The game is played with four players around a table. A game is played with 144 tiles, three categories, and various subcategories, with a specific number of tiles in each category:
- Bamboo – 36 tiles
- Dots – 36 tiles
- Characters – 36 tiles
- Winds – 16 tiles
- Dragon – 12 tiles
- Flowers – 4 tiles
- Seasons – 4 tiles
First, a dealer is chosen by throwing dice. Whichever player throws the highest value is the dealer. The dealer sits in the East position and the person right to the dealer is South, across West and left North. The game then moves from the dealer in a clockwise direction.
Tiles are shuffled on the table face down and are then stacked in diagonal walls in front of each player, forming a square. Traditionally, each player is allocated a position on a wall side based on their corresponding dice value. However, modern games tend to deal tiles.
Each player will have thirteen tiles on their wall. On their turn, they will draw a tile from the center pile of remaining and either keep or discard that tile or a tile already in their wall. The players then need to form sets of tiles based on the designs as follows:
- Three identical tiles (Melds or Pungs)
- Four identical tiles (Kongs)
- Three tiles in a sequence (Chows)