I love spending a night playing two player games with my wife, whether it’s at a local coffee shop, pub, or even at home with a couple of craft beers, and I’m always on the lookout for great two player games for us to play.
Boba Mahjong is a two player only version of the popular set collection game Mah Jongg that offers up a unique scoring system and at first glance, it looked like it may be the perfect two player game for us.
Disclosure: We have to thank Sunrise Tornado for sending us a review copy of this two player card game. Links in this post may be affiliate links. As an Amazon associate we earn from qualifying purchases.
What is Boba Mahjong?
This game is part of a series of Mahjong based games. The chain started with Tien Zi Que from Ta-Te Wu in 2009, which was itself re-implemented into The Battle of Red Cliffs, a one to nine player version which Ta-Te Wu designed along with E. R. Burgess back in 2009.
Finally, the game was converted back to a two player game in its current form of Boba Mahjong. Besides changes to player count, the mechanisms in the game have also changed with each iteration.
A game of Boba Mahjong plays in about half an hour and the box recommends the game for ages 10+ but I would say you could probably play this with younger kids as there isn’t any reading required and the game concepts are not that complex.
This updated game was originally funded on Kickstarter, in 2022 and was delivered to backers the same year. It is being published by Sunrise Tornado Game Studio (who we know best for their Trick Taking Card game Macaron which we previewed back in November of 2020).
You should be able to find Boba Mahjong at your FLGS, direct from Sunrise Tornado or online at stores like Amazon where it has a list price of only $11.99 USD.
For a look at the cards in this two player rummy style game check out my Boba Mahjong unboxing video on YouTube.
Boba Mahjong comes in a small card box that holds the cards and one very folded up set of instructions. These instructions are on a single, two-sided, standard sized page. The instructions are very clear with lots of examples, especially when it comes to final scoring. They are also colour coded by section, which is a nice touch.
The cards in Boba Mahjong are of solid quality and just a little bit slippery. They remind me of print on demand style cards from sites like DriveThruCards.
The artwork is cute, featuring happy little boba bubbles, with the number of bubbles matching the number on the card, and other cartoon ingredients and full boba drinks.
The card number and icon matching its suit is present in opposite corners which is a bonus, though oddly the text descriptions aren’t all reversed. The toppings in particular are not readable when flipped.
You get cards numbered zero to eight in each of four coloured suits as well as seventeen topping cards. There are also two double-sided reference cards which show the order of play on one side and the end game scoring rules on the other.
I was happy with the component quality here especially given the low price point of the game. It is also nice to see a card game that isn’t stored in a larger than needed box filled mostly with air.
How do you play Boba Mahjong?
To start a game of Boba Mahjong each player takes a summary card and the rest of the cards are shuffled to form a deck. Three cards are revealed and placed face up between the players. This is the Mixing Pile. If any zero cards are drawn put them aside and draw until you have three non-zero cards then shuffle any zero cards back into the deck.
Five cards are dealt to each player. Then the deck is placed face down next to the three face up cards. This is the Supply Deck.
The player who most recently had a boba drink, or the player who last lost a game of Boba Mahjong, becomes the start player.
On your turn, you start by drawing cards. You can either take one of the face up cards from the mixing pile or two cards from the supply deck.
Next, you can draw again, again taking either one face up or two random cards, or you can create up to three sets using the cards in your hand and the mixing piles.
A set is made using exactly three cards. This can be three cards with the same number, three cards with sequential numbers or any three topping cards (they do not have to match). Note that suite colour does not matter when making sets, that only comes into play during end game scoring.
When making a set you can use three cards from your hand or two cards from your hand with one of the cards from the mixing piles.
Once you have a set, you select one card from that set to put aside for scoring, the other two cards in the set are then placed onto the mixing pile in any order, on top of any of the three stacks or even split over two stacks.
After you have created up to three sets or have drawn a second time you then check your hand. If you have more than seven cards in your hand you must discard down to seven. Discarded cards are added to the mixing pile as just described.
Finally, if you played a set of toppings this turn, the topping card you set aside activates. Each topping card does something different, allowing you to break the rules in some way. These special powers include getting to draw extra cards, picking through the mixing pile to take a card of your choice into your hand, forcing your opponent to discard a card they have set aside for scoring, and more.
During all of this, Zero cards are special. Zero cards count as a wildcard when making a set and can be used as any number. If discarded after making a set they are removed from the game instead of being added to the mixing piles. If saved for scoring they count as a zero.
The game continues going back and forth between the two players until one player sets aside their tenth scoring card. At that point, the other player gets one more turn and then you both enter the final scoring phase.
Here players pick up to six of their set aside scoring cards to count for final scoring. Thematically these represent the ingredients that end up in your final boba drink.
Points are awarded for sets of matching numbers, number straights regardless of colours, matching colours, variety of different colours, and finally pairs of ingredients. What’s important to note here is that the same card can be used in multiple categories. All six cards are used for evaluating each seperate scoring criteria.
The player with the most points wins. In the case of a tie, players get to use all of their set aside scoring cards to score. If there’s still a tie then the player with the fewest set aside scoring cards wins. If somehow you still tie, then you share the victory.
Thoughts on Boba Mahjong
I’m always on the lookout for a good two player game. As mentioned in our Best Two Player Board Games for Date Night article, I love playing two player games with my wife over coffee or craft beers. It’s one of our favourite ways to spend an evening.
I especially like two player games that are highly portable and don’t take up a lot of table space. These are great for bringing with us to a cafe, coffee shop, pub or brewery.
Boba Mahjong fits all of those criteria. This is a quick to learn, simple to play but difficult to master set collection game that has really impressed me.
What I enjoyed the most at first was the system for saving one card out of every set made for scoring. This reminds me a bit of another card game we love, Point Salad, which we reviewed back in September. This isn’t quite the same though as you aren’t changing the scoring criteria but rather the score that will be used to fulfill that criteria. This ends up adding what’s basically a tableau building element to what otherwise would be a simple Rummy based game.
The other brilliant part of Boba Mahjong comes from the mixing pile system. The cleverness of this mechanism isn’t really obvious until you play a few games. This comes from both the fact that you can make sets using a single card from the pile and perhaps more importantly the fact that you discard cards into it. What this can lead to is some really rewarding combos where you make a set with cards out of your hand, then use one of those discarded cards to make another set and then use a card from that second set to complete a third.
Any turn where you can complete three sets feels like an accomplishment when playing Boba Mahjong.
While there is a lot to like, there were some aspects of the game I didn’t love and these all center around the final scoring system.
My first problem with it is that due to the various different scoring categories and the fact that cards can be used in multiple categories, this can cause a lot of AP or analysis paralysis. I’ve actually had a couple of games where picking what cards to score and adding them up took longer than playing the actual game round and I think final scoring takes up a larger than expected portion of the thirty minute play time listed on the box.
The other issue I found with scoring, after multiple plays, is that the points scored for the various categories all scored similar points and I noticed that many of the various different scoring combinations ended up yielding the same point total. I assume this was done for balance so that one type of set isn’t more valuable than another, still there was something about sitting there trying different combinations and getting the same total that felt a bit off.
My final concern with Boba Mahjong is that games do start to feel the same after multiple plays, especially in a row. While I’ve enjoyed playing two or even three games in a row this isn’t a game I want to sit down and play over and over all night. That said with some time between plays I’m willing to go back and play some more. For my wife and I, I don’t think I will ever pack just Boba Mahjong for a date night, but I think we will often be grabbing it along with another one or two of our favourite two player games.
Overall I’ve really enjoyed my plays of Boba Mahjong. This really is a solid two player implementation of classic set collection mechanics from games like Mahjong and rummy. The scoring system is unique and engaging as is the system of being able to use face up discards when making sets.
I’m glad to have added Boba Mahjong to my toolbox of great two player games, perfect for playing with friends and family as well as being a great date night game for my wife and I.
This seems like a great game for anyone who is a fan of any form of Rummy, from the traditional card game to games like Rummikub plus all the various versions of Mahjong out there. With Boba Mahjong, you get all the fun of making sets but you don’t need a bunch of players or a bunch of time to play.
Due to using traditional set collection mechanics I also think this game would be good for non-gamers, especially fans of more traditional card games.
Where I think Boba Mahjong is going to be a hard sell is with both Euro and Amerithrash fans. I don’t think this is going to be a favourite for gamers who like heavier, longer, games. Though I could see some abstract strategy fans enjoying the scoring system here.
Boba Mahjong was a pleasant surprise for me. We enjoyed it more than we expected and I continue to be impressed by what Ta-Te Wu and Sunrise Tornado have been doing with traditional card game mechanics. I look forward to seeing what they offer up next.