The first computer solitaire mahjongg game was created by Brodie Lockard in 1981 on the PLATO computer and named Mah-Jongg. The original layout was called 'The Turtle'.

PLATO was a group of mainframe computers originally located at the the University of Illinois, USA and was an educational system. Users connected to PLATO through terminals in the US and some from other countries.

Mah-Jongg was freely available for everyone to use. In 1983 a new version was formally released by Control Data Corporation as an paid online game. But the original version was still available for free. 

It has long been thought that it was Activision's Shanghai from 1986 who was the first computer solitaire mahjongg game. Regardless of the fact that it "only" was the second one, it was the game that made tile-matching solitaire mahjongg famous.

Shanghai - the second computer tile-matching solitaire mahjongg game was released by 'Activision' (California, USA) for the Macintosh in 1986. It was again created by Brodie Lockard (original idea, programming and artwork) and Brad Fregger (producer).

Shanghai is one of the most successful computer games in history, selling more than ten millions copies world-wide. Shanghai has been ported to over 30 computer platforms.

Shanghai created a whole new genre. Over the years hundreds of imitators, clones and / or improved versions have been made. Since Shanghai is a registered trademark and the game originally used mahjongg tiles, many tile-matching game authors have called and describe their games as Mahjongg games. This has led to much confusion and debate over what is mahjongg and what is not. 

The tile-matching games and the genre has no universally accepted name, but are now mostly known under the name of ‘Solitaire MahJongg' or 'MahJongg Solitaire’. It's also been called 'The Turtle', 'Shanghai Solitaire', 'Shanghai type games' or simply ‘tile-matching games'. Widely known brand names include Taipei, Kyodai, Shanghai, and Moraff's.

Shanghai might have been based on an old Chinese game called 'The Turtle'. The possible folk origin of the game has been much debated. For a more detailed discussion about the origin of Shanghai and ‘The Turtle’, please see the 'origin' page. 

The games belong to what you can call the 'meditative strategy genre'. They are extremely strategic in nature, but has no arcade or "adrenaline producing" quality. They gives you're concentration and pattern-recognition a good workout, but can be taken at your own pace since it is designed to relax the user, not to stress him. It's simple to learn and challenging to master. "It's simple, it's universal, it's Zen".

With some of the major games the user can often make their own tile sets, layouts, sounds and backgrounds to use in the games. Perhaps some of the genre's charm lies in this fact.

If you look on it from the game producers point of view the game is always a 'sure hit' - millions play its and the demand for the games seems never to stop. Solitaire MahJongg games are said to be easy to program (at least a lot easier than to program true mahjongg games).


Brodie Lockard

Brad Fregger

Box cover 'Shanghai'
for MAC 1986

Back Cover


Shanghai Title Screen



Shanghai In-game Shot




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© 2003 - 2005 Vegard Krog Petersen


MahJongg 1981: Source: Private e-mail conservation between Brad Fregger, Brodie Lockard and Vegard Krog Petersen (July - September 2004)  

PLATO: More information about the PLATO at PlatoPeople or at the Smart Computing Encyclopedia

Why the name 'Shanghai'?: Activision's marketing division came up with the name. "The name Shanghai was perfect. It spoke of being "captured", and it had an oriental flavor just like the game". (Brad Fregger: Lucky that way, pg. 74, chapter 10: Shanghaied, cop. 1998 (ISBN: 1-887472-56-8)

These Chinese characters spell out the name of the city of Shanghai - the name means "upper sea." This city has long evoked an aura of mystery, danger, and high adventure; that's why its name was chosen for the game.
Source: Shanghai Second Dynasty's help file 

Shanghai 1986:Brad Fregger: Lucky that way, pg. 69-70, cop. 1998,  -,2/gameId,4272/

The Turtle: Brad Fregger: Lucky that way, pg. 70, cop. 1998, several threads 1997-1999 in, Tom Sloper: The Mah-Jongg Zone - For a more detailed discussion about the origin of Shanghai and ‘The Turtle’, see the 'origin' page. 

Hundreds of clones:…since there are like 300 shareware versions available for Windows.’ Quote from - the homepage for Xmahjongg for X11/Unix. The web page it links to are dead ( If you ‘google’ until your eyes are dry and your hands bleed, you might find 300 versions...I certainly won’t try to do it...
Update: September 2004: 300? I think I just might have done that... :-)

The first clone: ..was made already a month after the release of the original Macintosh version. A version for the IBM was made by Michael Sandige and shown to Bred Fregger at Activision. It was never released, but Sandige later worked for Brad Fregger as a programmer in the company 'Publishing International' (Brad Fregger: Lucky that way, pg. 76 and 106, cop. 1998)

Trademark: Shanghai' as a registered trademark for computer solitaire mahjongg games has been vigorously defended by Activision. Not all seems to know it's a registered trademark: as late as march 2003 I saw a tile-matching game called ‘Shanghai’. In June the same year it had changed it's name to Dragonboard (see my list of freeware games).

The first "sinner": Nels Anderson (author of the shareware game 'Mah-Jongg' in 1987) was probably the first to name a version of 'Shanghai' for a mahjongg game. 
Source:  - thread  -Who's responsible for the "Mah-Jongg" confusion? (1998/06/25?-1998/06/27)
"Nels Anderson was the author of the Shareware game Mahjongg. It is he who is largely responsible for the confusion. Others had used mahjong tiles, of course, but he's the one who actually used the name as well. Sometime around 1990 I actually called him and gently chastised him for it. He was very pleasant and politely remorseful."
Quote / source: Julian R. Fitch in - Re: Mahjong, isn't that a tile matching game? 1998/06/25
Update: In light of the evidence of the existence of the 1981 Mahjongg game Nels Anderson is innocent!

Easy to program: "'s really _VERY EASY_ to make a working shanghai in less than a week…. i think the only "difficulty" of the game is to understand how to see which tile the mouse pointer is on. (and i found the solution in 5 minutes). the rest is pure routine." Quote / source: Naoki Haga in the thread 'Re: SHANG HAI DOWNLOAD' – 1997/10/21

Read the whole chapter of Brad Freggers account of how Shanghai came to life : Shanghai

A promotion of the 1986 Shanghai game for the Macintosh by Brodie Lockard can be read here