‘Mahjong Free Online Games’ is authored by the developer of Real Mahjong (to which it makes frequent reference), who freely admits to being biased! It is nevertheless, to the best of his knowledge and belief, factually accurate.
Compared to Chess and Go (or Go-Moku), Mahjong is a not particularly ancient game, probably originating in China in the late nineteenth century. Where games like Chess and Go are stylised representations of warfare, Mahjong symbolises the acquisition of money. Indeed, the symbols on the ‘bamboo’ tiles are said to represent gold coins tied together on a length of string. Chinese gold coins at the time had convenient holes in the middle, presumably for that purpose.
This tradition continues today, with Mahjong being played obsessively for money in many parts of the world. In some places the game is now banned from the workplace because it was wasting so much time, and I’m reliably informed by a friend who was in the Merchant Navy many years ago that crews would often spend much of their free time playing Mahjong, settling up their accumulated debts before they went ashore.
In the UK, the tradition is different. For the most part Mahjong is played as a social game. It has an aesthetic appeal, with its visually attractive tiles, its arcane rules and its picturesque terminology, that works on a different level altogether. British players usually include ‘Flower’ and ‘Season’ tiles, which increase the amount of luck in the game, so beginners can often do well against relative experts, while the number of highly improbable ‘Special Hands’ with exotic and bizarre names like ‘Plucking The Moon From The Bottom Of The Sea’, and ‘Triple Knitting’ means there’s always something left to achieve.
When personal computers became able to display movable graphics many of them were distributed with a pre-installed ‘Mahjong’ game, which was actually no such thing. Although it used Mahjong tiles it was simply a form of solitaire. The computer arranged the tiles randomly in ‘interesting’ formations, and the player’s task was to remove all the tiles, in matching pairs. It would often be impossible to complete a game because no matching pairs were visible or one of the tiles would be placed where it was illegal to move it. The challenge was to remove them in the right order so that this wouldn’t happen — and to do so in record time, of course.
Came the internet, and the solitaire game went online. Most people playing it online were probably unaware that there was a better-performing offline version on their computer already, but in any case the real function of the online solitaire games was to help draw customers in to predominantly gambling sites.
There are now a great many internet sites that offer free online versions of the solitaire game. Most are essentially casino or poker sites that include a few free games to attract attention; very few sites offer a version of real Mahjong that creates a similar experience to the real thing and can be played online.
One site that does is called, appropriately enough, Real Mahjong. It’s clearly designed to appeal to the non-gambling market and is a straightforward, no-nonsense representation of the game as we know it. If that makes it sound dull, it isn’t. The game is very realistic (within the constraints imposed by the relative lack of space on a typical computer screen) and can be played solo, or by two, three or four players, with Real Mahjong itself making up the additional players where needed. You can invite a friend to play and, if he or she accepts, a game immediately starts with you and your friend each playing a different wind, and Real Mahjong automatically adding another two ‘virtual’ players.
You can play a complete game with sixteen rounds (plus any needed for washouts), and players and the prevailing wind are rotated automatically. When there are four real players it even switches to Goulash rules, complete with swaps and wild tiles, whenever there’s a washout.
There’s a chat-box (in the bottom right-hand corner of this illustration) that allows you to communicate with the other players while your game’s in progress — if you’re quick enough to do both at the same time!
You can find Real Mahjong at realmahjong.net.
Altogether it’s a pretty neat game, and brilliant for expanding your circle of Mahjong-playing friends. It’s free to download and install, and free to play.