Today, we are going to share some games that use mahjong as media but play very differently from mahjong. Through all these, we can understand the core elements of games and may extrapolate to our life because, in many ways, life is also a game. This also makes me think of the most-watched Netflix Korean TV series, Squid Game which brings out many life issues and human nature by dramatizing daily children’s games into life-and-death survival games.
We all know mahjong is a game. But what exactly is a game? Children find mahjong tiles very appealing as they can play with them as building blocks like Lego. In our earlier episode, we showed virtual worlds constructed with mahjong buildings, dinosaurs or underwater creatures. But playing in this free and unstructured way without rules is called toys instead of games despite both bringing the players a lot of fun. In the Squid Game dramas, the rules often surprised the players which could totally distort the results and caused players to be killed. Here we share some games that use mahjong elements but are not played as mahjong.
The first types are puzzles to guess the winning hand of mahjong derived from Wordle. Similar to an earlier game, Mastermind asks the player to guess the right colour pins in the right locations, Wordle is a word puzzle game that became viral in the midst of the pandemic around the end of 2021 and was later acquired by the New York Times. Everyday a new word puzzle is posted for the players to guess a 5-character American word in six trials, and hints are given by colour-coding differently for characters that are wrong, correct but not in the right location and correct totally.
With its viral effect, over 350 variant games were created for different languages, different patterns or even symbols from different subjects. The original game is named after its inventor Mr. Wardle and for this reason, the suffix “dle” are often included in subsequent derivatives. Among these, there are more than one games that ask players to guess the 14 mahjong tiles in a winning hand. Examples include the Mahjong Hangle in Japan or the Wudle from Hong Kong, each is built upon its local mahjong rules.
The second is related to the iconic Rubik’s Cube. For the different faces of the cube, Mahjong numbered tiles from one to nine and often the three dragons 中發白are used to replace the six colours as they fit perfectly into the simplest 3x3 Rubik Cube format. The game was invented in 1974 by Hungarian sculptor and professor of architecture Ernő Rubik who designed an internal pivot mechanism that enables each face to turn independently, thus mixing up the tiles in each face.
This 3D puzzle game went viral in the 1980s and became the world’s best-selling toy of its time and one of the most recognized icons in popular culture. Apart from a mind’s game, speed turning becomes a challenge also for one’s physical ability in completing the task.
Again similar to Rubik’s Cube with 3x3 squares, Sudoku is a number puzzle played with the number one to nine. Though there is no mahjong Sudoku, I think mahjong can be used to play this game. The word Sudoku is a Japanese word數獨 meaning number and single which reflects it is a game played with the single digits of one to nine and each number only appear once in a row, in a column or in a 3 times 3 sub-square. This game has another reason that draws my attention. Its modern father Mr. Wayne Gould is a retired judge from Hong Kong, who came across the game in Japan and then self-learnt computer programming to generate so many variations that could be posted daily in different newspapers or be collected into game books.
Apart from playing with the numbers and types, mahjong tiles can also be used to play the matching game of Solitaire, which was initially a single-player tabletop concentration game with cards in the late eighteenth century. The game requires the player to match the newly drawn card or mahjong tiles against the exposed ones until the matching completes.
Instead of playing with physical mahjong tiles, digital versions of Mahjong solitaire are popular electronic games. In the game, mahjong tiles are arranged in bizarre shapes and patterns. Of course, there are many other real mahjong electronic games following the rules of different places. We hope in future we can do a special episode for them.
Having explained all these games, we may use them to identify the common features of games. Games are structured with rules which define ways to win. Games could be relying totally on skills like Sudoku or Rubik’s Cube or totally on chances like guessing the number of dice. Mahjong was liked so much by people because it strikes a good balance between skill and luck. Games totally relying on skills could deter casual players while games totally relying of luck will not give the players opportunities to polish their skills through games and acquire a sense of achievement. Interactions are also important element of games, whether as reactions to situations like facing a drawn tile or with other players in the games.
Life is a game. We should play, enjoy and win it. Also, life is full of uncertainties that we cannot control, but with the right attitude, knowledge and experience, often we can shape the results or even be game-changers who set new rules.