Mahjong is something of a cultural institution in the East, widely played to this day throughout China, Japan, and South Korea. For such an enduring board game, the 3DS eShop has seen no shortage of adaptations - of the basic Solitaire version, in any case. In fact, there's almost an embarrassment of options available on Nintendo's handheld, which doesn't exactly help Best of Board Games - Mahjong stand out, especially from other games such as the similarly-titled as Best of Mahjong.
As such, reviewing this latest release from developer Bigben Interactive will tread some old ground. Like many others, it doesn't actually include the traditional version of Mahjong, which allows for multiple players. Rather, this is a wholly solitary experience, aptly known as Mahjong Solitaire - it's a variant that uses the same tiles, but requires you to simply match off pairs from a pre-arranged board to win each puzzle.
For newcomers, a few pages explaining the rules makes for a decent tutorial included within the menu, and the gist of the game is very easy to understand. Each puzzle is presented to you as a different shape, but the basic idea is exactly the same - match tiles of the same type and value until you clear them all. Special cases - namely the dragons and the honours - are a bit more picky, but it won't be long until you're speeding through levels with ease. Tutorials can be accessed in-game too, so if you need a quick refresher on some of the rules in order to progress, you can do so without having to restart your entire game.
An important rule is that tiles cannot be used if they are entirely or partially covered by another. Most patterns stack tiles several layers up as part of the design, so it can be tricky to register exactly which are free to use or not. To help with this, all non-movable tiles have been shaded, designating them as out of play until the tiles blocking them have been cleared. This is a clever way to stop players from having to squint too much, but the option to toggle it on or off would have been a welcome inclusion for anyone who doesn't find it as much of a problem. Another clever feature allows you to use a limited number of joker tiles to reshuffle the layout of the board when no more matches are available.
Music and visuals are decent enough, if repetitious, and a neat feature is the ability to switch between modern tile designs and a more traditional look. We found that the bright, clear shapes of the modern tiles worked better on the small screens, especially for newcomers.
Everything is nice and simple, making for a streamlined and enjoyable way to pass a few moments without the frustration of overlong animations. Matching two tiles clears them away neatly, and the top screen's helpful information - such as how much time has elapsed - is displayed without intrusion. There's just something suitably zen about playing Mahjong, once you're in the swing of it.
Now here's the problem - the price. At launch it's relatively high, and there isn't nearly enough content on offer here to justify paying even half that amount. Sure, it all functions well enough, but within fifteen minutes of playing you've effectively seen everything that the game has to offer - anything beyond that is just repetition.
There are 60 different boards available in two different game modes, Classic and Adventure. The difference between these two modes is absolutely negligible, as all "Adventure" does is force you to unlock the same 60 boards in a set order of increasing difficulty. Each and every single board is already available in Classic mode, however, so this makes very little sense. There aren't even any online leaderboards to compare your score with friends, making this a short-lived dose of fun.
Finally, the 'L' button has a very strange affect at times, which we experienced twice when starting the game up. Some sort of bug causes the shoulder button to complete the board instantaneously, for full points and without any kind of penalty. We managed to clear all of the Adventure boards at one point by just hitting 'L' and clearing the final match it left us with. Normally, the button acts as an "undo" function, reversing the last move you made. This silly glitch seems to blast you forwards instead, straight to a future where you've completed the puzzle!
No matter your skill level, the solitaire variant of Mahjong is a relaxing and rewarding way to pass a few moments with some tile matching goodness. Best of Board Games - Mahjong is almost a solid option, but asks for far too high a price while offering the bare minimum in return. There are much better alternatives already on the 3DS eShop, so we highly recommend shopping around before you make a match with this one.