Friday, October 31, 2008

Euro-Jongg, Mark 2

Some time ago I proposed special cards and rules for a westernized version of Mah Jongg, using the type of playing cards familiar to fans of poker and bridge. I have continued to brainstorm about it and have hit upon a few ways to dial down the complexity even more.

First, we may not need 193 cards after all. I'm now thinking a mere 187 will do. That's four suits (clubs, hearts, spades, and diamonds) from Ace to 9 (=36 cards) times four (=144), plus one each of seven face-cards (kings, queens, jacks, bishops, wenches, horses, fools) in each suit (=28 cards), which brings us up to 172. Add four identical flower cards (say, a rose) - identical except each is indexed with a different suit. Likewise add four identical trees (oak?), four identical birds (falcon?), one in each suit (+12=184). Lastly, throw in three cards with a crown centered on each, one black, one red, and one gold. That brings us to 187.

The dealer distributes 13 cards to each player, then arranges the remaining cards into a "wall" made of 9 piles of 15 cards each. Each player in turn draws a card from the front of the pile or the waste pile. To draw from the waste pile, he needs to declare a Book, Tome, or Run and immediately lay down the relevant set of cards in his hand. Books are 3 number cards of the same number and suit, or 3 face cards of the same denomination; Tomes are 4 of ditto; and Runs are sequential sets of 3 number cards OR face cards (but not both) in the same suit. The aim is to "go out" by accumulating at least 4 such sets of 3+ cards, plus a Pair of the same denomination and (if they are number cards) suit.

A player holding one of the flower, tree, bird, or crown cards can lay it down for bonus points and draw a replacement card from the back of the wall. The fourth card in a Tome must also be replaced from the back of the wall. Play stops either when someone goes out, or when the next player cannot draw a card without breaking into the last untouched pile on the wall.

Points are then tallied as follows. Base score: 5 points for a Pair or Run of face cards, 10 for going out and for each open Book, 20 for each closed Book or open Tome, 50 for each closed Tome. Each Book or Tome of face cards scores double. Ditto Books and Tomes in the player's "seat suit."

Base score x2 bonuses: hand made up entirely of runs and a pair; all Aces and 9s; no Aces or 9s; all face cards; all red cards or all black; going out as the dealer. Base score x5 bonuses: all cards of the same suit; books of the same denomination in all 4 suits; 3 consecutive runs in the same suit; go out by making a pair; go out by drawing from the wall. Base score x10 bonuses: 4 consecutive runs in the same suit; go out by drawing from the back of the wall; go out by drawing last available card; go out on your first turn; completely hidden hand. Alternate "go-outable" hands worth a flat 1,000 points: 7 pairs; 14 sequential cards of the same suit; going out with no base score bonuses.

Points for bonus cards (birds, flowers, and trees): 5 points for each lonesome little bonus card; 25 for holding 2 bonus cards of the same type or the same suit; 100 for holding 3 ditto; 1,000 for holding all 4 ditto. If a lonesome bonus card or a set of bonus cards is in the player's "seat suit," its point value is x10. Points for joker cards (the 3 crowns): 10 points for holding one, 100 points for holding two; 1,000 points for holding all three.

The player who "goes out" deals the next hand. If anyone but the dealer goes out, the deal passes to the next player in turn. Each round of the game ends when all 4 players have lost the deal. The game may continue for any number of rounds, but if going 4 rounds, I suggest passing the "seat suit" markers to the left at the start of each new round.

And if this is too complicated, I have even brainstormed a "radically simple" version with only 172 cards. It is so stripped down, in fact, that I think it should be called "Mini-Jongg." In this version, only the 144 number cards and the 28 face cards are used; there are no bonus cards, so the only occasion for drawing from the back of the wall is when you make a Tome. Instead of 9 piles of 15, the wall has 8 piles. There isn't much need for seat suit markers, either. Again, play stops when the last pile of cards remaining untouched is about to be breached. Scoring is as simple as totaling up the base score and multiplication bonuses.

If you wanted to reduce the game to the absurd - somewhere between "Micro-Jongg" and a nondescript form of Rummy - you could simply shuffle 4 decks of bridge cards together (note, with all the kings, queens, and jacks, but none of the custom face cards I have proposed). After dealing the remaining cards are stacked in one or two piles, from either of which (or the waste pile) you can draw. Then you simply try to be the first player to come up with 4 books, tomes, and/or runs and a pair, and the face-card books and tomes now have to be of the same suit. At this rate you almost might as well forget about counting scores and just designate the player who goes out as the "winner." The game continues until some player has won enough times to make everyone else feel depressed.

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