"Shanghai" and "The Turtle" 
A closer look on the possible folk origin of 'Shanghai'; the search for an ancient Chinese solitaire game called 'The Turtle' and the debate in the newsgroup rec.games.mahjong


As mentioned in the 'History' section; 'Shanghai' was the first computer tile-matching solitaire mahjongg game and it was released by 'Activision' for the Macintosh in 1986. It was created by Brodie Lockard (original idea, programming and artwork) and Brad Fregger (producer).

"He [Brodie Lockard] explained that it was the opening stack for an ancient solitaire game called The Turtle that had been invented in China a few hundred years ago."

Brad Fregger: Lucky that way, pg. 69-70, cop. 1998 (ISBN: 1-887472-56-8) and Mobygames.com

According to Brad Fregger this happened on Christmas Eve morning 1984 when Brodie Lockard showed Brad the prototype for 'Shanghai' on the Macintosh. Lockard was working at Stanford University then. He had been a Stanford athlete until he had broken his neck on the trampoline and become an quadriplegic.


The possible folk origin of the game was much discussed in the newsgroup rec.games.mahjong during 1997- 1999. The discussion was based on a similar statement (or interview with) from Brad Fregger on his company's website ( (http://www.groundbreaking.com/ shanghai.html - now dead). Fregger was Director of Entertainment Software at Activision 1983 - 1986 and President of Groundbreaking Productions 1996 - 1999?. I have not seen Brads book mentioned in the debate.  

Two of the main combatants in the debate was Mr. Tom Sloper and Mr. Naoki Haga (Rene-Gilles Deberdt). Neither can be said to be unbiased. Tom Sloper ("Mr. Mah-Jongg") was responsible for the Shanghai line of games at Activation from 1991 to 2000 and viewed of course the clones as 'rip-offs' and 'copycats' and a threat to his company. Naoki Haga was one of the main competitors to the Shanghai game as the creator of one of the most well-known solitaire mahjongg clones: Kyodai Mahjongg. In March 1997 Naoki Haga was forced by Activision's lawyers to abandon Kyodai’s original name ‘Lunatic Shanghai’. Sloper and Naoki also argued about who "borrowed" layouts from whom.


Mr. Sloper demanded more proof to confirm the folk origin. He had not been able to find any evidence of an ancient solitaire game played with Mahj-Jongg tiles. And Mr. Haga wished to state that the idea of "removing pairs of tiles from a stack of mah jongg tiles" doesn't belong to Activision, just the idea of adapting the game to computers.

Quote from the website:


"What are they stacked up like that for?" I asked.

"That's the opening stack for an ancient solitaire game called The Turtle," Brodie said. "It was invented in China a couple of hundred years ago." [Talking about the classic pyramid layout]


Naoki Haga: "So, as you can see, this Solitaire version was practiced in the past... Brodie found this obscure game and adapted it. ... That's my point of view."

Source: Naoki Haga (re: MJ tilesets - rec.games.mahjong - 1998/03/18)

"M. Deberdt bases his position on an embellished quote in that website story. It should be clarified that the story was not an "interview" with the original programmer, as M. Deberdt says -- rather, it was a /reminiscence/ by the first Shanghai /producer./

Brodie Lockard told me that he never said Shanghai was based on an "ancient" game, and never said, "It was invented in China a couple of hundred years ago," as he is quoted in that story."

Quote / Source: Tom Sloper in rec.games.mahjong: Re: a funny game... -  1998/05/12 

"but he quoted Brodie and I don't see why I shouldn't believe the interview." "it's easy to say that now..."

Quote / Source: Naoki Haga in rec.games.mahjong: Re: a funny game... -  1998/05/12 

"Well, the original Shanghai designer/programmer denies this "ancient" origin, and before I discussed it with him I had never found any description of "an ancient solitaire game called 'The Turtle'" (in spite of a very long search)"

Quote / Source: Tom Sloper in rec.games.mahjong: Mahjong -- The Turtle-  1998/06/25 


Quote from Tom Sloper's FAQ 3 - Books on mah-jongg:

HOI TOI (Hoi1 Toi2), by Gaan Ji-Cing (Gaan2 Ji4 Cing1, Kan Yi-Ching), (Hong Kong), 1984, ISBN 962-17-0088-4.

History of mah-jongg, in-depth strategy, pictures of unusual tile sets in the author's collection, description of a solitaire game roughly similar to Shanghai. Book is in Chinese (no English text except in a couple of illustrations).


This book was first pointed out by Alan Kwan in the thread 'Mahjong -- The Turtle' (1998/06/26 - 1998/06/28)

The book was published in February 1984. On page 151 it describes a solitaire tile-matching game predating Shanghai (1986). The game is called "caak3 paai2 gwai1" (gwai1 is "turtle", caak3 is "demolish",  paai2 is "tile". Translates to "demolish a turtle of tiles", "take apart a turtle of tiles" or "Demolishing the Turtle of Tiles".


"The page describes a game that looks suspiciously like the origin of Shanghai, if not Shanghai itself. The player builds a turtle-shaped structure with mahjong tiles, then remove matching pairs according to the rules in Shanghai. There are possible minor differences such as a minor difference in the original configuration, and that tiles are possibly not turned face-up until they become accessible. There are no diagrams."

Quote / source: Alan Kwan in rec.games.mahjong: Mahjong -- The Turtle (1998/06/28)

"Mr. Kan does state in his book that the "Turtle" game is played by children."

Quote / source: Alan Kwan in rec.games.mahjong - Re: Mahjong, isn't that a tile matching game? 1998/06/26


"But Activision would have you believe they invented the game on their website. But I found another website with a story by the person who orginally accuired the game for Activision which states that the person who created the original game actually based it on an actual anchient game which he called "The Turtle"."


Quote / source: Shawn Swift - rec.games.computer.puzzle - Yet another question related to Shanghai... anyone here speak chinese? 1999/04/26


"The person who created the original game denies saying these words. I have discussed this with him -- he characterized this website quote as "an embellishment." And in a moment we'll get into how "ancient" it is.


I cannot read or speak Chinese, but I have a copy of a book by a Mr. Kan, in which there is a page that describes a way of playing with MJ tiles (for kids). I cannot tell you the title of the book, but the ISBN number is 962-17-0088-4. I had a Chinese-speaking friend read the page, and she said that it was not an accurate/complete description of the way Shanghai is played (there was no mention of tiles being blocked if unable to slide left/right, for instance, and the "layout" was a big block of tiles with 5 smaller blocks of tiles around it, so it resembles a turtle somewhat). The book does not say how "ancient" this Turtle game is."


Quote / source: Tom Sloper - rec.games.computer.puzzle: Re: Yet another question related to Shanghai... anyone here speak chinese? - 1999/04/26. Similar text from "I had.." in rec.games.design: Re: Mah-jongg - 1999/04/27


"I do not see this as evidence that this is the origin of Shanghai"

Quote / source: Tom Sloper in rec.games.design: Re: Mah-jongg - 1999/04/27


Conclusion? None. 
Make up your own mind...


Sources: rec.games.mahjong  
1. SHANG HAI DOWNLOAD – thread 1997/10/10 – 1997/10/22
2. Q: Shanghai - thread 1997/12/31
3. "ShangHai" - thread 1998/01/22(?) - 1998/01/28
4. MJ tilesets  - thread 1998/03/14 - 1998/03/16
5. Re: a funny game... -  1998/05/12 
6. "Mahjong -- The Turtle" - 1998/06/25?-1998/06/30
7. Mahjong, isn't that a tile matching game? - 1998/06/24 - 1998/06/28

Other sources:  -
1. Yet another question related to Shanghai... anyone here speak chinese? rec.games.computer.puzzle - 1999/04/26 - 199/04/30
2. Mah-Jongg - rec.games.design - 1999/04/27

Brad Fregger: Lucky that way - stories of seizing the moment while creating the games millions play, Sunstar Publishing Ltd, Iowa, cop. 1998. ISBN: 1-887472-56-8


Earlier solitaire mahjongg computer games than 'Shanghai'?



Very interesting - in this thread from 1988 three different people says they have played ‘this game’ or ‘similar’ game on computers before 1986 (and before the release of Activision's ‘Shanghai’ game). That would be in 1984, 1981/2, and 1985. 


The thread started with Mark Holm describing his tile-matching game ‘mahjongg1’ for SunView (Suntools). This game later became Xmahjongg for X11/Unix.


Newsgroup: comp.sources.d - thread ‘mahjongg tiles’ - 1988-06-02/1988-07-08



From: Mike Temkin (mst@csun.UUCP), Subject: Re: mahjongg tiles - Newsgroups: comp.sources.d, 1988-06-24 08:54:39 PST


A friend of mine played a similar game on the Plato system (CMU system I believe) about 4 years ago.  I don't recall the name, but the board was set up the same as the Activision game.  It was played using a CDC-721 touch screen terminal. Does anyone else know of an older version of this game?  It might be interesting just how far it (the computer version) goes back.


From: Brett Slocum (slocum@hi-csc.UUCP), Subject: Re: mahjongg tiles - Newsgroups: comp.sources.d, 1988-06-27 07:29:00 PST


I remember playing this on PLATO at least 6 or 7 years ago.  On one of the 'ancient' Magnavox plasma panel screens with IR touch panel. I don't remember if that was the same as the 721 or not.


From: Joe Kwan (rabbit@psivax.UUCP), Subject: Re: mahjongg tiles - Newsgroups: comp.sources.d, 1988-06-27 15:10:36 PST

I played this version on the CSU (California State University) PLATO (Control Data Corporation) system a few years ago.  It was also called "mahjongg" on that system and played in the same way.  As I remember, a few months after I played that, the Macintosh "Shanghai" game came out which seemed to play the same turtle solitary mahjongg game.

Update 18.09.2004:

Located one more newsgroup post who speak of pre-1986 Shanghai computer game: alt.folklore.computers - Re: Pizza orders by Internet? Date: 1993-12-26,
From: Mike Daly (Microsoft)

"The game Shanghi (the game where you remove the pairs of Mah-Jongg (sp?) tiles from the turtle) was first implemented on the PLATO system back in 1982 or so."

Mah-Jongg 1981/1983 - PLATO / Control Data Corp:
The existence of an computer tile-matching solitaire mahjongg game earlier than 1986 has been confirmed, please see the History page.

Based on ancient Chinese solitaire game called The Turtle?

Brad Fregger maintains that the remember Brodie Lockard saying he thought it was originally from China and based on a children's game played with real mah jong tiles, but that wasn't absolutely sure. Brodie Lockard says that he did not say anything similar to this. Brad and Brodie does not want this to go any further, so we will let the issue be.

I (the author of this site) are sorry if my account of this have caused anyone problems, it was not my intention.  


[Home] [History] [Rules] [Layouts] [Tilesets] [Online] [Freeware] [Shareware] [Commercial
[Shisen-Sho] [Ishido] [Other] [True MahJongg] [About] [Contact] [Origin] [Links] [Misc.] [Log]
[Comments] [Dos] [Windows] [OS/2] [Linux] [Mac] [PalmOS] [PocketPC] [Other OS] [Wanted]

© 2003 - 2005 Vegard Krog Petersen