Ever since I thought of a mahjong manga where the hero would have to travel around the world and experience different variations of the game, I’ve thought about how the different types of mahjong that exist would be conveyed to readers. Previously, I had analyzed Singapore Mahjong (which turns out to be quite similar to Malaysian Mahjong), and even thought of things that could be emphasized in an arc featuring Singapore Mahjong.
This time, I want to talk about American Mahjong, also known as the official style of the US-based “National Mah Jongg League.” In terms of comparison with other forms of mahjong, it has a number of unique features, such as joker tiles (essentially wilds), and an exchange of tiles between players known as the Charleston. The scoring for the game changes annually, with hands coming and going, and it requires players to buy a new card every year to keep up, sort of like expansion packs for a TCG in the sense that it forces its players to pay up if they want to stay relevant. The most recent one was $7.00.
I must emphasize that I have not had the chance to play American-style Mahjong, and so there will be no real gameplay analysis in this post. That said, I have taken a close look at the rules (and even went out of my way to buy one of their cards), so if you’ll let me indulge for a day, I want to try and write what I think an Akagi-style narrator would say if presented with American Mahjong with respect to Japanese-style Riichi Mahjong.
The American style of mahjong is spelled in English as “Mah Jongg,” with two G’s. It is a simple change which hints at the vast differences lying within.
Where one might assume certain universal truths of mahjong, such as the formation of multiple sets of three tiles, or for irregular hands such as “Kokushi Musou” and “Chii Toitsu” to be the rare exceptions, American “Mah Jongg” defies expectations. Instead, every possible winning hand is like a Kokushi or a Chii Toi unto itself! The fundamental structures of mahjong vanish leaving barely a trace, and the only thing that matters is the entire hand as a single and unique entity!
Indeed, if each round of mahjong is like a fierce battle in a greater war, then American “Mah Jongg” can be said to exist in a world that has not only abandoned conventional firearms and vehicles, but has forgotten about them entirely.
Guns! Cannons! Tanks! Planes! All are part of a history lost to the ages. Instead, each player is like a team of scientists trying to assemble their own nuclear bomb to launch at their enemies! The blueprints are complex, the research intense! Knowledge of bullets and boats do not matter! Everything is for the sake of completing that deadly atomic weapon.
However! That world is also subject to different physics from our own, and with each revolution around its sun, the construction of those weapons must also change! Every year, there comes a time when the old rules no longer matter. The scientists must then realize where their existing knowledge still applies, and where it will inevitably lead to a technological dead end!
“Mah Jongg!” What that second G stands for is unclear, but it may very well mean “galaxy,” for compared to Japanese mahjong the American style is millions of light years away!