Mah-jongg, that ancient Chinese tile-matching game enjoyed the world over, may be one of the most widely played forms of recreation known to mankind. While not quite as old as the tabletop version, Shanghai: Dynasty - Activision's sixth take on the highly popular past time - may be the most ambitious of the computerized translations, integrating a wide array of significant enhancements into an already feature-rich and entertaining system.
First introduced eons ago in 1986, the latest entry in the long line of Shanghai products adds several important features and facets of play to the game's fairly fundamental concept. For instance, Shanghai: Dynasty now boasts multiplayer compatibility (offering IPX, modem, and Internet accessibility); several competitive single- and dual-player modes; "Shanghai for Kids," a tailored version of the game that's ideally suited to teaching children the basics; a tournament mode; a custom tile and layout editor; and, for the first time, mah-jongg. Now you can hook up with fellow online enthusiasts and partake in a lively parlor session of mah-jongg, Classic Shanghai, or the all-new Dynasty and Pandemonium, two rather intriguing derivatives that breathe new life into this somewhat tired favorite. In Dynasty, you lock horns with up to four savvy computer-controlled opponents in a race to see who can clear their board in the quickest time. In an interesting twist, power tiles - in the form of jokers - have been added to the mix, which, when successfully matched, can cause tiles to be replaced on each of your opponent's boards or can locate matches on your own board. In Pandemonium, you again put your prowess to the ultimate test against up to four quick-witted computer-controlled opponents - this time, however, all of the players must compete on the same board, racing against the clock and each other to find and make the most matches before game's end. Several new, beautifully crafted tile sets have been developed - astrology, fantasy, prehistoric, and Egyptian hieroglyphics, to name but a few - complete with wondrous animations and exotic sound effects. For the truly adventurous, you may even create your own tile sets using MS Paint - which is incorporated into Windows 95 - and the special template contained within the BMP folder on the Shanghai CD. If you so desire, you may even upload or download your custom-designed tile sets or layouts with fellow Shanghai players, thereby expanding the number of tile sets. And, should you "paint" yourself into a corner, a handy "shuffle" option has also been included, which scrambles and repositions any unmatched tiles so that play may continue. As a reward for clearing the board, you receive positive predictions, similar to the kinds of messages contained within fortune cookies.
So, whether you have an entire afternoon or just a few minutes to kill, try kicking back and booting up Shanghai: Dynasty. It's the perfect respite for the rainy-day blues, combining all the rich, compelling elements of mah-jongg with the challenging interactivity and immediacy afforded by the Internet. Even if you don't have access to a modem, or you prefer to indulge in a solitaire session or two, Shanghai: Dynasty is an impressive and expansive take on the centuries-old classic.