Shogi vs. Mahjong: Which Game to Choose?

Home Rec World is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

If you are looking to play some new and exciting games, then two really neat ones are shogi and mahjong. Yes, both of these games are Asian in terms of their origins, and both can be a whole lot of fun. However, as you will soon find out, they are two totally different games.

They’re much more different than they are similar, but they are both entertaining and will certainly have you thinking a lot. Let’s figure out whether shogi or mahjong is the better one for you.

Shogi and Mahjong: The Basics

Before we start comparing these two games to one another, let’s first figure out what both shogi and mahjong are.

What Is Shogi?

Shogi Shogi is a Japanese game that has its origins somewhere in the 15th century, and is known as The Game of Generals. It’s also sometimes called Japanese Chess. Indeed, shogi and western chess are fairly similar. The game is played on a board that takes the shape of a grid, and has nine by nine squares.

Each player starts off with 20 game pieces, each of which have their own designations (pawns, rook, bishop, lances, knights, silver generals, gold generals, king) and move in their own specific way. All of these pieces start in their designated spots.

The aim of shogi is to then move one’s game pieces around in order to capture or kill the opponent’s pieces, with the end goal being to place the opponent’s king in checkmate. The player who places the other player’s king in checkmate is declared the winner.

What Is Mahjong?

Mahjong Mahjong is a Chinese game that was developed sometime in the 19th century, and since the early 20th century has quickly spread across the world. It has become especially popular in North America. It is generally a four-player game, although there are also some three-player versions. Mahjong is a game that involves many elements including luck, skill, and strategy.

It is a game that is played using 144 tiles that feature a variety of Chinese symbols and characters. Players begin with 13 tiles each, with players picking up and discarding tiles until they make a legal hand. Players must create four sets (also known as melds) and one pair (also known as an eye) using their 13 tiles and the 14th drawn tile.

Players can draw tiles from the so-called deck, or from the tiles that other players have discarded. When a player draws a tile, they may either discard it or keep it and discard one of the other 13 they already have. The first player to achieve one of the legal hands is declared the winner. In most cases, a legal hand must meet the table minimum, meaning that it has to score a certain number of points.

Some people would say that this is almost like a mix between poker and dominoes.

Similarities of Shogi and Mahjong

Now that we know the basics of both shogi and mahjong, let’s figure out what makes them similar. As you’re about to find out, they’re not similar at all.

1. They Both Come from Asia

Alright, so both of these games do have their origins in Asia. That is a very basic similarity indeed, but to be fair, mahjong is Chinese, and shogi is Japanese. The latter is also almost twice as old as the former.

2. They Both Require Skill and Strategy

Another similarity that both shogi and mahjong share is that they do both require a good deal of strategy and skill in order to win.

In mahjong, the strategy is all about being able to judge which sets are the easiest to achieve based on your own tiles, as well as which tiles that should not be discarded (to ensure that your opponent’s cannot completer their hands). In shogi, the skill and strategy have to do with moving your pieces in the right way, capturing the right pieces, and figuring out a way to maneuver your pieces to put the opponent’s king in checkmate.

3. They Both See One Player Win It All

The other basic similarity shared between shogi and mahjong is that one player is always declared the winner. Seeing as these games do not have teams, but rather see everyone fending for themselves, it therefore serves to reason that one player has to be the winner.

Playing Shogi

Differences Between Shogi and Mahjong

Now that we know what makes these two games similar, let’s figure out what the biggest differences between mahjong and shogi are.

1. One Is a Board Game, The Other Is Not

The most basic difference here is that shogi is a board game that is played on a grid-like board that consists of nine by nine squares. All gameplay takes place on this board. Mahjong on the other hand is a tile-laying game, one where tiles are laid on a table, drawn, and discarded as players see fit. Mahjong is not a board game.

2. Mahjong Incorporates Elements of Luck

Another big difference between these two games is that shogi is 100% skill and strategy. There is no luck at all in shogi. Nothing is random. However, in mahjong, it all depends on which tiles you are delt and which ones you draw from the deck during the turns. Therefore, mahjong does incorporate a good bit of luck.

3. Number of Players

Another basic difference here is that shogi is a strictly two-player game, whereas mahjong is a four-player game (sometimes three-player depending on the variation).

Shogi vs. Mahjong
Chinese mahjong tiles on a table

4. The Basic Theme Is Totally Different

Of course, the basic themes of the games are very different too. Shogi is a war-like game where the aim is for the army to capture the king of the opponent. On the other hand, mahjong is more like poker or any other such game where you have to achieve certain hands and create sets of tiles.

5. Winning the Game

Related to the above point, a player wins shogi by capturing the king of the opponent, whereas in mahjong, the winner is the player who creates four sets of three and a pair.

6. Number of Pieces

In shogi, there are 40 game pieces (each player has 20), whereas in mahjong, there are 144 tiles, with each player getting 13 in the beginning.

7. Stealing The Opponent’s Pieces

In mahjong, you can steal your opponent’s pieces, something that does not exist in shogi.

8. Shogi Can Result in a Draw

Although very rare, shogi can result in a draw, but mahjong cannot.

Playing Mahjong

Shogi vs. Mahjong: Which Game to Choose?

If you like board games that are fairly difficult and are 100% strategy and skill-based, then shogi is the game for you. However, it is a hard game, and it can only be played by two players. If you want a game that can be played by four players, and also incorporates a good deal of luck and chance, along with a good bit of skill and strategy too, then mahjong is the game to play.


Now that you know what the main differences between shogi and mahjong are, you can choose which one to play next!