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I have wanted to get a Mah Jongg set, but have hesistated because I don't know what to look for in a set so I don't buy something flimsy.

Can anyone suggest what makes a good (or bad) Mah Jongg set? (e.g. materials, printing, etc.)

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2 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Good but inexpensive set:

Decent weight bakelite or similar plastic pieces, readable "engraved" (molded, really) figures.

I've a set I paid $15 for back in 1988; it's got a few thousand hands on it (I used to play a full game of 16 hands every week, sometimes more than one), and it's still in great shape, but the vinyl over cardboard snap case is about dead. Replacing it would be about $25-$35 now. Higher end plastic sets run to about $50-$75

For the simplest "traditional" game, you need set with just the 7 honors (4 each: N, S, E, W, C {Red}, F {green}, and blank). You should hold out for one with 4 flowers and 4 seasons.

For the American game, 8 "big jokers" are also needed.

It's nice if the set has a deal marker and round marker; many times, this is a die for the round, and a carrier which the die fits into as a round marker.

Almost all sets come with 3 pretty poor quality dice.

It's generally worth it to make certain at least the suit of 10,000's (characters) is marked with western numbers as well; it isn't needed, but is nice, on the suits of bamboo and coins (balls).

The better looking the winds and seasons, the easier they are to tell from the 1 bamboo.

Some have marked extra tiles, usually marked "B"... I use these as my 7th honor, and reserve the blanks as replacement tiles.

More expensive set

Look for the wood or bamboo to be slotted, and the ivory or bone to fit that slot tightly; you should see no space, and normally, the slot is dovetailed. Bone will have visible pores, and is pretty opaque; Ivory has a different pattern, and is slightly translucent. In both cases, look for paint only in the engraved areas, even pieces, and consistent size and color.

If you find an ivory set for under $100, suspect that you're being had. Inexpensive ivory sets just don't exist... many that claim it are bleached bone, or even plastic.

Bone sets can look very nice. But they also run $50 to $150 depending on a lot of factors.

Paper Sets

Mah Jongg cards (often spelled kards) are available for under $25. Most are only the traditional set, usually with both the four winds and four seasons, and the blank is replaced with a white dragon image.

So long as the set is a comfortable size, and is plastic coated, it should work fine.

One can make a passable set using a Mah Jongg font, and an business card template. If you laminate the cards with contact laminate, they come out feeling like lightweight japanese cards... And play just fine.

One other word of warning: when searching for Mah Jongg Cards, you'll get some hits that are the scoring combinations for the American Game, rather than cards with which you play the game itself. Kards almost always refers to playing pieces.

Final Thoughts

  • If you and those you play with are comfortable with the visible symbols, the set is good enough.
  • if you find an american style set, it gives you the option to play either game. If you get a traditional set, you can't play the american game.
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http://www.sloperama.com/mjfaq/whereg.htm has all the answers you need.

Tips For Buyers

Caveat Emptor. When you see an attractive mah-jongg item for sale, make sure it's really got everything you need. How many time have I heard, "I got a wonderful Chinese-style mah-jongg set but it doesn't have enough tiles," or "I got a wonderful Japanese mah-jongg set but I can't tell the Winds apart!" I've bought a lot of sets on eBay, and have learned about some specific things to watch for when buying a set...

  • How many tiles does the set contain?
  • Are the tiles marked with Western indices? (Or is everything in Chinese?)
  • If your type of mah-jongg requires special tiles, are those tiles present?
  • What condition is the set in?
  • Are all the bits & pieces included?
  • Is the set suitable for the sort of mah-jongg you play?
  • Is the seller's price competitive?

The site also links to a reliable list of sellers as well as lots of information about buying sets. It also helps in selecting which kind of set (Japanese, American, ...) to chose.

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