Best Mahjong Sets

Updated July 2019
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
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How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

12 Models Considered
5 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
170 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.

Buying guide for best Mahjong sets

Last Updated July 2019

If you’re interested in playing a different type of board game, you may want to go back to the past. Mahjong is one of the oldest board games still being played today, and it delivers a great mixture of fun and strategy.

At first, Mahjong can be a bit confusing for novices and requires lots of practice to master. The Chinese characters are beautiful, but they can be difficult to decipher for someone who doesn’t understand the language. The game also has dozens of variations, all with slightly different rules and game pieces. Still, once you learn how to play, you will likely be hooked.

To learn more, read our handy guide to help you find the best Mahjong set for your needs. If you’re ready to buy, consider one of our top recommendations.

Mahjong dates back to the Qing dynasty in China in the mid-1600s. It was introduced to Western civilization in the 1920s.

What is Mahjong?

Mahjong is a four-player tabletop game that uses 136 tiles in the set (although some newer versions use more tiles). Essentially, it’s a strategy game that also requires observation and a bit of luck as players attempt to make related sets of the different tiles. Like the card game gin rummy, Mahjong requires you to collect matching tiles or tiles in a consecutive run to win.

Mahjong sets are available in numerous different configurations. Although a traditional set has 136 tiles, other configurations may have more or fewer tiles. Here is a list of some of the more popular versions of Mahjong.

  • Chinese classic: The classic Chinese game has 136 tiles, featuring 28 honor tiles.

  • Hong Kong: This version also uses 136 tiles, but it has some different scoring rules from the Chinese classic version.

  • Japanese: The Japanese version is a popular one, as many artists use this version to depict the game’s beauty. It’s also the version used in the vast majority of tournaments.

  • Korean: Korean Mahjong only uses 104 tiles, and it has a version that allows for three players.

  • Modern American: This game uses 152 tiles, adding some honor tiles, which allows for extra playing options.

  • Taiwanese: With 144 tiles, the Taiwanese version has a few different playing rules than the Chinese classic version.

  • Three-player: You’ll only use 110 tiles in the three-player version of Mahjong, which allows for fast play.
     

Of course, dozens of other versions exist. Even within the versions we’ve listed, sub-versions are available that use a different number of tiles or slightly different rules.

Some Mahjong sets will work for these different versions of the game after you remove a few tiles from play. So, if you want a specific version, read the product description carefully to ensure it matches your needs.

Outstanding craftsmanship

You’ll love the excellent craftsmanship in this high-quality Mahjong set. The tiles have been engraved, ensuring they’ll last a long time, even when used regularly. The entire set is contained in a stylish tote case with a shoulder strap, allowing you to take the set anywhere. The tote has a zippered pocket to keep your items secure.

Features

Tile construction

A Mahjong tile consists of two parts. The white portion of the tile contains the character (occasionally, this portion is black). This is the front of the tile.

The back section of the tile consists of a colored section. This section gives the tile the depth required so it can stand upright, allowing the player to see the character easily.

Some people have a preference on the color of the back section. Green is a popular color, although transparent backs, glittered backs, and other colors are available.

Tile artwork

Beyond finding a Mahjong set that accommodates the style of game play you want, pay attention to the artwork, too. The characters and colors on the front of the Mahjong tiles are beautiful. However, they are all a little different. So if the aesthetics of the set are important to you, pay close attention to the characters and colors on the tiles.

Racks

If you want to save a bit of money, you can choose thinner Mahjong tiles. These tiles will not stand upright on their own. For this type of set, you’ll need racks. Think of these like racks for Scrabble tiles. The racks hold the Mahjong tiles upright, allowing them to be built thinner.

EXPERT TIP

To play Mahjong with Chinese characters, some sets include a “cheat” card. This shows the Chinese character paired with the Arabic numeric character equivalent.


Staff  | BestReviews
EXPERT TIP

If you really want to save some money, consider Mahjong playing-card sets. These don’t have the aesthetic appeal of beautiful Mahjong tiles, but they are inexpensive.


Staff  | BestReviews
EXPERT TIP

Some inexpensive Mahjong sets will make use of tiny tiles. Although these are good for travel, they can be so small that the characters are difficult to decipher.


Mahjong set prices

Inexpensive: For $25 to $75, you’ll find Mahjong sets that consist of plastic tiles. They usually will be thinner in construction and have smaller tile faces. Some Mahjong sets will include items like dice, chips, and racks. These items allow for different types of games or can simplify game play, but they will add a little bit to the price of the set. (Nearly all Mahjong sets ship in a carrying case.)

Mid-range: More expensive Mahjong sets, which range between $75 and $200, may consist of bone, bamboo, or ivory tiles. These sets really aren’t made for beginners, as these materials may chip or warp if not cared for properly.

Expensive: More expensive sets that go for $200 and higher have amazing craftsmanship and may be collectors’ items. Some of these sets may cost as much as a few thousand dollars.

Reasonably priced Mahjong set

This classic Chinese Mahjong set carries a much lower price point than some other options. The engraved tiles consist of a high-quality material, allowing you to receive long-lasting performance, which isn’t always the case in this price range. This is a traditional Chinese set, meaning it doesn’t work with some game rules.

Tips

You can have more fun while playing Mahjong if you know a bit about the game. Here are a few tips that beginners can use.

  • Sometimes, Mahjong is played for money. Before you sit down for a Mahjong tournament or game, always figure out ahead of time whether the game will be played for money. Mahjong occasionally does have a gambling aspect to it.

  • Play a lot of games. The more you play Mahjong, the more you’ll learn. It helps to play with experienced players to gain more skill. You may lose quite a few games, but you can gain some key strategic knowledge.

  • If you watch experienced players, the game moves quickly. It’s important to think fast and plan ahead to have more success. Games among beginners will move more slowly, though.

Other products we considered

For an on-the-go Mahjong set, we like the Yellow Mountain Imports Chinese Mahjong Travel Game Set. The tiles are very small, and this is an inexpensive set. For a set that stands out from the rest, we like the Yellow Mountain Imports Chinese Mahjong Set. Its tiles are all black with colored characters engraved on them, creating a striking piece of art. If you aren’t looking to spend much and you don’t care about the artistic tiles, you can select a Mahjong set consisting of playing cards. The Brybelly American Mahjong Playing Cards Set has a very low price point, and it allows for Western, Chinese, or solitaire game play.

Because Mahjong is a fast-paced game, the sturdiness of the tiles is important to the quality of game play. Thin, flimsy tiles will not yield a desirable level of game play.

FAQ

Q. Do I need to understand Chinese characters to play Mahjong?
A.
Traditional Mahjong sets will have Chinese characters imprinted on the tiles. If you can recognize the difference among Chinese characters, you can use these tiles, even if you don’t understand Chinese. However, there are Mahjong sets that contain Arabic numerals and characters that are readable for those who don’t know Chinese.

Q. Are Mahjong tiles durable?
A.
When made properly, these tiles are thick and made from sturdy materials. Modern Mahjong tiles consist of celluloid or other forms of plastic, although a few may be carved from animal bone. Original Mahjong tiles consisted of bone, using precise craftsmanship. They were almost works of art, and they were extremely durable. However, if you’re buying a cheap modern Mahjong set, the tiles may be extremely thin and may not stand up on their own.

Q. How do I know which version is best for me?
A.
Mahjong is playable in dozens of different versions. Different cultures have altered the game’s rules and tiles over the years. The tiles may feature slightly different characters, and the honor tiles may change from version to version. If you’re looking to purchase a set that can work with many different versions, buy a game with extra tiles. You then can take some of the tiles out of play to accommodate certain versions. No set supports every Mahjong version, though.

The team that worked on this review
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    Angela
    Editor
  • Devangana
    Devangana
    Web Producer
  • Eliza
    Eliza
    Production Manager
  • Enid
    Enid
    Editor
  • Kyle
    Kyle
    Writer
  • Melinda
    Melinda
    Web Producer
  • Moriah
    Moriah
    Writer

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