This article first appeared in the Mar/Apr 2013 issue of World Gaming magazine.
Our mahjong guru Jenn Barr writes about the pros and cons of automatic shuffling tables – but struggles with the cons!
Take it from me – automatic shuffling mahjong tables are a God-send! For this issue of WGM, my editors asked me to write about the pros and cons of automatic shuffling tables for mahjong. Thinking this was a good idea, I agreed. It would seem I am an idiot. I realized this when I started my notes, which looked like this:
That’s right – there are no cons to automatic tables. Zero! Nada! Mei-you! They are simply amazing, wonderful, beautiful pieces of artistic machinery, sent straight to earth from heaven courtesy of Zeus or some other deity, equally as awesome. Maybe even Santa Claus.
Fully automatic tables open up when a button is pushed. The tiles go in, the button is pushed again and another set of tiles emerges, already constructed in a wall ready to play! No hand shuffling with tiles turned over by mistake. No fiddling around during the wall-building process – just a lot more time for more hands and more games. As well as this you get the angelic sound of rotating tiles shuffled into place beneath the table’s surface. Just roll the dice and you’re ready to go!
The biggest advantage of course is the prevention of cheating. Walls are always the same length, and if during the automatic shuffling process a tile is missing, the table stops to let you know. This eliminates the possibility of someone hiding tiles between hands. The backs of the two sets are different colors, making it easy to see when they’re mixed up. An automatic score display keeps players from adding points or lying about their totals towards the end of a game. If your game is based on cheating, then automatic tables will severely hurt your game. And that is a great thing.
In the past five years tables that even set up each player’s dealt hand have been introduced. I have to admit to being skeptical at first but now I’m a true believer. Once the tiles are up the dealer takes the first draw and the game is underway. Think of it as having the speed of online mahjong with all the perks of playing live with your friends. What more could you want?
Now, why would one be against these tables? You might be tricked into thinking they don’t shuffle properly. Well, that’s simply not true. They shuffle perfectly, particularly the latest Japanese models – far better than half-assed hand shuffling. Now I’ve really seen the light.
There are a number of supposed disadvantages to automatic tables. But for me they’re all just the ramblings of disgruntled traditionalists. The haters have a bag full of them. “It doesn’t feel like mahjong if you don’t shuffle yourself” is a popular one. I don’t buy it. To me, the game isn’t about wall-building. It simply shouldn’t matter who or what builds that wall, unless you plan to build the wall in a certain way! Hmm …
I was so stretched to find any reasons to dislike automatic tables that I called up fellow pro, Garthe Nelson, for some ideas. “Well,” he said, “they’re not free.” That’s right! They’re not free. So what.