Mahjongg Artifacts 2: Montana Smith and the quest for the matching tiles

Bottom line readers might want to avoid Mahjongg Artifacts 2 or they may let their own bottom line suffer. This combination of quest and mahjongg solitaire offers:

The product:

  • an adventure mode
  • an endless mode
  • an entire virtual trophy room
  • comic book design style, which isn’t a criticism

In addition, I discuss the relationship between mahjongg and Hong Kong Cinema, explain why you can’t cheat at mahjongg using your standard card tricks and explain why dominos is just as bad for Baptists as cards.

Two popular trends in computer games are the adventure narrative—usually modeled after Indiana Jones and Lara Croft—and leveled play which requires the gamer to master more simple tasks before rising to increasingly complex challenges. Lara Croft, now that I think of it, adapted the Indiana Jones adventure to leveled play before she became a movie heroine.

The Mahjongg Artifacts series married both leveled play and the Lara Croft adventure mode to the equally popular mahjongg solitaire concept. Their iPad version may well be the best mahjongg game I’ve played on any Apple computer. It may not be as pretty as some games, and the narrative may be a bit of a stretch, but this implementation offers gamers so many options that it continues to outshine its competitors in overall features and performance.

Triple threat

Mahjongg solitaire is a spin off of the popular Chinese game mahjongg that uses tiles instead of cards. Tiles have several advantages over cards. They continue to make noise even after the shuffle and you can’t ruin them when you get excited and spill your drink all over them. They’re a lot harder to mark as far as I can tell. I’ve seen a lot of marked cards in American gambling movies but never marked tiles in Hong Kong gambling movies.

Believe me when I say gambling movies are a lot more popular in Hong Kong cinema than American cinema, at least before Hong Kong was absorbed back into the mainland. I spent most of the nineties watching Hong Kong cinema before I discovered Bollywood, and it seemed like every third movie had at least one scene with people playing mahjongg for money or doing Kung Fu in a gambling casino. I never saw a marked mahjongg tile once. I suspect it’s safe to say it isn’t done or it would have inspired at least one scene where fists and feet start flying and people start spinning in the air while tossing mahjongg tiles at each other with deadly speed and accuracy.

Now that I think of it, I wonder why I stopped watching Hong Kong movies? Maybe it was because Chingmy Yau and Bridgette Lin retired, and Michelle Yeoh, Jet Li and Chow Yun Fat followed John Woo to Hollywood. Americans married Kung Fu with video games to inspire entire movie series, and Chinese cinema begin to produce erudite and thoughtful films with serious character studies and strong acting.

Then Kristin Kreuk tried to bring her martial arts moves from small screen Smallville to big screen

  • Streetfighter: The Legend of Chun Li
  • and that ruined Hong Kong cinema for me for good. I no longer saw the joy and grace, I could only see the cheap American parody.

    Oh, yes. And Jackie Chan just got too old.

    When I say Mahjongg was popular, I mean it was popular in Asia. The real game enjoyed a brief popularity in the US early in the century but it soon lost its following in favor of American games with American cards.

    My family used to play a variation of Spades using dominos called Sixty-Four. I have no idea whether mahjongg helped inspire this bastardization of a perfectly good card game.

    When I was older, I asked why we had been allowed to play dominos but not cards in our Baptist family. One uncle replied that card games evolved from Tarot cards which had been used for witchcraft and divination. I was about to point out that dominoes came from bones, which were cast in witchcraft and divination as well, but Carol—sensing the direction I was about to go—told me I was needed in the kitchen. When the Stephens family begins to discuss theology the neighbors call the cops to stop all the noise.

    I have no idea where the solitaire version of mahjongg came from. Idleness and boredom may inspire a lot of games.

    Now that I’ve covered just about every possible piece of tangentially connected background information by way of introduction, let’s look at Mahjongg Artifacts 2.

    Mahjongg Artifacts 2 follows in the direction of its iPhone predecessor by offering three different approaches to play. You can follow the heroine on a quest around the world to find her lost lover, you can play the traditional game with 99 different layouts or you can play in endless mode where the tiles never go away until there are absolutely no moves left.

    Quest mode is mixed blessing

    It’s hard to decide what I think about the quest story itself. It’s absolutely stupid and the elements seem to be stretched to get the reader to the next stage of the game. As I recall, a young woman must save the planet from her lover who has moved on to a spiritual plane. I would try to give you a more complete rundown, but the game doesn’t let you return to earlier levels and I don’t have the patience to replay the entire quest just to get my summary right.

    As far as game stories go, this one is no more or no less mundane than the story in other games. They all seem pretty derivative, or even moronic, after a while. The advantage of this quest narrative is that the designers present the entire story in comic pages, one page per stage. You can scan the entire scenario in a couple of seconds without having to play the entire dialogue or skip everything and hope you didn’t also skip a clue to solving the next puzzle. So I will give the developers credit for not wasting my time with tedious dialog.

    At least it’s a comic book and not and endless series of dialogue.

    The quest takes you through four different continents and an astral plane with a different tile set for each stage. The shuffles become increasingly complex with every level and by the end of the quest you have to match hundreds of tiles in complex layouts.

    The quest takes you around the world to face more difficult challenges.

    One of the interesting tweaks to the Mahjongg artifacts series is the inclusion of wild card tiles that perform different functions. Some move tiles, some remove every instance of a tile and others lift or shuffle selected tiles. Players have to option of using the wild tiles as a lifeline to get to tiles they know they can match, or they can play as purists and remove the wild tiles only in matched pairs. Matched pairs of wild tiles are worth far more than regular matched pairs. Players who never use them for lifelines score far higher.

    Lots of trophies

    I’ve never been a fan of trophies in virtual games, but Mahjongg Artifacts will give them out for any number of accomplishments, including completing levels, completing them quickly and completing them without help. Real trophy hounds can see their collection in a case with depressions in the shape of trophies that have yet to be won.

    What I still don’t know is what you have to do to win some of them. I’ve played the quest though about four times, played every layout at least twice and gone as high as 50 levels in the endless game. I still have a lot of spaces open for new trophies with no indication how to earn them. Maybe if I complete six quests or make it to 100 levels I’ll find out, but I’m just not that motivated. Most games only get my attention one time through.

    Marathon mode

    The endless game can really hold your attention if you have an hour or two to kill at the airport or have an hour free if your meeting was cancelled. The object of this game isn’t to match as many tiles as you can so much as to clear as many levels as possible. Each time you clear off a level the entire structure rises to make room for a new level.

    The game layout is 17 or 18 layers deep with a different configuration every six or seven layers. To increase the challenge, different tiles begin to appear with different layers. As a consequence, you may find yourself with a single flower tile and discover the next three layers are predominantly filled with Chinese characters.

    The endless quest pits you against multiple levels

    As with most Mahjongg games, you can reshuffle and even undo, but there’s a limit to your lifelines.

    Comic book looks

    Most Mahjongg games offer quite a few tile sets and backgrounds. Many even allow players to download additional tile sets. Mahjongg Artifacts only provides five, and those five correspond to the regions on the quest map. They also have the most comic book look of any tile sets in the many games I’ve played. Most games go out of their way to make the tile sets look realistic; these have a comic book appearance in keeping with the quest narrative.

    The tiles are more cartoonish than in most games.

    With the exception of the astral tile set, however, the characters are quite readable. I don’t always find mahjongg tile sets to be easy on the eyes. In fact they often sacrifice legibility for style. A game with four and a half really readable tile sets is better than a game with dozens of eye sores.

    As a whole, the game design is attractive. And the number of play modes allow you enough challenges to keep the game interesting even if you aren’t a hard core mahjongg fan. Serious mahjongg fans should enjoy the game and players who have never experienced mahjongg may find Artifacts to be an enjoyable introduction.

    Jenny Manytoes rates Mahjong Artifacts 2 HD

    Jenny Manytoes would make biscuits on Mahjongg Artifacts 2.

    The Jenny Manytoes Rating System

    Jenny Manytoes, our polydactyl cat
    • When Jenny makes biscuits on a product she thinks she’s in heaven.
    • When Jenny purrs over a product she’s very happy.
    • When Jenny naps next to a product it’s okay with her.
    • When Jenny bunches her tail she can live with a product, but she has higher expectations.
    • When Jenny leaves it in the litter box….I don’t think I need to explain this one.

    iPad Envy is created entirely using apps from my iPad
    iPad Envy.


    About Phillip T Stephens

    Phillip T. Stephens disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle twenty years before he was born, creating a time travel paradox so confusing it remains unspoken between physicists and sci-fi writers to this day. Follow @stephens_pt
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