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How to Play Mahjong Board Game

A Mahjong is four sets and two pairs in 14 tiles.
Mahjong game image by huaxiadragon from Fotolia.com

Mahjong is a game from ancient China played as a board game, but similar to the card game of Rummy. The game dates to 500 BCE and probably originated as court game during the reign of King Wu. Four players sit around tiles set up in a square. There are 144 tiles in a Mahjong set, with various characters grouped into suits. The goal is to complete a hand by having four sets of a suit and two pair. The sets can be matching or runs.

Picking the Seats

Pick the seats of the players by removing one of each of the wind tiles (tiles with the cardinal directions on them) and have each player take one and place it face down on the table. Shuffle the wind tiles.

Take an odd numbered tile and an even numbered tile from the pile and place them on either side of each face down wind tile.

Throw the dice. If the player gets an odd number, she counts from the first odd tile. So if the roll was seven, then each set is counted, starting from the first odd tile, until the player reaches seven. With four wind tiles, the player would take the third wind tile. If the result is even, the player counts from the first even tile. Repeat until each player has a wind tile. Players take their seats at the table according to the direction they have chosen.

The Wall

Shuffle all the tiles face down. Each player takes 36 tiles.

Build a wall of two layers, 18 tiles in each layer, face down in front of each player. This should create a square in the middle of the table.

Decide the point at which the wall will break by having the player in the East throw the dice. Starting with the East side, count the sides clockwise until you reach the number on the dice. So if you rolled six and start counting in the East, the South wall will be chosen.

Break the wall by having the player at the chosen side, South in this example, throw the dice, then count the tiles in from the right. So if the roll was three, the player would count three in from the right on the South wall. At that point the player breaks the wall by moving the third and fourth stack of tiles. The tiles on the right are now the "Dead Wall," and those on the left are now the "Live Wall". The same break is made on the opposite side of the wall—for example, three tiles from the left of the North wall. The dead wall is for replacement tiles.


Deal the tiles by having the East player take four tiles in two stacks of two from the live wall. Repeat for the South, West and North players in that order. Repeat until all players have twelve tiles from the live wall. At the last round, the East player takes two tiles and the other players each take one. Play is begun when the East player discards one tile face up inside the wall. Each player should have 13 tiles.

Play Mahjong by having the South player go first. The player may take a tile from the wall or the discard pile. If the player has any flower or season tiles they must place them face up in front of them. These are wild cards. At any time during her turn, she may turn the wild cards in for a new tile from the dead wall. Then, if the player has a completed hand, she may lay it down and call Mahjong. Otherwise the player discards a tile and the step is repeated by the next player on the right.

Complete a hand by having 14 tiles in four sets of tiles and two pair. The set may be a Chow (three in the row of the same suit), a Pung (three of the same number in the same suit), or a Kong (four of a kind of the same suit). A pair must be two matching tiles. Season and flower tiles may not be used in the hand. If no Mahjong is called before all the tiles are taken from the walls then no one wins, and the game goes to scoring.

Scoring and Continuing

Gain points by having a Mahjong, a Mahjong after drawing a tile from the wall, or tiles left over in your hand.

Score the players by what is left on the table in front of them or in the hand. Four Pungs in a hand is six points. Four Chows in a hand is two points. One Dragon Pung or Kong, which is three or four of the dragon suit, in a hand is two points. A Pair of Dragon Pung is six points. A Pung or Kong of Winds is two points. Any flowers or seasons tiles are one point. If the person with a Mahjong got the Mahjong by drawing the tile from the wall, they get one point.

Continue by having all the players rotate to the right and start with setting up the wall again. Play is completed when all players have sat in each of the four directions. The winner has the most points.

Things You'll Need:

  • Mahjong tiles
  • Dice
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