Apr 17th, 2014
Uffda!!! What a weekend! What an experience!
Amazingly, our number one biggest surprise: people like mahjong.
No, really! It is quite the mystery how a group of people who love mahjong could underestimate how much people who love games would love mahjong, but we did.
By the third day we had an hours long waiting list for people trying to get a shot at playing on any of our 3 tables. And they’d sign up again when we had to kick them off so others could get a chance to play. It was a surprise success that I don’t think any of us anticipated.
Of course the vast majority of the players were coming to play mahjong for their first time. It was an obvious scenario that we were totally unprepared for as we had nothing to give new players to help them understand even the basics of a complicated game they had never played. So we scrambled to try to explain everything at once, confusing quite a few new players in the beginning I’m sure. We were also thrown for a loop sometimes by players who sat down confidently because they “knew” how to play mahjong, only to discover that it was not the pair matching solitaire game they were familiar with from their computers.
It was Gemma’s teaching experience that saved us in the end. By dividing up the learning process into bite size chunks, she was able to get them playing hands and shooting for a few simple hand points within half an hour of sitting down at their first mahjong table.
While we were definitely focusing on Japanese Riichi Mahjong, there were quite a few players of Chinese mahjong also happy to sit down at a table and play a few hands of the version they were familiar with. It was a relief sometimes to have a break from the non-stop teaching process that had become our booth.
And the other surprise: the appeal of an automatic mahjong table.
After learning how to play mahjong on playstation, I played on automatic tables from my very first time playing with people. I’ve worked in mahjong parlors enough that they had become rather mundane. It was not so for the average passerby at PAX east. There were times when the group gathered around the table was 2-3 thick, just waiting for a hand to end so they could watch the amazingness of pushing a button so the tiles could be dropped into the center, followed by another push to make 4 fresh walls magically rise up from its depths.
We had so much interest that it was nearly impossible to get around and see much of what else PAX had to offer. I did make it to one panel discussion on pinball, headlined by reigning world champion Bowen Kerins. He taught some tricks for which he then selected some volunteers to come up and try to replicate. It’s pretty basic and yet I had never mastered the “post pass.” He also give some “nudging” tips which I got a chance to repeat and claim some swag. Afterwards I voiced my concern that pinball seems to have disappeared from Tokyo and he said he and PAPA were working on making their way back into Japan. And finally armed with my new skillz I made a trip to the main expo floor where they had a couple real machines! Good times!
We should finally give a few shout outs to the group who made our booth work. First of all, we have to thank David Bresnick, president of the US Pro Mahjong League, who put the whole thing together. From just getting a spot at the convention, to gathering all the equipment it wouldn’t have gotten off the ground without his efforts. Thanks to Tom Riedel and Allon Scheyer for tirelessly sharing their passion for the game with the new players and for driving things back and forth from New York. And Thanks again to Dave and Ceren for letting us stay at their place while in New York.
We had a great PAX east, and hope everyone who got a taste of mahjong there whet their palates for more.