Mahjong (Majiang, Mah-Jongg, or others) is a game of tiles from Asia. There are as many variants of Mahjong as there are peoples in Asia, so we'll focus on the most common rule set.
Your Goal is to build a hand of 14 tiles. You start with 13. Every turn you will add and then remove a tile from your hand. You win when the tile you pick completes your hand of 14. Before we gt into the rules, take a look at the tiles.
The Main Tiles consist of 3 suits numbered 1-9, a set of 4 winds, and a set of 3 dragons. There are 4 copies of each of these tiles.
Secondary Tiles differ depending on the variant. Classical Chinese and Hong Kong variants use 4 Flowers and 4 Seasons. There is only one each of these tiles. Read on to learn what to do when you find these during a game.
The 3 Suits are Dots, Bamboo, and characters. You'll hear the characters called "10,000s" or "numbers", and there are various nicknames for the dots and bamboo. Sticks, circles, pies, the finger bones of your enemies, etc etc.
The Winds and Dragons are called "honor tiles" because they do not have a suit. There are 4 copies of each: White, Red, and Green dragons, and East, South, West, and North winds.
Your Goal is to build a hand of 14 tiles. Every turn you will add and then remove a tile from your hand.
Rules for a winning hand:
Have 1 pair
Have 4 sets of 3 tiles. Valid sets:
Three of a kind
Sequence or runs of 3, same suit.
Sequences or Runs are 3 tiles, same suit, all in order. 3,4,5 of bamboo is a run. 7,8,9 of dots is a run. Sequences are only 3 tiles long. 1,2,3,4 of dots just means you have an extra tile. The mandarin for a sequence is "Chi-r"
Threes-of-a-kind are a set of 3 identical tiles. Since there are 4 copies of every tile, you have a decent chance of making one. The dragons and winds can only be used for pairs and threes-of-a-kind because they don't have numbers, and thus can't form a sequence. A three of a kind is called a "Pung".
I like the cut of your jib! Here's how we Get Setup.
Sit 4 players around a table. Square tables are ideal.
See Advanced Play for how to pick seats. Or, just sit down.
Place all of your tiles face down. If your set came with any blank or "joker'" tiles don't use them, those are for different versions.
Shuffle your tiles by pushing them around the table. You're doing it right when it is loud. TILE NOISE FOR THE TILE GOD!
Don't just push them in a circle around the table. Mix them up!
Form two lines of tiles in front of you, 18- long. For speed, grab 3 tiles with each hand and bring them together to start your line. Do this twice more and you have 18! Repeat for the second line.
If your table has raised edged, pull your tiles against the edged to form a nice, clean line.
Stack your second line on top of your first. Do this piece by piece or, for the bold, do it all at once. See Wall Stacking Tips for more.
Last step for setup - move the right edge of your wall towards the center of the table so it's at an angle to you.
Pick a player to go first. Easiest: roll some dice, highest goes first. Advanced: See Advanced Play.
This player is the dealer. Dealer, roll the dice.
See the number on the dice? Starting with the wall you built, count in circles moving to the right around the table (counter clockwise) until you reach the number. You are 1, the person next to you is 2, across is 3, to your left is 4, you are 5, on and on.
Once you find the right wall, count that same number from the inside end, the end that you pushed toward the center of the table.
If you rolled a 5, you are on your wall. From the inside edge, count 5 stacks moving away from the center.
Now, take the NEXT 4 tiles. That is 2 stacks of 2 from the wall.
If you rolled a 5, you would taking stacks 6 and 7.
If you reach the end of this wall, continue to the next wall to the left. (I'm looking at you, Austin.)
The player to your right takes the next 2 stacks, continuing to move away from the tiles you originally counted.
The player across from you takes the next 2 stacks
The player to your left takes the next 2 stacks.
We're back to you dealer. Have everyone take 2 more stacks, same order.
We're back to you again! Have everyone take another 2 stacks!
Check - everyone should have 12 tiles. Now it's boss move.
Dealer, take only the top tile from the next stack, hop over a tile, and then take the top tile from that stack.
Everyone else in turn, take the next single tile.
Dealer, you have 14 tiles, everyone else has 13.
Check to see if you have any flowers or seasons. If you do, reveal them, place them face up near you, and then draw replacement tiles from the end of the wall (where you originally finished counting, NOT the end you were drawing down).
Ask everyone else if they have any flowers. If they do, in order, they should reveal and draw replacements from the end of the wall.
Now that you are back up to 14 tiles, Check to see - did you win? If you have 4 sets of 3 and a pair you just won! Now tell everyone to go home and give you all their money because THAT NEVER HAPPENS
(It's theoretically possible though.)
Time to start the game! Discard a tile you don't want. It's next player's turn (the player to your right).
I should probably mention...
Every rule I've described can be altered in very particular circumstances. Look into Advanced Play to see when this happens.