For those in the know, mahjong is more than just a game. It’s a work of art — the tiles are beautiful to look at and hold even if you don’t know how to play. It’s a ritual — for the last century, “mahjong nights” have been common in both Asian and non-Asian communities around the world. And it’s a great excuse for a social gathering, an excuse for friends and family to get together and forget about day-to-day concerns.
Mahjong is especially popular around Lunar New Year, when multiple familial generations gather to celebrate, bond, and wish each other “Gung Hey Fat Choi.” To help usher in the Year of the Tiger, we’re gifting you your own mahjong set, made exclusively for Vices. If you’re not familiar with the game, now is the perfect time to learn. And if you’re already into one of the hippest games around, get ready to start hosting your own mahjong night and start a new tradition.
Mahjong (or mah-jongg or mah jong; there are many accepted spellings) was originally marketed Stateside as an ancient game played by Chinese royalty, but in fact it’s a fairly recent creation, one that has almost as long a history in the U.S. as it does in China. Mahjong’s origins can be traced to the second half of the 19th century, and by the end of the 1800s it was growing more popular in the big cities of China.
It soon became a hit with American expats living in China, and by the 1920s it was big among the well-to-do in the States, too. Today it’s ubiquitous all over the world, with the familiar click-clack sound of mahjong tiles heard among everyone from Jewish retirees to Gen-Z hipsters.
The goal of mahjong is simple — to accumulate, from the 144 tiles in the set, four sets of matching tiles or consecutive numbers (a set can be three or four tiles) and one pair of two identical tiles — a little bit like poker. The first player to get the sets wins.
It’s an addictive game, not just for the strategy and luck required to do well, but for the feel and the soothing click-clack sound of the tiles themselves. It’s an elegant game, but not a complicated one. And most importantly, it’s fun. After a year far more complicated and stressful than most of us bargained for, taking more time in the coming year to forget day-to-day concerns and enjoy simple pleasures seems like a fine resolution.