Tips for Buying a Mah Jongg Set
Items in a Mah Jongg Set
Choosing an American Mah Jongg Set
When I teach students Mah Jongg, they are usually ready to buy a set. Often, my students want help making their purchase. I teach in the United States, so I encourage my students to buy an American Mah Jongg set, which usually contains 166 tiles. Although you only need 152 tiles to play, manufacturers usually provide extra tiles in case you lose one.
I also caution my students to be aware that an American Mah Jongg set is not necessarily a set made in America. The term refers to a set made for the American rules of playing the game.
Mah Jongg sets vary in price depending on the design of the set and the material used to make the tiles. Antique ivory or bamboo sets can be hundreds of dollars or more, but many modern day sets are made with acrylic or melamine tiles. An acrylic or melamine set is usually in the range of $50.00 to $175,00. You can also find pre-owned sets online. Cheaper travel sets are less costly, but keep in mind they usually have small tiles that can be hard to see.
My students usually choose a set based on what they want to spend. They either want a bare bones set that has the essentials and is a good value, or they want an attractive set. The first set I ever purchased was a basic one. A few years ago, I purchased a set with pretty tiles.
Items Included in Most Sets
Most American Mah Jongg sets include the following items:
1. 166 Tiles, including 2 Extra Jokers, 8 Extra Flowers, and 4 blank tiles
3. Racks and Sometimes Pushers
4. Carrying Cases
5. Tile Storage Containers
6. Fabric Covers for Racks and Tile Containers, in Some Sets
7. Betting Disk and Scoring Coins
Unless you are a collector, I would recommend an acrylic or melamine set because the tiles are easy to clean and durable. Additionally, if you leave your set somewhere, you will not have to worry about losing a costly game. Most people that I know who own vintage tiles are using a set that has been passed down through generations.
Tiles also come in different sizes and colors. Make sure you choose tiles that are easy to see. I have several sets, and one has beautiful black tiles. Although I love the set, I rarely use it because most people I play with find it easier to see white tiles rather than black ones.
Some sets include small dice. Usually two or three come with your set. You will probably want dice that are easy to see, but they are very cheap to replace, if needed.
Wood Rack and Pusher
Racks and Pushers
Although pushers are not esential to play, most sets include plastic or wooden racks and pushers. The wooden racks are more attractive, but the plastic racks are just as functional and can be easier to use. There is usually a hole in the plastic pusher that fits through a pin on the rack, but some plastic pushers are permanently attached to the plastic racks. The main disadvantage with a plastic pusher and rack is that the plastic can break. However, they are inexpensive to replace, and I have only replaced mine once in 20 years.
Wooden pushers provide a more luxurious look to your set and are usually magnetized. Sometimes it can be challenging to get the magnet to adhere to the rack if you position the pusher the wrong way. The magnets are not always strong enough to hold the pusher in place, but wooden pushers are durable.
Plastic Versus Wood Pushers and Racks
Inexpensive to replace, easy to attach, sometimes permanently attached
May crack or chip over time
Magnetized, may be tricky to attach to rack if not positioned precisely
When I first started playing Mah Jongg 25 years ago, most sets were sold with hard cases. Today, soft and hard cases are available. If you plan to use your set outside of your home a soft case is much lighter to transport than a hard one.
If you expect to be holding more than a Mah Jongg game when you transport your set, you may prefer a shoulder strap. However, many clutch style sets include a detachable shoulder strap. Ask before you purchase your set. I have a clutch with a shoulder strap, but I usually use the clutch handle because the heaviness of the set bothers my shoulder.
Tile Storage Containers
The shape and size of the tile storage varies from set to set. If you have a soft carryiing case for the entire set that does not necessarily mean the tile storage container is soft too. Storage cases can be rectangular, lidded boxes or zippered pouches.
Many hard storage containers require you to position the tiles in the container a specific way or they will not fit. One advantage to the hard, rectangular tile storage is that you can store your tiles face up. When you empty out the unit, all the tiles will face the table, so you will not have to waste time turning them downward before playing.
The included storage unit was a deciding factor when I purchased my last set, and I prefer zippered pouches. I do not mind turning the tiles downward at the beginning of the game because I am not rushed. When I am finished, especially if my group wants to squeeze in one last game, I want to leave quickly and just toss them in a pouch.
If you are unhappy with the storage container that comes with your set, you can store your tiles in a large resealable, plastic bag. One person in one of my classes uses makeup bags that she received as free gifts for buying cosmetics. They have zippers and work well for the purpose.
Fabric Covers for Racks and Tile Containers
Fabric covers do not come with every set. They may be included if you get a set that has plastic racks and a long, rectangular container for storage. They help keep the racks from getting scratched and can prevent the tiles from falling out of the container. They often have velcro to secure them around the tile container and racks.
Betting Disk and Scoring Coins
You probably will not use the scoring coins or betting disk. In fact, in the 25 years I have played, I have never seen anyone use scoring coins in American Mah Jongg. If your set does not come with these items, it will not affect your ability to play the game.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Abby Slutsky