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I play Mahjong with friends every now and then, using a set of rules that we sort of invented along the way: we knew the basics, but had no internet connection for one summer and played with what made the most sense. Now, we'd like to settle on established rules, but there are so many of them... I'd like to have rules that are:

  • stable (no changing every year like American Mahjong)
  • uses a 14-tiles hand, 4 winds, 3 dragons, flowers and seasons, no jokers
  • scoring doesn't have to be zero-sum operation (we don't play money)
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4 Answers

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This set of rules for Chinese Mahjong might be a little terse, but are essentially the rules I have always played with. The last chart gives a nice limited set of honor hands too.

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The simplest ruleset is Hong Kong Old Style (HKOS). It has simple scoring and very few special hands. Other forms may have few special hands but complex scoring - or simple scoring but many special hands to learn - or complex scoring and many special hands to learn (like American Mahjong).

If you want even simpler rules, have a look at these ultra-simplified Chinese rules. They even omit Kan and most of scoring, so you can understand and explain them in a few minutes. From experience I would say they are a good way to start. Once you got the basics, you can gradually add more rules of the HKOS set, and eventually also have a look at other rulesets.

One thing I especially like about the ultra-simplified rules is how scoring works:

Whoever won gets a chip or a coin from everybody. Or just use the "ooh and aah" method. When somebody wins, everybody goes "ooh." You can keep track of score on a piece of paper too. Make a tick mark next to the winner's name. Whatever works for you.

If you want to make things really exciting, award an extra chip, coin, or "aah" for a pung of dragons or winds.

If you want to recognize dragon or wind pungs for all players (not only for the player who goes mah-jongg), you can do that. It might be possible for a non-winning player to get a higher score than a winner, if you allow this. But that's OK, if you like it that way.

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According to this table, Hong Kong, Classical (Babcock's red-book rules), and Korean variations fit your criteria.

Having said that, this page state that Korean rules don't use seasons.

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I'm generally a fan of Riichi Mahjong, but what I use for teaching beginners is Zung Jung, a very simple and logical ruleset. See the scoring chart here - it's easy to apply (no "small points" and "multipliers", only one limit), and the point values are adequate to the effort required for a given pattern. At the same time, you can find most of the commonly used patterns in Chinese and Japanese mahjong, so a transition to a more complicated system shouldn't be a problem.

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