We used the new set I had bought. It’s a cheap set, made in China but Japanese in style. That means it’s small (the tiles seemed very small the first time I saw them, but after playing with them a little, I think they’re actually all right and not that small), there are no western indices, the white dragons are blank and there is one red five in each suit.
The lack of indices was a bit of a problem. I think it’s one of those things you learn with practise (and it’s a lot easier task than learning the Shogi pieces, for example, since you only need to learn the characters and winds, and few of the characters are really easy, too) and I also think it’s something mahjong players should learn at some point. We had cheat sheets, of course. I think it slowed our game a bit, but not much. Don’t let the lack of indices stop you from getting an otherwise cool set.
Anyway, since we had a Japanese set, we played riichi. We played for almost three hours and almost finished the game. A full game of riichi is two rounds or eight hands, but there can be more if there are draws or dealers win hands. We played 11 hands in total, I think, and were two hands (+ extra hands) away from finishing the game.
It was swingy, like riichi is. I think I scored the biggest hand in the game, for 11 600 points, but in the next hand I made a mistake that cost me 12 000 points, since I had to pay 4 000 points to other players for an incorrect winning hand. So, after few more failures I ended up dead last.
Few more words about the set. I bought it from MahjongMart (it’s the white/yellow Dragon set), because it was dirt cheap. Of course, as usual, cheap means “low quality”. The material is nice, but you can smell — from quite a distance — that it’s made cheaply in China. The tiles are fine, but the case reeks. Hopefully it’ll get better.
The carvings are decent, but the paint job isn’t very good. The colours have been applied with a wide brush, it’s not very exact work. Again, that’s what to expect from a cheap set, really. The biggest problem colour-wise is the bamboo tiles. They are not green, but more like really dark brown.
So, if you want a cheap Japanese-style set, it’s a valid option, but I’d probably suggest investing a bit more to get a nicer set. After all, it’s going to be something you’ll use for years. I actually sold the Dragon set already and have ordered this riichi set from Yellow Mountain Imports. Based on the pictures, it looks nicer: the colours are bright, clear and exactly applied. It’s not very expensive, either, just $47, but the shipping costs were a lot more expensive. Apparently shipping stuff from Japan is fairly cheap. Of course, US folks will be fine since Yellow Mountain Imports is in USA and the shipping starts from $11.
Oh, by the way — remember my Board Game Auctions site? It’s been doing great. People are really shopping for games in eBay. Old mahjong sets have been the biggest bestsellers there (and since they’re often quite expensive, the commissions are good), but I’ve also made some money from old war games.
Since that site is doing so well, I thought I’ll expand to other niches and now I’m seeing how Kids’ Stuff Auctions will do. For that site I’m still waiting for Google to get to it and start bringing people in (which is, of course, part of the reason I’m mentioning it here, because Gameblog’s front page is well-loved by Google — and why not!).