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Gaming on the Internet

By Devin D. O'Leary

OCTOBER 13, 1997:  So I found this really great Mah Jong board in a thrift store for 10 bucks. It's got a faux leather case and about a million (OK, I exaggerate) of these little plastic tiles with nifty Chinese characters on 'em. I've watched old Asian guys play Mah Jong in movies, and it looks a hell of a lot cooler than Boggle. Only problem is that the game didn't come with instructions. So here I sit with this groovy-ass game and not a single clue how to play the thing. My only hope is to turn to those purveyors of seemingly useless knowledge on the Internet. Computer geeks love to play games. Surely, if I can weed through all the "Doom" and "Magic: The Gathering" Web sites, I'll find somebody out in cyberland who knows what to do with all these little tiles.

The Game Cabinet (www.gamecabinet.com/)--This bimonthly games magazine is the work of one Ken Tidwell. Ken is obsessed with collecting minutia on obscure games from around the world. This site is packed with instructions, reviews and general chat on scads of weird games. The concentration is mostly on strategy and board games, with only passing emphasis on role-playing games and no attention at all on video games. Ken's many contributors are encouraged to send in games of their own creation. As a result, this cabinet is packed full of original games you're not likely to see anywhere else. Care for a game of Wadjet? How about Hanga-Tanga? Feel the urge to play a little Momox? Well, I'm guessing that The Game Cabinet is your only outlet. The site is a simple text-only affair, but Ken's sense of humor makes this a fun place to visit nonetheless. A section called "The Living Room Floor," for example, is sort of a catch-all category for stuff that Ken hasn't quite organized into the proper pages yet (Get it? The games are scattered all over the living room floor). In order to root through this crowded game cabinet, Ken has kindly provided visitors with a search index, which he has dubbed Egbert the Mouse. According to the legend, Egbert knows where all the stuff is hidden in the cabinet. If you ask the rodent politely, he'll go search it out for you. I asked Egbert about Mah Jong, and he returned about 10 articles, letters and reviews that mention Mah Jong. Unfortunately, none of them discussed rules.

igames (www.igames.com)--This site is one of the "Internet Multiplayer Game Communities" that are popping up all over the Web. These sites allow computer users to play games with other computer users around the world. Ever wanted to play chess with a guy in Russia? Now you can. This site is fairly high-tech and requires that you have Microsoft Windows 95 or Windows NT 4.0, a 486 processor and Internet connectivity. If you've got the proper hardware, all you need to do is download the games, fill out a "profile" (appearance, interests, game skills) and you're ready to play. Currently, the only games available are Backgammon, Spades, Hearts, Cribbage and Gin Rummy. Although there is a chat room for pre- and postgame jawing, there are no printed rules here, and (sad for me) nothing resembling Mah Jong.

Internet Mah Jong Server ( jazzed-up Java site allows you to play Mah Jong over the Internet. Like the above site, it's a good place to meet and compete. Plenty of news bites keep you up-to-date in the world of Mah Jong--tournaments, conventions and other Mah Jong-related activities around the world are carefully chronicled here. Although I could play the game with someone off this site, the IMJS does presume a certain pre-existing knowledge of the game and its fundamentals. No help here.

Durian League of Mah Jong (home.earthlink.net/~hirokun/)--Hiroyuki Takahashi is a Mah Jong-playin' fool. He's a member of the prestigious Durian League (at least I assume they're prestigious), and he's willing to share his gaming knowledge. Passing up a Windows version of Mah Jong (but noting it for later use), I eagerly punch up a category listing titled "Rules of Japanese Mah Jong." Finally, I have my instructions! As I suspected, the game is ungodly complicated, and Mr. Takahashi's occasionally broken English doesn't exactly make this easy going. "The Mah Jong is the game originated in China and had been abroad many Asian countries and United States." Oh boy. Fortunately, old Hiro has got a nice set of links, and one of those links leads me right to ...

Rules of Chinese Mah Jong (www.atdesk.com/jon/mahjong.html)--The lovely Nanette Pasquarello (at least I assume she's lovely) has got her own Mah Jong worship site, and her command of the English language is considerably more practiced than Hiroyuki Takahashi's. In her well-designed site (nifty wallpaper and all), Nanette runs down the finer points of Chinese Mah Jong (a slightly more traditional version than the Japanese). The game is still ungodly complicated, but if I spend enough time poring over Nanette's words, I may just suss it out. Nanette has also provided some nice links, helpful pictures and some great suggested reading.

--Devin D. O'Leary


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