In this complete failure of a Shut Up & Sit Down Podcast, Quintin Smith and Tom Brewster are coming to you, hats in hand, to apologise profusely for not making a robust and fully-featured video review of the ancient game of Mahjong. In this episode, we talk about Mahjong, our experiences playing it for review, and why it didn’t quite make its way onto your screens!
I could see an argument for a separate channel or sub-channel that does “traditional games” (easy dividing line: does anyone know who designed it?). I think a lot of traditional games evolved in circumstances where they were the only game people played, and everyone in the community played that game, and so it could evolve baroque variants so that people could prove they had enough leisure time to learn it all. (I’ve watched Akagi, and from this position of thoroughly informed knowledge of Japanese mahjong (i.e. the way it’s presented in that anime series), I’d say that it’s mostly a gambling exercise with incidental gameplay as a substrate.)
As for gambling, I don’t mind what other people do, but I have no interest in it myself - I’d much rather pay however much to have en evening of games, than gradually lose that much over the course of the evening while chasing the illusion of making a profit. I’ve heard poker players say that it’s not worth playing unless it’s for money, and fair enough, but that just means I don’t play poker; I’m much more towards the “having a good time” end of gaming than the “winning” end.
Yes you really do need money involved to play poker because the betting is part of the game - and people bet very differently when they have real money on the line rather than fictional money.
Doesn’t have to be much but you have to have a stake in the game! We usually (I say usually - haven’t played in a while) all put say £10 in and then give everyone an equal amount of chips, rather than people just using real money to make the bets, if that makes sense. Gives everyone a real stake without any bankruptcies!!
As an aside… my partner is having a poker game tonight… while I am out having dinner with „the girls“ because while I am really good at reading his poker face I dislike having to math out probabilities to consistently play well. Also none of the players really know much of the theory (except my partner) and so they often bet kamikaze style and with random betting the game doesn‘t quite work so well.
A question for people who’ve done both: does the progressive loss system in Air, Land & Sea (i.e. the later you concede the round, the more points your opponent gets) feel like the flow of a gambling game? (Though without the sudden “all stakes are now doubled” mode of course.)
I’ve heard a similar thing said: poker is less a card game than it is a money-management game where cards are the tools by which you manage money.
On the subject of Mah Jongg - I’ve never played it with the real tiles but I do own a copy of Mhing which (as far as I can tell) is essentially the tile set in card form with a very simplified scoring ruleset. I haven’t played it at all since I was a child but I remember it being a nice time filler. I’m sure there are second hand sets floating about very cheap these days.
I played it a lot when it was almost the only thing going on in my boardgaming life for about 6 years (the other thing being Go), and I agree that Japanese mahjong is basically just a gambling game. There’s not a lot else there, and although I understand some people like gambling games, I don’t see any particular reason to get excited about mahjong.
The logic that because something had lasted a long time it’s probably got something is a fun question. As a counterpoint I’d suggest roulette has nothing as a game and is the most iconic casino game. But I think it is worth a further exploration about what it means to be a cultural game even when the game is duff (eg did it beat anything else, what are the second tier cultural games and so on). There’s potential for exploration but I think you need to look outside the game itself.
I think craps has an interesting dynamic in that I think there are two layers of game being played at the same time which is somewhat unique.
There’s also the consideration that in the late 19th and early 20th century boardgames in England at least were basically regarded as tools of moral education for the young (as opposed to card-only and dice-only games, which were for gambling). I suspect we all know the history of The Landlord’s Game / Monopoly – there is presumably something beyond mere marketing that’s kept it popular for 88 years, but quality of gameplay as we understand it clearly isn’t it! (After a bit, one of those things is tradition/nostalgia – I played it as a kid so it reminds me of being a kid – but the first generation of players didn’t have that.)
I actually secretly like monopoly. I think its ubiquity does it reputational damage that’s slightly undeserved but perhaps it’s a sort of better to be hated than unknown situation for them.
The game has got jankiness but it’s got some cool qualities which make it thrilling and as an exercise in trading and buying stuff it’s a cut above most mass market games. If you said there’s a game with these mechanisms
Personal trading and negotiation
An auction sub game
Property purchase with tactical redevelopment
Metal player pieces
That game would be something more fittingly found in a hobby game shop than ASDA.
My experience, and my main objection, is that after the first few rounds it’s pretty clear who’s going to win, but everyone else has to be driven to bankruptcy to play the game by the rules. An early end condition would do a lot to make the game more acceptable to me.
When people talk about how complicated some designer board games are, I tend to mention how many mechanics there are in Monopoly:
Most of the games I own have fewer individual mechanics than there are in Monopoly. The trouble with monopoly is that every one of those mechanics is the worst possible implementation of each of those mechanics.
I don’t think that’s something worth focusing on though. You could level a similar complaint against Go, and I think that would be very unfair. It would be nice if the practice of ending a game once a loser is clear (or a winner, depends on the game) were more widely accepted outside of combinatorial and 18xx gaming communities.