Mahjong For People Who Don't Want To Think About It Too Much

A couple of people have asked me about the Mahjong minigame in Yakuza. “What is this? What is happening? Will it ever end? I AM CONFUSED,” they say. Do not worry, for I am here for you. A lot of people have only ever discovered the western “solitaire” variant of Mahjong. Real Mahjong is a 4-player gambling game similar to Gin Rummy. I’m going to explain it to you so that you, too, can be a marginally terrible player like me.

Mahjong in Yakuza

So the thing about Mahjong in Yakuza is that the Yakuza games have the absolute best computer mahjonng implementation (footnote 1) that you will ever play. I have played every one of these games that I can find. With the notable exception of Hong Kong Mahjong for Windows, they are mostly terrible. There are some that are OK. But the Mahjjong version in Yakuza is freaking awesome. The life-changing aspect of Yakuza 0, as compared to previous editions, is that the game gives you SO MUCH MONEY that you can play at will, and in fact if you do the “ranked matches” you just pay 50,000 yen, once, and then can play as much as you want. I spent previous games save-scumming on losses because early in the game money was hard to come by. Now that’s not an issue. Yay!

Anyway. Back to Mahhjong. Torn down to its simplest components:

  1. The object of the game is to win.
  2. You win by winning hands (or rounds) which score points. More points means more money.
  3. THIS IS COMPLICATED AND YOU CAN MOSTLY IGNORE IT =-=-=-=> A game lasts for 16 or more rounds - minimally, you have 4 East rounds, 4 South rounds, 4 West rounds, and 4 North rounds (the “prevailing wind”), and then in each group of 4 rounds each player gets a turn at each wind. The “or more” is because if the hand is drawn OR the player sitting at ‘east’ wins, the winds are the same as in the previous round. <=-=-=-= THAT WAS COMPLICATED AND YOU CAN MOSTLY IGNORE IT. Just note what winds are visible in the center of the board when deciding whether to keep or discard a wind.
  4. You win a round by “going out”. This is called “Maahjong”
  5. You go out by constructing a winning hand that meets the minimum point requirement.
  6. There are a ton of “special case” winning hands and you should ignore them for now.
  7. The general description of a winning hand is “4 sets or runs of 3 tiles, and one pair.” A set is 3 tiles of the same suit and rank. A run is 3 consecutive numbers in the same suit. Some tiles are special and don’t have rank. They are the dragons (red, green, and white) and the winds. In Hong Kong MJ, there are also flowers, but Japanese mmahjong doesn’t use them.
  8. A set of 3 is called “pon” (in Hong Kong mahjong, “pong”). A set of 4 is called “kan” (in Chinese, “kong”). A run is “chi” (in Chinese, “chow”). These are the things you call when you want to steal a player’s discard to form such a set.
  9. Each player draws a tile, and discards a tile. Play proceeds counter-clockwise.
  10. You can call “chi” to form a run from the discard of the player to your immediate left.
  11. You can call “pon” or “kan” to form a set from the discard of any player.
  12. You can call “ron” to win the hand from the discard of any player.
  13. The priority of calls is ron -> pon/kan -> chi. If you call chi, and someone else calls pon, they get the tile.
  14. If you draw the winning tile yourself, you call “tsumo”.
  15. Remember rule 7? It turns you can can’t actually win if you don’t have a certain number of points. There are a loooooot of different ways to score points, but if you build a hand of MIXED runs and sets, you can find yourself with something that “looks” like mahjong but isn’t. I think the requirement in Yakuza Mahjonngg is 1 point.


a. Any set of any dragon is 1 point.

b. Any set of EITHER a prevailing wind or the seat wind is 1 point.

c. All runs (not counting your extra pair) is a point.

d. All sets (not counting your extra pair) is (i think) 2 points

e. A hidden kan is a point.

f. Having called “riichi” is a point.

So far most of what I’ve described applies to most Maahhjaaanng variants, whether it be the Japanese, Hong Kong, or Jewish Grandma types - there are differences in scoring and terminology but they are fundamentally the same game. The real rule that distinguishes Japanese mahjonnng is “riichi”, to the point where it’s usually referred to as “Riichi Mahjong”.

“Riichi” is a bet that you can only make if you have not exposed any sets or runs <=-= THAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT RULE IN THE GAME. The corrolary of this rule is “if you have called chi, pon, or kan, you cannot declare riichi.” You get the menu for declaring riichi by hitting the square button after your draw. If you can’t declare legally, the menu won’t appear.

You can only call riichi if you are one tile away from going out. Once you call riichi, you’re on autopilot and the game will play for you. You win if a tile you’re waiting for comes up.

What if I Want an Accurate Explanation Instead Of Yours?

Go visit the Sloperama Mahjong Page which is incredibly detailed but not as jauntily brief as mine.

Also, watch the grueling anime Akagi. It’s available on Crunchyroll

One More Thing

ADDENDUM: the hardest thing about playing Mmaahhjjoonngg in Yakuza is that the character tiles don’t have Arabic numbers of them. So congratulations, you get to learn the Chinese written number system! LET ME INFECT YOU WITH MY CRAZY PERSONAL MNEMONICS

  1. Horizontal line
  2. 2 horizontal lines
  3. 3 horizontal lines
  4. looks like a grimacing mouth
  5. A kneeling dude
  6. A standing figure with his or her arms and legs splayed
  7. An upside-down 7
  8. A jaunty little hat
  9. The squarish-bendy looking one that looks kinda like a table and isn’t any of the other ones.


In Conclusion

Mahjong is tons of fun, and I hope this short yet opinionated and probably terribly inaccurate guide helps you get going.


Footnote 1: If I’m honest, I suspect that the Yakuza Mahjong game cheats, in favor of the player, a little bit. I’m willing to overlook this.