Things We Like: Trach/Bach Mahjong
Source: Mimi Vu, The New York Times
Growing up in Ho Chi Minh City, I spent hours in smoke-filled cafés watching with fascination as grown-ups played round after round of mah-jongg, grabbing and throwing down tiles at warp speed. While my own parents pooh-poohed the game as a gambler’s folly, and never encouraged me to learn it, a lovely new mah-jongg set designed by the photographer Robert Trachtenberg has me thinking about picking up this centuries-old pastime.
“Mah-jongg has this reputation as the game your grandma plays, but I’ve played with teenagers and all age ranges. It is incredibly challenging, and just a lot of addictive fun.”
Trachtenberg caught the mah-jongg bug two years ago, when a friend introduced him to the game. Before long, they had started a weekly tournament. Trachtenberg eventually got the idea to create his own set of tiles and enlisted the illustrator Tom Bachtell, whose caricatures are a staple of The New Yorker, to help him reimagine the colorful game pieces.
The resulting set, produced by the Providence, Rhode Island based board-game company Crisloid, consists of 152 etched resin pieces with hand-painted,witty takes on the classic symbols.
The traditional suit of dots, for example, has been rendered as a fashionably attired woman with blue dots on her dress; the bamboo suit appears as a series of hungry pandas munching on green bamboo sticks; and the dragons are depicted as vain, primping creatures, flossing their teeth and filing their nails.
“I wanted to reinvent the visual vernacular of the game, with an eye toward clarity and playability. There had to be an instant recognition factor for the tiles, because when you play, you’re playing really fast — the tiles are flying.”
The Trach/Bach set, as it’s called, is made for the American version of mah-jongg, which incorporates Joker tiles (rendered here as a roller-skating elephant) as well as a special card, issued annually by the National Mah Jongg League, that dictates the exact hands needed to win. In recent years, the game has become a hit with a new generation of players.