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The computerised card game that began life in the computer realm, rather than being based on an existing game, Mahjong solitaire was developed by Brodie Lockard in 1981 and was subsequently appropriated for home computer systems in various guises, under a variety of titles.
Activision's Shanghai was the Amiga and Mac edition of Lockards original Mahjongg. Roughly speaking, the game is a tile version of snap, incorporating elements of solitaire, that uses traditional Chinese Mahjong tiles rather than a deck of cards. As can be seen in Dooyoos screenshot, the game begins with the tiles stacked up, 144 of them in a dragon formation.
The objective of the game is simply to remove all of the tiles from play, as with the cards in Solitaire, and this is accomplished by clicking with the mouse on identical pairs. The tiles selected must be free, meaning that they could be moved either left or right on the board (not up or down). There is rarely more than two of the same tile on screen at once, and in some instances there will only be one; this results in game over, as progress is impossible. Its vital to think in three-dimensional terms when playing Shanghai, and to recognise the aerial view of the playing field for what it is. Even if tiles appear partly obscured or shadowed by others at a higher level to their left, they will still be just as easy to dispense of, provided they have freedom of movement to the right. The rules are simple and inflexible.
The game uses traditional Mahjong tiles, the circle and bamboo suits being plain to understand and to place value on in their depiction of one to nine images, but the character suits are annotated in the corner with English numerals alongside the traditional Chinese. The same tile of the same suit must always be selected during play; the only exceptions are the four season tiles and the plants. These can be selected together, in any combination within their limited suits, for the same result. Its important not to place exaggerated personal value on eliminating tiles that are more aesthetically pleasing than others, for example the nice peacock one over the boring numbered ones, as this will only limit options and hinder progress.
A game to play to kill fifteen minutes, Shanghai isnt necessarily addictive, but is quite enjoyable. The Amiga version is only one-player by default, but can conceivably be multi-player if players take it in turns to make a move, to see who wins or loses first. Strategic thinking can come into play on occasion, especially as there is no time limit for moves, but generally speaking its wiser to aim to eliminate the more central tiles than those on the perimeter, as it frees up more restricted tiles and leads to greater freedom of choice as the game progresses. Its not as simple as clearing all of the additional layers and leaving yourself with the foundations, as there wont necessarily be as many options left as there would with the other tiers still in play.
The games graphics and sound are limited and of little consequence, as all that matters is that the tiles can be easily discerned in the Amigas 16-bit graphics. Simple blips accompany the elimination process, and aside from a title screen and game over message there is nothing else for the player to do outside of the game itself. Although computer companies waged a private little war over the rights to this game, the game itself would always be generously and sensibly priced below what was asked for more complex titles.
Shanghai style games can be played for free online, and all variants are more or less identical to this earlier incarnation. Not as addictive or timeless as card and tile games that originated in the real world of the real living realm, Shanghai is nevertheless an enjoyable eccentricity, which would prove incredibly tedious and difficult to set up on a table, outside of the mathematical programs used by the Amiga to ensure the game can be played to a satisfying conclusion. Shanghai must be easy to duplicate, as shareware versions have existed from the start, but sits a little uncomfortably in a middle-ground between addictive, simplistic card/tile games and early arcade classics. It at least provides an alternative to Windows games to fill the unforgiving minutes.