Mechanic: The Mah Jong – Tichu
Summary: The Mah Jong determines who has the initial lead as well as gives them the power to make a “wish” for another card.
Whoever begins the hand with the Mah Jong has the initial lead. In addition to having the lead, when the Mah Jong is played, the player may make a “wish” for another card (i.e. 2 through Ace, but not Dog, Dragon, or Phoenix). From that point forward, if the wished for card can legally be played it must be played. Once the wished for card is played, the wish is fulfilled and there is no further obligation to play the wished for card.
What I Like
While probably not as powerful as the Dragon or Phoenix, the Mah Jong can very easily set the tone for the hand; After all, the Mah Jong creates a rules obligation to play on the trick if possible.
By playing the Mah Jong you have an opportunity to wreak havoc on an opponent’s hand or with a bit of bad luck, your partner’s hand. In some cases, a careful wish can prevent an opponent from calling Tichu. It can also devastate a fragile Grand Tichu call.
When in doubt, wish for what you passed to the player who’s turn it is next. This is a safe bet; You already know they have the card. But it seems a bit weak. After all, they received the card from you. So it seems to me to be more likely to not fit well with their hand unless of course it is the card that bridged a bunch of singletons into a straight.
Another option is to wish for the card you should’ve seen in the pass. After all, if you didn’t have a Two and no one passed you a Two, there may very well be a bomb of Twos out there. Nothing sucks quite so bad as sitting there all smug knowing you have a bomb of Fours and having that bomb wished for…Except of course having multiple Aces ripped from your hand.
A third option is to wish for an Ace, particularly if your partner passed you an Ace. If a person was thinking of calling Tichu, having their Ace wished out can give them pause. It certainly doesn’t let them sit back and play the hand management game biding their time to safely offload that one losing hand.
If you have the Mah Jong as part of a run, the options become very interesting. You can wish for a card that would ensure one or two cards left behind. If you start with a Mah Jong to Five run, and wish for a Four it is possible someone has a seven card run, Two to Eight, that now has a Seven and Eight stranded in their hand. It is also entirely possible that someone might need to use the Phoenix to construct a run that can fulfill the wish.
And then there is the lobotomy of wishes: Leading with a run and wishing for an Ace, only to have everyone pass. The following up with a triple and watching your opponent howl in rage as they play two Aces and the Phoenix to fulfill the wish.
Passing the Mah Jong
Never pass the Bird to an opponent. Given it's strength, arming your opponent with this card is simply a bad idea.
I typically pass the Mah Jong to my partner if I don't have all that many low cards. My assumption is that my partner will likely be able to convert a heap of junk into a simple five card run.