Mah Jongg VGA is, as the name implies, a game of mahjong solitaire; or as others would call it, Shanghai solitaire. It's a shareware title developed and released by Ron Balewski between 1988 and 1991, under different versions; a Windows version was released in 1992. Your objective is to remove the entire stack by matching pairs of identical tiles using the mouse. There are 144 of them in this pile formation called "Dragon". Usually you can form two pairs of every tile type. The Flowers and Seasons tiles may have several different pictures, but can still be matched to each other like the rest of the tiles; depending on the tileset, though, this rule may or may not be followed. There's only one set that reproduces the original mahjong tiles, and some other tilesets (which you can find on the internet) were created by users.
Speaking of the original mahjong, it's a serious table game played usually by four people. The legends say it it was invented by the philosopher Confucius himself around 500 BC. Just like chess, it managed to become an official sport. As a pastime, it's most popular in Japan and China, but it was also imported into the western countries. Comparing mahjong solitaire with the original mahjong would be like comparing Tetris with the hardcore strategy Hearts of Iron. The moment when I realized just how hard this game can be for a newcomer to understand was when I watched a 26-episode anime entirely about mahjong called Akagi. Despite the main character's psychological prowess, my comprehension level of the rules was still close to zero.
Mahjong solitaire's history is much more recent. The first computer game of its kind was developed for the PLATO System in 1981. It would gain worldwide renown in 1986 with the release of Activision's Shanghai: a classic title from which countless sequels and clones would arise in the following years. Returning to Mah Jongg VGA, it's true that because of the simple gameplay mechanics, there's not much to review here. It comes with three official tilesets: Original Mah Jongg, Christmas '89 and Pirates! by Scott S. Woccholz - pretty usual fare, though I don't consider Christmas '89 an appropriate choice when there are only three tilesets. If you're not satisfied with these sets, you can make your own using the Draftsman tool or find others on the internet. In the game, you can also change the background color.
Gameplay-wise this little piece of software is an addictive time waster; though it's not because Ron Balewsky did something revolutionary. The game follows the well-established conventions of its predecessors, but it's addictive because that's how mahjong solitaire generally is: it relates to most categories of people, regardless of age and gender, and anyone can finish a session in their 15-minute break. This way it's very difficult for me to come up with a score and give it a final verdict. While Mah Jongg VGA features only one stack, the typical pyramid "Dragon", in Shanghai II: The Dragon's Eye which came out around the same time (1989) you can choose between many other arrangements. Variety is pretty much what Mah Jongg VGA lacks. It does feature a tile editor, but user-generated content can't really be considered when reviewing the original package. Other elements which are subpar, like the unimpressive beeping sounds can be ignored, but after winning more than a dozen times, it's unlikely you'll return for another session.
Mah Jongg VGA is a high-tech simulation of the ancient Chinese game of Mah Jongg. Some historians date Mah Jongg back to the time of Confucius -- over 25 centuries ago! It's believed that sailors and fishermen played Mah Jongg as a diversion from the monotony of their long voyages. The game was originally played with cards, but eventually bone and bamboo tiles were substituted since these were less likely to be blown off the deck.
Mah Jongg VGA recreates the beauty and addictive pleasure of Mah Jongg, but uses modern data processing techniques and high-resolution graphics instead of bamboo tiles. In this nicely created game, strategy is the key. You can't play this game without having the brain switched on and the eyes peeled open for the matching tiles - a really good game for the thinker.
People who downloaded Mah Jongg VGA have also downloaded:
Marble Drop, Monopoly (1999), Lose Your Marbles, Lemmings: Oh No! More Lemmings, Castle of Dr. Brain, Lemmings 2: The Tribes, Wheel of Fortune, Tetris (from Mirrorsoft)
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