Chapter 4 Common Ancestry

December 7, 2016

Based solely on complex mathematical combinatorics, probability and randomness, Mahjong is continuing to be one of the most popular board game in China today. Both the game of Mahjong and Lukboc has shared many resemblances. The placement of tiles is uni-directional and both games required their players to start with a fixed quantity of gambling tokens (counting sticks). Both games require the use of dice to begin each game. Mahjong has maintained the symbolic notion of "two eyes" or "two fish eyes" used in early Lukboc. The concept of fishing from the central square pond of Lukboc is same as to Mahjong where players will take possession of the tiles from the central square to build their winning combinations. The winning mechanism of Mahjong is similar to Lukboc when a player with an erected eagle piece has "eaten" its counterpart. In Mahjong, players' combination tiles are usually erected until someone "claims" the game. For a win by the claiming player, he is in fact, taking possession of the discarding player's tile. This discarding player will lose double comparing to other two losers. With Mahjong, players no longer need to use dice to determine their move in every turn. The "pung", "chow" and "kong" are unique movements of pattern building which involved tiles of three main suites plus wind directions and three text symbols. Bamboos, characters, and dots have their origin associated with monetary units. Bamboo sticks were used as a monetary unit in Lukboc. The Chinese character of "ten thousand" clearly denotes monetary values and the dots symbolize either copper coins or dots on dice. The wind direction tiles retained the concept of the four circle areas of the Lukboc game board. Mahjong is also named the game of "Sparrows", a perfect analogy to the game of Lukboc. Even the Mahjong table has a lot of resemblance with Lukboc. Players will usually put their "pung", "chow" and "kong" set in corner positions next to each player. You cannot move them until you have actually claimed a winning game. In addition, Mahjong players take their turns in the counter-clockwise direction, but draws the tiles from the four walls in clockwise direction. This resembles the outer square rotation path and the inner square rotation path of Lukboc. The middle square pond of Mahjong is like a fish pond in Lukboc, ready for players to claim.



We have seen the many similarities between Mahjong and Lukboc, but all we can say is that Mahjong represents the ingenious creation by a group of board game enthusiasts who had successfully integrated the best features from several famous games from the past. If we look further, we would find another ancient game which has shared many characteristics of Lukboc. Backgammon, one of the oldest board game known in the Western civilization and appeared at around the Roman and Byzantine Empire (around 480 A.D.), have identical playing mechanics as in the game of Lukboc. The only difference was in the layout of the game board. Some of the excavated Lukboc game boards were in rectangular shape with extra moving spaces on the long sides and were built as a table top. Both were duo player games and used dice to determine movement following an unidirectional path (Backgammon players goes in opposite directions). Players will offset enemy tokens back to its beginning position through dice rolls. Similar to Lukboc, the first person who completes a full rotation on the Backgammon game board wins the game. Were all these ancient games shared their similarities by coincidence? Lukboc is certainly not the first game invented by mankind. The ancient Egyptian have been playing the earliest form of board games named "Senet" in 3000 B.C..  For thousands of years,  games have been serving our society with multiple functions besides alleviating the boredom of our rulers. Gambling games had  often appealed to the mass in many cultures because they do not require the sophisticated thinking skills as in strategy games. A roll of the dice will determine the outcome for a large group of participants. They promote social gathering in the form of interactive entertainment, helping players to relieve their stresses while bringing social problems to the ancient world. Quite often, rulers had to take actions to balance the stability of their countries versus their popularities. In the beginning, strategy games have given the monarchies and upper classes the means to distance themselves from the general public. But once gambling games have taken over the entire society, the negative consequences can have prolonged effects on the economy. In ancient China, Lukboc was instrumental in the future development of many popular Chinese board games for over 2000 years. Amongst the four major artistic studies of ancient China, namely music, strategy game, calligraphy, and painting, the study of chess games ranked in the second place. Games such as Weiqi and Xiangqi have taught the Chinese emperors on how to handle political, military and philosophical issues. Instead of relying on superstitions and divine power, subsequent rulers have promoted the teaching of strategy games in the imperial courtyards as well as the academic communities. 

Aside from the invasion of the Mongols and the Manchurians, Chinese society has enjoyed a relative long period of peace and prosperity during the Song and Ming dynasties. The rising of Mahjong during the Ming and Qing dynasties helps to bridge the social gap among players from all levels of the society. Unlike the traditional dice-based gambling games, Mahjong strikes a perfect balance among mathematical probability, tactical skills, pattern matching, macro and micro strategic planning, and gambling with controllable monetary loss. It has fulfilled the missing evolutionary gap in the game design continuum, a four person portable game that satisfies the curiosity of both the classic chess strategists and hardcore gamblers. As a successor to Lukboc, Mahjong has inherited many traits that were strikingly similar to several popular games dating back to the beginning period of Chinese board game development.  


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