Colin and Red Fives

Mahjong newbie Colin writes about Red Fives…


For my first real article, I’ve opted to dive in at the controversial end. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I’m talking about one of the big controversies of Reach Mahjong: the red fives.



Red fives are one of the most characteristic elements of Japanese mahjong, but also one of the most hotly debated, second only to the ura-dora (but I’ll go into that another time).
First off, let me do a quick recap of the features of a red five.
A red five…
– Replaces a regular five in each suit
– Acts as a free dora
– Can be a double dora if the dora indicator is a 4 of the same suit
A free dora, right? How can you not like that?

The Pros:
– Free dora! That’s 1 more han in the bag if you win.
– Everyone wants a five. They’re highly versatile in general, so it’s easy to work into your hand.
The Cons:
– If it doesn’t fit your hand, tough. You’re not just discarding a five, you’re discarding a free dora.
– Everyone wants a five. It’s far too easy to deal into someone’s winning hand with one.

The primary argument against red fives is basically that they add too much luck to the game.
Terrible player? Love cheap hands? If you have one or more red fives, you can happily go out on a cheap hand because of your free dora.
It’s a kick in the teeth for both strategy and hand variety.
Also, I haven’t had many of these tragic losses since I’m still in early days, but I can imagine that it’s quite heartbreaking to be on the receiving end of a ron (or even a tsumo) from someone with three red fives. They might even flip over the ura-dora and find a 4!

However, this also works in its favour, mainly as an incentive for beginner players.
If you’re a novice and you go up against experienced players, it’s not going to be very fun. But just like with a dora, if you manage to get your hands on one of those glowing red fives, you’ve basically earned yourself a fighting chance.
It can be worked into most basic hands, while still obeying the rules of dora – a red five gives you a boost, but you still need to build a hand around it.
Moreover, dealing a red five into someone’s winning hand is a spectacular way to teach you about not making careless discards.

My personal feeling about red fives is a very simple one, but not a very widespread one.
In my opinion, all strategy and no luck makes Jack a dull boy. I was taught to play by a true gambler, and I think I’ve inherited her penchant for the rush.
Mahjong isn’t chess – you’re not planning out every move in meticulous detail with all the information you have in front of you. You have no idea what tile you’re going to draw on any turn. You can make a good plan, but in the end every turn is a roll of the dice which could upend your entire game.
So, the more degrees of chance we add, the better, in my opinion.
We’re playing a game, we want adrenaline! We want to be sitting on the edge of our seats, feeling the flow, making split-second decisions covering our whole hand! We want to draw that One True Tile and watch as everything changes!

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