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Genre: Board & Card
Min OS X: 10.4    CPU: G4

Mahjong Tradition
November 30, 2006 | Michael Scarpelli

Click to enlarge

It can be hard to see, but this shows the double-layering bug with the tiles.
The gamer can declare a set of tiles in four different ways. Declaring pung involves a matching set of three tiles. Kong involves a matching set of four tiles. The Eye is just a pair of tiles (every mah jong will require the gamer to have one Eye). Last, Chow is a set of three consecutive tiles, a straight. These groupings alone are easy to keep straight. The hard part is keeping straight when you can declare them. Sets held in the gamerís hand can be declared whenever they want. Declared sets are placed face up on the table in front of the gamer. They canít be touched anymore, but now all other players on the table have some insight as to what tiles they should keep, as well as what tiles to avoid discarding. Sets can be declared out of turn, as well. When a gamer discards a tile, that tile is offered up, in clockwise fashion, to all other mah jong gamers. There is a precedence to who can take the tile, however. A gamer who needs the tile to complete a winning set has the main dibs. Next comes players making a kong, then pung, then chow. However, chow can only be declared using the tile from the discard of your left-hand opponent, so donít expect those too often. If a set is claimed off of a discard, the standard clockwise rotation of turns is interrupted and begins anew from the player who claimed the set. At last, using these rules, the gamer tries to arrange their hand so that 12 tiles are involved in matching sets of some kind and two tiles are matched up into an Eye. Once this arrangement is reached, you have mah jong and have won the round. The gamer winning the best of four rounds wins the match.

Phew. Finally. Now, on to MahJong Tradition specifically. MahJong Tradition makes the game of mah jong very simple. I still had to use Wikipediaís entry to get the rules down straight, but once I was there, it was all easy. The rules of precedence and declaration are handled by the game. It will ask the gamer if they wish to make an available set using the tile that is available to them, and if there is no set available to the gamer, play simply continues. Itís simple, but it runs the risk of being too simple.

Without a multiplayer mode, itís just the player versus the computer in MahJong Tradition. Thereís also no method for scoring the game. There are many ways to score mah jong and MahJong Tradition opts away from scoring due to the many variations in method there, but it would have been a fun inclusion. Iíve played dozens of games of MahJong tradition and only won a round a couple of times and never won an entire match. Some scoring would be a great way to keep my spirits up.

The frequency with which mah jong ends with no winner is likely the reason it doesnít make for a better computer game. Not only do I not win when playing it, but frequently no one does. This, plus the exclusion of scoring, plus the absence of multiplayer makes the game seem just a bit lonely. To MahJong Traditionís credit, though, it makes the best of things.

The game looks very nice. The tiles are clear and well-sized and the game field is rendered well, with the inclusion of four variable tile collections and backgrounds for the gamer to switch between, as well as four different cursor options. The pace of the gameplay can be set by the gamer, and itís very easy to see when the game is offering tiles to the computer opponent to track the action. The prompts the game offers for available sets make the experience very low in frustration and very easy to play without having to devote all of oneís attention to it. Switching between tile collections and backgrounds is a buggy experience, though. Doing it too quickly will frequently confuse the game and result with tile graphics being stacked on top of one another. Thereís no music to the game during the match, either, which would have been a nice inclusion for such a basic gaming experience, but the tile sound effects are crisp and satisfying.

The game gives several methods of play: relaxed, standard, all chow and all pung. This can be roughly translated to the level of difficulty, as each different game mode is increasingly difficult to win; a good inclusion for the title to keep it from sliding into the dungeon of Not Enough Features.

All in all, MahJong Tradition is a solid mah jong title. Iíd been looking forward to learning how to play traditional mah jong for some time and Iím very glad I did. MahJong Tradition made it very easy and accessible for me. However, after learning how to play, Iím acutely aware that without the social or scoring element to it, a game like mah jong is so hard to win that playing it becomes a very dry experience. Iíve been inspired to hunt down a set of actual mah jong tiles and gather three friends together, but Iím not terribly inspired to keep running back to my laptop to play against faceless computer opponents that lose as frequently as I do.

• Very user friendly interface
• Smooth look and feel, customizable appearance

• Limited gameplay
• No multiplayer or scoring options

Mahjong Tradition
Download Mahjong Tradition Demo


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