Best Mahjong Sets

Updated November 2020
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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

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

Buying guide for best mahjong sets

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.

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.

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.

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.
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.

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