulling the disc jackets out so I could admire the beautiful sleeve artwork.

The majority of the sleeves sit next to each other to form 12 x 24 pictures.  Here’s a Japanese blog with lovely high-definition photos.

Anyway.  The LIKELY fate of all of this stuff is that the thrift store will have it taking up space in their glass case for a little while longer and eventually decide that nobody is going to buy it and it will wind up in their dumpster, but I am going to allow myself the fantasy that it will all be bought by someone with proper analog video equipment, a fondness for some of the best anime to come out of the 1980s and 90s, and more storage room than common sense.  I don’t think I’ll go back in for a while.

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Kemono Friends Picross

Another day, another budget digital-only Switch game.  Today’s topic is “Kemono Friends Picross”, yours for a reasonable $9.99 from the Nintendo eShop.

I’m not really sure why Kemono Friends became as popular of a show as it did.  It’s low-budget edutainment, and it’s really kind of depressing.  If you’re unfamiliar with the program, it follows a girl who wakes up in an abandoned (possibly post-apocalyptic) wildlife preserve with no memory of who she is or even what she is.  She meets an anthropomorphized Serval cat, and the two set off to find the mythical “library” where all of her questions can get answered, meeting lots of other similarly-anthropomorphized animals (“Friends”) along the way. Every episode opens with a bippy, upbeat song and closes with music playing over scenes of a rotting amusement park.  There are also frequent reminders that the survival of all of the characters is completely artificial and based on the park’s automated systems still being in mostly-working order.

Every episode manages to pack in at least a few moral lessons and safety tips – it’s actually a little bit preachy, if you look at it with a cynical eye – but there’s a sort of earnestness to it that helps you not take the sanctimonious bits too personally.

The last time I was in Japan, you could scarcely throw a rock without hitting SOMETHING with Serval-chan printed on it – the characters are infinitely marketable – and so it’s no surprise that they wound up being used for a licensed Picross game.

The Picross games, based on a newspaper daily logic puzzle, are a series of puzzle games that I’ve never played too much of.  My wife was a fan during the DS days, so I knew the gist of how they worked, but I probably wouldn’t have picked one up if it hadn’t had license appeal.

If you’re new to it, they’re puzzles where you have a grid of boxes with numbers along the side telling you how many boxes in each line need to be filled in, and in which patterns, and you need to figure out the one legal way to fill in the boxes.

They look like this:

The second one there is a 15×15 grid that took me nearly 15 minutes to complete, and the most complex puzzles go up to 20×15.  Fortunately, the game includes a “navigation mode” that turns the numbers on certain lines blue to point out that you have enough information to make more selections on those lines, and there is an excellent tutorial that teaches you how to play.  You’re also not harshly-penalized for mistakes and the game will simply point out to you when you’ve marked a square in error.  I haven’t tried to make a ton of mistakes on any given puzzle, so I’m not sure if it ever gets less friendly.

There are 150 regular Picross puzzles, and another 150 “Mega” Picross puzzles, which make things more complicated by making you solve pixel patterns that spam adjacent lines, rather than focusing on a single line at a time.

My progress so far is pretty minimal.  I’m at 40/150 Picross and 1/150 Mega Picross.

Solving one of these puzzles gives you a cute picture of the Friend that the pixel art is supposed to represent, such as everyone’s favorite songstress:

As you solve Picross and Mega Picross puzzles, you also get pieces for the “Clip Picross” mode, which are larger pixel art canvases made up of a bunch of individual puzzles.

This is the main Clip Picross screen.  I’ve completed one of them and am working on a second.

And this is a better view of an in-progress Clip Picross.  I have collected 8 of the puzzles for this Clip Picross and completed two of them.  I have another 12 puzzles to collect and solve before I’ll be able to complete the entire thing.

In other words, this is a game with a ton of content for your ten bucks (I’m guessing 50 hours, and I suspect that might be on the low side), and it makes you feel smarter while you’re playing it.  If I had any long plane flights ahead, or had a daily commute on public transit, it would be a godsend, but even without that excuse I’m finding it hard not to look at every spare ten minute block of time as an opportunity to knock out another puzzle.

 

Posted in Switch, videogames | Leave a comment

A very simple guide to playing Mahjong video games.

I will be the first to acknowledge that my fondness for Japanese arcade mahjong games is one of my more… rarefied quirks, and that any time I post about them I am basically screaming into the void in the vain hopes of finding other fans so we can be mahjong buddies and go on adventures together.

With that in mind, I thought maybe I should put together a short article on how to play them, in hopes of infecting others with this particular affliction.

So, here we go.

Let’s start with defining what I mean by arcade-style mahjong.

Proper mahjong – not mahjong solitaire, which is the tile matching game most people think of when they hear the word – is a game sort of like gin rummy, normally played with four people and at least 16 hands per game. Each player starts with a fixed number of points, usually 25000, and wins and losses result in the points getting passed around the table. At the end of the game, the person with the highest number of points wins.

Arcade mahjong games are much simpler and are usually just you vs. the CPU. Generally your goal isn’t to run the CPU out of points so much as it is to get a certain number of wins before they can run YOU out of points, though taking all of the CPU’s points is usually a quick path to victory. (And certainly satisfying.)

This guide is designed to teach you a very abbreviated subset of the rules – basically, all you need to know in order to play mahjong at an entry level and win.  If you’re reading this as someone who is already familiar with the game, please don’t point out all of the stuff I’m leaving out.

But, before getting into how to play mahjong, you need to know the game pieces, so let’s start with  a quick overview of the tiles.

Japanese mahjong has three numbered suits, one set of four “winds” tiles, and one set of three “dragon” tiles. (Chinese versions of the game add some more tiles, so you’ll see season and flower tiles in a Chinese mahjong set or game.)

The three suits are:

“Sou”, which is represented by pieces of bamboo.

Note that the one of this suit is normally shown as a bird rather than a single piece of bamboo.

“Wan”, which is… well, it’s a counter for tens of thousands.  There’s no good mnemonic here.  Just think of them as “number” tiles, I guess.

These may have Arabic numerals or just kanji. A side effect of playing mahjong is that you will probably learn the kanji for 1-9 very quickly.

And, finally, “Pin” which you will probably just think of as “balls”

The four winds are:

From left to right: East, South, West, North.  You don’t need to know anything more right now.

The three dragons are:

White, Green, and Red dragons.  In a lot of games, the white dragon is a completely blank tile.  I’m just using pictures of the tiles from my own set here, and my set happens to have a decorative border on the white dragons.

Finally, three terms that you should know. A sequence of three numbered tiles in order is a “chi“, a three of a kind is a “pon“, and four of a kind is a “kan“. You may also see these as “chow, pung, and kong” which are the Chinese terms for the same things.

There are four of each tile in a mahjong set, by the way.

Some chi. Wan 1-2-3, Sou 7-8-9 and Pin 3-4-5.

Some pon and a kan.  Sou 5-5-5, Wan 7-7-7, 3 x Red and 4 x West

A four of a kind isn’t automatically a kan, by the way. If you had 4 5 6 6 6 6, you could see it as a 4-5-6 chi and a 6-6-6 pon. If you draw a four of a kind, you will usually be prompted for whether you want to convert it into a kan or keep it as-is.

Pin 4-5-6-6-6-6

Play flow

Arcade mahjong is 2-player, which makes things much simpler than four-player versions of the game. Each player starts out with 13 tiles. The first player draws a tile.  If it makes a winning hand, they declare their win.  Otherwise, they decide whether to keep it or discard it. If they keep it, they must discard another tile from their hand to stay at 13 tiles.

The next player can either draw a tile or react to the most recently discarded tile by melding it into their own hand to complete a chi, pon, or kan. If they meld a discard into their own hand, they must put the resultant chi, pon, or kan down, face up, so the other players can see what they used the tile for.  They then discard a tile, and this repeats until either someone reaches a win state or all of the tiles are used up.

Many games will prompt you whenever you can take your opponent’s tiles for your own hand.  It’s not always the best thing to do, and I recommend against it in most cases.  More on that later.

(Technically, completing a kan means that you now have a 14-tile hand. You can have 15, 16, or even 17-tile hands if you keep making kan.  Having kans instead of pons can improve your final score but is not needed for most win conditions.)

How to Win

The default winning hand is one consisting of four chi, pon, or kan, and a “pillow” made up of a pair of tiles.

Sou 1-2-3, Wan 4-5-6, West x 3, Pin 6-6-6 and Sou 6-6

Another easy one to keep track of is a hand made of seven pairs.  You can’t use any of your opponent’s discards for this, unless you are taking their tile to complete your seventh pair to win.

Pin 1-1, 6-6, and 8-8, Sou 6-6, Wan 2-2, West x 2, Green x 2

Your goal is to collect tiles to make up one of these two winning hands, but there is a catch. A winning hand must also include at least one “yaku”, which is sort of like a score multiplier. A seven-pairs hand always has one yaku, so I will ignore that and cover three of the simplest yaku that you can aim for when building up a standard hand of chi, pon, and a pillow.

1) The closed-hand yaku. (menzen) If you build your hand using only your own draws, this is called a closed hand and gives you one yaku. This is easy to build, because you simply ignore every time the game gives you the option to pon or chi off a discard – unless you are taking your opponent’s piece to complete a winning hand.

Conversely, a hand built using any of your opponent’s discards is called an open hand.

2) Pon-of-Dragons Yaku. (yakuhai) Simply having three of any dragon tile means that you have one yaku and therefore a viable hand.  This can be closed or open – if you have two white dragons and your opponent drops a white dragon, feel free to pon off it.

3) All-Pon Yaku.  (toitoi) Make a hand of four pons and a pillow, either closed or open.  If you start your hand with a few pairs, this can be a good hand to aim for, especially if the CPU discards some of the final tiles you need early on.  If you are lucky enough to build a closed hand of all pons, it’s suu ankou which is worth a ridiculous number of points.

There are two kinds of wins in mahjong, and most games will pop up a message to let you know that you can “Ron” or “Tsumo”.  A Ron is when you complete a winning hand using your opponent’s discard.  If you complete a winning hand using only your own draws, this is called a “Tsumo”.  There’s no difference between these two kinds of wins in 2-player mahjong, though they are important for scoring in 4-player mahjong.

So, to sum all of this up, the easiest strategy to follow is to simply ignore your opponent’s discards and try to build a winning hand using only your own draws. If you happen to luck into a three-of-a-kind of dragon tiles, feel free to go crazy taking their tiles to build up your chis and pons. Finally, if you are waiting on a single tile to make a winning hand and your opponent discards that tile, grab it for a victory.

Watch what the CPU does, and what tiles have already been discarded! If you have two of a tile and there are two of the same tile in the discards, you’re not going to be getting a third of that same tile to make a pon.  Likewise, you will probably see that the CPU discards all of its wind and dragon tiles very early in the match, and this is a very good thing to do as well unless you start with at least a pair.

One final thing – if you have a closed hand and draw a tile that puts you one tile away from winning, you can declare “riichi”.  You then select a tile from your hand to discard, and from that point on you are locked into waiting for the tile that will give you a win state.  This gives you one more yaku, so it will boost your final hand. “Riichi” sounds a lot like “Reach” so you will often see Japanese mahjong called “Reach” mahjong. Likewise, if your opponent calls “Riichi”, you know they are on the verge of winning.

Hopefully this is useful.  I had fun writing it, even with the constant sound of the voices in my head screaming about all the stuff I was leaving out.  It’s intended to demystify mahjong and let you get some basic wins – if you wind up enjoying the game and want to know more, there are lots of resources you can use to dig in deep.

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