Describes the pieces of equipment required to play Mahjong.
Mahjong can be played either with a set of Mahjong tiles, or a set of Mahjong playing cards (sometimes spelled ‘kards’ to distinguish them from the list of standard hands used in American mahjong). Playing cards are often used when travelling as it reduces space and is lighter than their tile counterparts.
Many Mahjong sets will also include a set of chips or bone tiles for scoring, as well as indicators denoting the dealer and the prevailing wind of the round.
Some sets may also include racks to hold tiles or chips (although in many sets the tiles are generally sufficiently thick so that they can stand on their own). One of the racks will be different from the rest, to denote the dealer’s rack.
The set of Mahjong tiles used differs from place to place. There are usually at least 136 tiles, most commonly 144. Sets originating from America or Japan have more. Within the set there are a number of different types of tiles.
Types of Mahjong Tiles
- Circle suit: named as each tile consists of a number of circles. Each circle is said to represent copper (tong) coins with a square hole in the middle.
- Bamboo suit: named as each tile (except the 1 Bamboo) consists of a number of bamboo sticks. Each stick is said to represent a string (suo) that holds a hundred coins.
- Character suit: named as each tile represents ten thousand (wan) coins, or one hundred strings of one hundred coins.
- Wind tiles: East, South, West, and North.
- Dragon tiles: red, green, and white. The term dragon tile is a western convention introduced by Joseph Park Babcock in his 1920 book introducing Mahjong to America. Originally, these tiles are said to have something to do with the Chinese Imperial Examination. The red tile means you pass the examination and thus will be appointed a government official. The green tile means, consequently you will become financially well off. The white tile (a clean board) means since you are now doing well you should act like a good, incorrupt official.
- Flower tiles: typically optional components to a set of mahjong tiles, often contain artwork on their tiles.