by Brandy Shaul on Games.com
While there are plenty of downloadable versions of mahjong available for your relaxing, tile-matching needs, there are also plenty of free versions that have appeared on Facebook. One such option is King.com's Mahjong Saga, which has quickly gained popularity, climbing to a current total of almost 2 million monthly active users. This might be surprising to some though, as the game is fairly basic.
Mahjong Saga is a level-based experience, with each level of the gameplay being timed. Levels become more complicated as you go, with tiles coming in taller stacks or in intricate patterns, but the basic rules are the same: you can only make symbol or number matches with identical tiles that have at least one free side on the board, with the overall goal being to clear the board of all of the tiles.
The timing system here sees you being given a star ranking once you've finished, with more stars being available for faster completion times. There's an energy system in the game (Hearts), limiting your gameplay time in each session, but you can earn more Hearts by finishing a level with three stars. Of course, this is far easier said than done, even for someone who may be incredibly familiar with the basic mahjong gameplay. In fact, if you run out of moves in a level, you'll lose a Heart, and if you run out of available hearts, you'll fail the level outright, and will have to begin again once you've racked up enough Hearts to do so.
As you earn more and more stars and coins by completing levels, you'll unlock the ability to purchase Boosters, or power-ups of sorts, before you begin a level, similar to games like Bejeweled Blitz. For instance, the first Booster you'll unlock causes the hint timer to decrease, so matching tiles will highlight faster should you fail to make a move on your own in a specific amount of time.
As for social features, you can track your friends' scores on each level via a menu that appears before you begin, and you can also see just how many levels your friends have played by tracking their avatar on the level map (you'll receive bonuses for passing them). There are currently six different islands, or sets of levels to complete, with a seventh being shown as under construction.
For all of the game's simplicity though, it never really feels like Mahjong Saga is missing anything (except for perhaps the ability to play longer without having to wait for energy to recharge). The original mahjong gameplay is carried over faithfully here (including the nice touch of having tiles greyed out if you can't use them), so if you're looking for a bright and colorful version of the game to play without leaving the comfort of Facebook, why not give Mahjong Saga a try?
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