Commodore User1st February 1987
Published in Commodore User #42
When I first loaded Shanghai I must say I was disappointed but soon there started an addiction that I haven't yet cured.
The game is based on the ancient Chinese game of Mah Jongg (a game I play and enjoy a lot) at least that's what I thought. Load it in and delve into the instruction leaflet, and you soon realise that it's based only on the Mah Jongg pieces!
All 144 tiles or pieces are arranged randomly in a set pattern that builds up to a tower five tiles high in the centre. The game then continues as a massive version of Solitaire pairs in which you must remove all of the tiles by taking off matching pairs.
Naturally it isn't that easy as you can only take pieces that you can slide from the tower easily. These include either those from the top or from the outer edges of the single height rows. These are known characteristically as the head and tail of the dragon.
Using a joystick you can select the pieces to match the pairs of bams, cracks, spots, dragons, winds and the curious flowers and seasons that confuse even a seasoned Mah Jongg player.
The difficulty arises when you've got a choice of three identical pieces (in Mah Jongg sets there are four of each piece) and you can only remove a pair. Then you must decide which one is going to cause you the most damage. Your first priorities must be the tiles on the edges that block four roms and the top pieces to release the pieces that they're hiding.
If you make a mistake you can use the undo option (found at the bottom of the screen) to wind back as many moves as you like. There, you'll also find options to peek at hidden pieces (forfeits the game) and a find option that shows you the pairs you've missed once you've thrown in the towel.
A menu of options can give you a change of pace in tournament and challenge games where you must set high scores (least number of pieces left) and battles against the clock.
The test of a good computer strategy game is whether or not the computer is needed at all and if the game would actually be better if it were played on a board. (You'd be surprised how many games fail this test). The game features no artificial intelligence but still requires the micro if only to deal the 144 tiles into the required pattern and to keep the time in a tournament game.