American Mahjong is a game that was born during the 1920s and 30s, shortly after the Chinese version was introduced to the U.S. From that point forward, American Mahjong fascinated thousands of players. People of all ethnicities played Mahjong at home, in parlors and even during Mahjong championships. Yet, as American Mahjong began growing in popularity, players of the Chinese version began to wonder if the game truly deserved the title of “Mahjong.”
Well, the overall gameplay is pretty much the same as traditional Mahjong. Basically, through luck and skill, four players must compete for the most points by dominating the Mahjong gaming board. To do this, they build sets by discarding tiles and selecting new ones.
American Mahjong differs by adding a new technique known as the “Charleston.” The Charleston is initiated even before the game even starts. Basically, it allows players to exchange undesirable tiles. So, if the Charleston is used correctly, it could put players at an advantage if they know which tiles they should joker or if they know how to work magic with the undesirable selections.
The tiles are also different with American Mahjong. Why? Well, the arrangement is changed around a little bit, as American Mahjong adds the ‘joker’ tile. These will allow you to replace another tile during the game.
In terms of the designs themselves, ironically, the American version uses the same Eastern-inspired graphics as the Chinese version. This is not to say that there aren’t mahjong games that veer away from these designs, though they are usually marketed differently. Consider the computer game “Mahjong Master: Egyptian Edition.” It uses Egyptian symbols for the Mahjong tiles, though it is not meant to replace the ‘official’ graphics associated with American Mahjong or Chinese Mahjong.
So, ultimately, when you compare the various games, the differences are not prominent enough to consider American Mahjong a separate game. So, why is there still a controversy? Well, it’s all a matter of personal opinion. Some people believe that if you’re going to play a game, it must be completely like the original. Then there are others who like adding their own spin to it. Sometimes these ‘spins’ stay unique to their personal style of play, while other times it becomes so popular it catches on with everyone else. This is what happened to American Mahjong.