Sleepless after Mahjong Junior
- Created on Tuesday, 22 February 2011 14:43
- Last Updated on Wednesday, 28 November 2012 18:00
- Written by Martin Rep
“One more time!” There is no doubt that seven year old Amalia, our eldest grandchild, just loves Mahjong Junior. We have just played our first two hands with her. Two, three, four players - that is not important in this game. I won the first, my wife won the second game, so let’s hope that Amalia will win this next hand. The last one before she has to go to bed.
So far, so good. As long as Amalia is concerned. For me, mahjong player for over twenty years, it is somewhat harder to pick up the game. Because, Mahjong Junior may be an attractive game for children (‘from 6 to 99 years’) but for grown up Europeans it’s something else. Because: Mahjong Junior is not based upon mahjong, but on American ‘mah’.
Of course, it’s mahjong. But through the years, American mahjong has developed in a totally different way from the game as it was played the day the hype hit the US shores in the nineteen-twenties. In ‘mah’, chows are not allowed. Or, better: they are virtually unknown. In mah, you have jokers. (Amalia loves jokers.) In mah, you have not only kongs (‘quads’), but also ‘quints’: a kong of five. And, last but not least, in mah, you cannot just win by composing a hand which consists of a number of pungs and/or chows. You can only go out if you have a hand which is printed on the card. And on the card, there are no pairs. You must have two given pungs and a kong to fit.
Nancy Factor, who developed the game, took out the complicated parts that made it challenging for children to learn. “I wanted it simple enough for a six year old but not boring for a teen or adult”, she tells Mahjong News. “I also know that kids don't always have three other friends or family members to play with, so I needed it to work for two players as well.” She is working on a card to include pairs, but she is not sure when that will happen.
So, here we are, with Amalia, and we all have the ‘card’ before us. A card that is not too complicated, but it is one which limits the way you can go out. Each player starts with nine tiles instead of the usual thirteen.
At a given moment, I have one pung of East Wind and one pung of South Wind, and I have three White Dragons (which is called ‘Soap’, since the white Dragon tile looks like a piece of, well, soap). So, you would say: you can call ‘mahjong’. Unfortunately, there is no winning combination on the card of South wind / East wind / White Dragon. South and East only combine with a quad of Red Dragons.
There’s one Red Dragon in the pool already - but that means nothing. In mah, and also in Mahjong Junior, there are lots of joker tiles.
There is no doubt about it: Amalia loves the game. We give her a quick overview. She looks puzzled, but as we start playing, she gets the picture quite fast. For her it is no problem that she has to try and collect tiles according to the examples on the card. And when, in the second hand, we do the ‘charleston’ - you select three tiles you don’t like and give them to the player on your right side - she beams. She passes her number tiles to grandma Dicky, and she just cannot stop laughing when she gets them all back when, after three turns, the charleston is over. (In the rules, this exchange of tiles is not called charleston. According to Nancy Factor, her play-testers who had never played mahjong, were confused with the term.)
Amalia has to be the one who wins the last hand. Unfortunately, Dicky gets so many good tiles that she just cannot help calling ‘mahjong’. In her winning hand, she has a kong which consists of one Dot and three Jokers. Also, that is allowed in mah.
Some days later, we play the game with Amalia and her sister Alexia, who is five years old. For Alexia, the game is probably somewhat too difficult. She stops after the first game and claims that she prefers to play Settlers of Catan.
Amalia is still thrilled when she goes to bed. Let’s hope she can have her sweet dreams, though.
Generally, Mahjong Junior is a nice game for children. The grown-ups who will play with them, will find it fun. For American kids, it will be a nice introduction to ‘mahjongg’. But what if you live in, let’s say, Europe and you want to prepare your children for Mahjong Competition Rules, Riichi Mahjong or Hong Kong mahjong?
Hard to say if Mahjong Junior is any preparation for those variants. But, why worry? Mahjong Junior is a game your children probably will dig.
Amalia and Alexia are not the real names of our test players.
Mahjong Junior costs €26.57 (€34.95, shipping/handling included within Continental US). The box contains: a raw organic cotton drawstring bag, four wooden mahjong tile racks, 90 hand made wooden tiles, four Mahjong Junior game cards, Mahjong Junior Rules.