Four Winds Rule Collection

This rule collection is based on a several years long game development project with close co-operation with Mah Jong gamers around the world, as well as on information gathered by reading Mah Jong literature and online rule documentation written in English, French, German, Dutch, Swedish and Finnish. 

The authors have no knowledge of Chinese or Japanese language, which is admittedly a serious shortcoming for anyone trying to understand the tradition and modern Asian developments of the game.

On the other hand, the authors have been in correspondence with several Asian players around the world and have tested many Asian software versions of the game in order to be able to outline the most prominent features of the modern Asian game.

In this process it has also become clear that the variations in modern Asian versions are at least as great and confusing as they are in Western versions. In addition, it is apparent that most of the Asian players are as ignorant of the history and tradition of the game as the Western players.

To illustrate the initial reason for writing a sort of “standardized” documentation of Mah Jong, let us describe a way Mah Jong is likely to be introduced to a person who buys a Mah Jong set in Europe.
This particular example is based on rules that came with a Mah Jong set bought in Finland:

First, the rules are based on classical Chinese Mah Jong that is very little known in Asian countries of today. This is not a complaint since there is nothing inherently outdated in the classical rules. 

The problem is that the rules include the following points which in the context of knowledge of the tradition and history of the game are absolutely strange:

  1. The rules mention that a player can (but is not required to) declare a concealed Pung by melding it face down above his hand.
  2. The rules do not acknowledge One suit and Honors but instead specify scores for the following: a) One suit and Honors, the Honors being two triplets of Dragons + a triplet of player's own Wind (4 doubles); and b) One suit and Honors, the Honors being a triplet of player's own Wind (5 doubles).
  3. A limit hand “All eights and nines” is mentioned (probably a typo, meaning to say “All ones and nines”, i.e., All Terminals).
  4. The limit hand Nine Gates is described as consisting of tiles of the same suit, composed of “three ones, three nines and 2 tiles from 2 to 8”, when it is clearly meant that the hand is composed of three ones, three nines, tiles from 2 to 8, all concealed and of the same suit, the completing tile, whether a discard or self-drawn, being any tile of the same suit.
  5. The rules give a 2-point bonus for going out on the “only possible”, but explain this as “going out on a tile three exemplars of which are already visible amongst the discards and melds”). While this kind of a pattern really exists in modern Chinese Mah Jong, “only possible” most probably should have been translated in this context as a) going out on a one-chance hand (i.e., a hand that can go out with only one kind of a tile), or b) going out on a one-chance Chow (i.e., 1-2-?, 4-?-6, ?-8-9), or c) going out on a pair.

These five oddities, the first two being quite unique in the context of the tradition (concealed Pungs are always kept in hand, and practically all rules acknowledge One suit and Honors, while the patterns described here do not appear in any common version of Mah Jong), the third being a typo, and the fourth and fifth being apparently bad translations, are likely to produce five new local “variations” to the game of Mah Jong. It is probable that many variations of Mah Jong can actually be explained by bad or inadequate documentation.

Accordingly, there is clearly a need for a documentation that is based on profound knowledge of the tradition, but that also mentions the major variations that are well-rooted in local traditions (even if initially based on some kind of a “misunderstanding”). The point is that a reader needs to know which are common features and which are local variations.

Four Winds Rule Collection tries to be a representative collection of major versions of Mah Jong (not including copyrighted versions like NJML Rules). We welcome all your comments for improving the documentation.