Mahjong is game of Chinese origin that is primarily played with tiles. Mahjong tiles sometimes refer to cards that contain the same content and are used for the same game, however, most commonly, tiles are used.

A Mahjong Tile Set

The number of mahjong tiles used in a game may vary slightly between the variations of mahjong that you are playing. Most commonly, mahjong uses 144 tiles. The majority of these tiles are divided between four series of three suits – bamboo (sticks), numbers and balls.

In addition, there are Wind tiles, Dragon tiles, Flower tiles and Season tiles.

Groups of Mahjong Tiles

The above tiles can be grouped together into three main categories of tiles- suit, honor and bonus tiles. The suit tiles are made up of the bamboo, number and ball tiles which add up to a total of 108 tiles. The honor tiles are made up of the wind and dragon tiles and there are 28 of these altogether. The bonus tiles include the flower and season tiles and there are eight of these in total.

Bamboo Tiles

These tiles were once depicted as spears, but are now bamboo sticks which are numbered 1 through 9. There are four of each piece. Commonly, the 1 is depicted as a bird, generally a peacock or sparrow, but may also be a single bamboo shoot.

Number Tiles

Also known as character tiles, this suit consists of the Chinese characters for the numbers 1 through 9. At the top of the tile is the Chinese numeral character and below it is the symbol for 10,000 – Wàn. The number suit is also known as the Wàn suit.

Ball Tiles

These tiles were once depicted as shields or coins, but are now balls, circles or wheels which are numbered 1 through 9. There are four of each piece.

Wind Tiles

Each mahjong tile set contains four sets of  Wind tiles, each depicting a wind and a compass direction. There are four sets of north, south, east and west winds. The four players in the game are named for the wind tiles.

Dragon Tiles

The mahjong tile sets includes four sets of three dragons. There are red dragons, green dragons and white dragons (depicted by a clear white tile which may have a border around its edge) which make up the dragons in the West. The red dragon represents the middle or animal order which includes humans, the green dragon represents the lower or plant order and the white dragon represents the higher or spiritual order.

Flower Tiles

There are technically eight flower tiles in a mahjong set, however these are divided between four flower tiles and four season tiles. The four flower tiles each represent a different blossom – the plum (East), the orchard (South), the chrysanthemum (West) and the bamboo or lily (north).

Season Tiles

There are four season tiles with one tile representing each of the seasons. Spring corresponds to East, summer corresponds to South, autumn corresponds to West and winter corresponds to North.