Garthe Rants: Atamahane

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Yeah rules suck! Just ask any 5 year old.

So I was recently overhearing some heart wrenching testimony how much “atama-hane” causes global warming and gives our children cancer. In case you confuse these things like I do, that’s the rule that says if more than one person can win on a discard, the player whose next draw is closest to the discarder gets the win. That’s different from things like “haneru” and “tempane” which ARE of course responsible for global warming.

I think the reasoning is probably similar to what happens in poker when two players have the same hand and chop the pot: if there is money that can’t be split up, the player in worse position gets the extra chip. The later acting player in mahjong would also seem to be at an advantage so the tie goes to the player at a disadvantage, though of course, they don’t split the winnings, the guy in position just gets nothing.

So what would be the alternative? Tie goes to the advantaged? To the more expensive hand? To the better wait? To the player with the smaller current score? Bigger? Whoever used more Pinzu? Some parlors actually have a rule that if you manage to throw a winning tile to all three other players, nobody gets the win. Should we extend that to a double win?

Hopefully I made those ridiculous enough that they didn’t become any food for thought. OK, so I guess the alternative everyone wants is the loser pays all winning hands? To which I say, sure! Whatever.

If you’ve decided the rules beforehand and everyone knows what they are, what’s the big deal? I can see arguments for either side and none of them are particularly damning to the other side, it just depends on what kind of game you want to play. Decide the rules first and then make your game time decisions accordingly. For example, up against two players who’ve reached, I’ll probably choose to be a little more defensive (although let’s be honest, it’s me, I don’t really understand defense) when there’s a possibility of double ron. Your decisions may be affected less if you’re on the attack, but for example you might reach or not reach depending on your position with respect to other attacking or defending players.

I have suffered by throwing into two players both of whom I had to pay off and have benefitted by being able to collect the win even in the wrong position. I have definitely benefitted in situations where I threw into 2 players but only one could win, and I’ve also wished death upon a usurper and anyone who ever spoke a kind word to him in the moment he was collecting points which in a just world would have been mine.

I feel like Japanese Mahjong tends to emphasize defense more than other forms. If you want to encourage players to be more defensive, then forcing a player to pay all winners might make the game somewhat tighter. If you’ve chosen Japanese mahjong over another form because you like that complexity, I get your point. If people just want to go for it all the time, play Chinese mahjong. That said, I feel like the people in Japan who tend to want to pay only a single winner will be more the conservative defensive group. Except for me and Jenn, everyone here seems pretty put out by discarding even ONE person’s winning tile.

But constructing a game that is both complex and engaging for a large group of players is a different challenge. I feel like most people tend to prefer attacks, both as players and as an audience. Limiting a player’s risk to only having to pay one winning hand might encourage more attacking even when other players are already on the attack.

It comes down to deciding what kind of game you want to play and making your rules encourage that. If we want to start talking about getting rid of weird arbitrary crap in Japanese Mahjong, I have a whole list for you. Daiminkan sekininbarai?!?! (大民間責任払い) That’s where someone has to pay the entire price as if they threw the winning tile when someone draws their winning tile off a stolen kong. Even if they were furiten at the time!! Could there be anything more sacred in Japanese Mahjong than furiten and it loses in significance to a stupid kong?! Seven random pairs, chiitoi, is 2 hand points, but manage to get 2 groups of 3 of those pairs to be in the same suit right next to each other, ryanpeiko, and you get one more whole huge hand point?!?! When’s the last time you saw 3 colored triples? Was it about as recently as 3 colored runs? Three Kongs? That’s not even getting into the totally unnecessary complexity of scoring hands in Japanese mahjong. Oh, other stuff let’s not talk about, the occasional randomness of tournament structure and etiquette.

In the grand scheme of mahjong, which is of course the grandest scheme I can think of, I just feel like “atama-hane” has one of the smallest parts to play. If we want to solve cancer, let’s start with that daiminkan crap.

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