Oct 07 2008

Mahjong Safari Strategy Guide

Here’s my strategy guide for getting high scores on Mahjong Safari, a game at pogo.com in the Puzzle Games section.  I got hooked on it recently, and when I looked for tips on playing it, I didn’t find much, so here’s my contribution.  (Yes, this may be the most frivolous thing I’ve ever blogged.)

The game is simple and addicting.  It’s a variant of the usual solitare mahjong, where you match tiles to remove them until you clear the board.  In this case, you can remove any two matching tiles which can be connected by a line with two right angles or fewer.  Most boards can be cleared, so the task becomes clearing it in the way that gives you the most points (and thus the most tokens to spend on winning prizes).

The most important thing is: forget about speed.  The bonus for finishing in under three minutes is only 30 tokens; and, as you’ll see, you can easily gain more than that by taking your time.  The bonus multiplier that increases when you match pairs quickly is also not worth worrying about.  My base score, the points given for matches, including the multipliers for speed, always falls somewhere in the 7000-10,000 range.  Since that’s divided by 100 for your reward in tokens, that’s a range of 30 tokens: not worth rushing and missing a different kind of bonus.  So take your time and pick the best possible matches.  When you have a few lined up, or when you get to the end and there are no more bonus matches available, then by all means rip through them quickly and get what speed points you can out of them.

Mahjong Safari Game Summary

Mahjong Safari Game Summary

The key to high scores is combo matches.  A combo is when there are four matching tiles on the board, and you match two of them and then immediately match the other two within about one second.  If you succeed, the game will display the name of the animal matched below the board.  Each combo is worth 30 tokens, so just two combos will more than make up for taking your time and missing the speed bonuses.  I typically score 5-12 combos in a game, depending on the lay of the tiles, so that really ramps up the totals.  In the game summary shown here, I scored 13 combos for 390 bonus tokens, so I didn’t mind missing the time bonus one bit!

So concentrate on finding opportunities to match all four tiles of one animal at once, and match those sets as soon as you find them.  Make sure you don’t pause in between; you only have about a second between the two pairs.

To increase the number of combos you can match, you’ll also want to clear out the animals that only appear twice.  You can’t score a combo on those, so you might as well match them and get them out of the way as soon as possible. Match the stars and “Pogo” tiles as soon as possible too.  There are four of each of those, but they don’t give a combo bonus, so don’t bother trying to get them as a group.  Just make sure, if three stars or “Pogo” tiles are free and the fourth is buried, that you match the two that will free up the most other tiles.

You’ll soon notice that some animals, like the wolf, always appear four times; while some, like the cardinal, only appear twice.  A few, like the starfish, sometimes appear twice and sometimes four times, depending on how many tiles the layout needs.  Becoming familiar with which creatures are always or never potential combos will help you quickly see which pairs can be matched without missing a bonus.

Use the powerups sparingly, if at all.  Since the powerups cost 30 tokens each use, using them will bring down the high scores we’re shooting for.  Never use the Hint powerup; the game will tell you if you have more matches available, so just look around until you find them.  Use the long-line powerup if by using it you can free up two or more combos.  Otherwise, don’t use the powerups unless the game tells you you’re out of matches and it’s the only way to continue.  Generally, a game that gets that tight won’t produce a high score anyway.

The distance between each set of matched tiles determines how many points you get for it, so when you’re matching two pairs for a combo, if they are spread out, match them such that they are as far apart as possible.  If there are two way over on the left and two way over on the right, don’t match the left two and then the right two.  Match one on the left to one on the right, and then the other two, if possible.  In many cases, you won’t have a choice, because of other tiles in the way, and that’s okay.  The most important thing is to score the combo, but if you have a chance to score a little extra for distance in the process, do it.

In the upper left corner, there is a chest on which you can click to try out some alternate tiles.  If some of these are more eye-catching for you, trading them for designs that are hard to spot can make things easier and help keep you from missing combos.  I had a hard time spotting some of the light yellow critters like the ray and kangaroo without hunting for them, so trading them for tiles like the bright red ladybug helped a lot.

This last one is a bit of a cheat, so use it at your own discretion.  Every time you match ten pairs of the special “safari” animals, of which there are four pairs per game on Hard difficulty, you get a bonus of 100 tokens.  So if you have at least six of the special pairs already, and you get a board that doesn’t look promising, you may want to hit New Game until you get one you like better.  There’s no penalty for quitting a board, so finding one you like can help you put that 100 tokens with a good game for a big score.  (You also get a Jackpot spin at that point, but Jackpot tokens aren’t added to your score in the high score list that everyone sees.)

Crossroads Layout

Crossroads Layout

Some of the boards are much more combo-friendly than others.  The best ones are the ones with long straight open areas, so there are a lot of possible matches right from the start, like Crossroads, 5 or S, and Thick Spiral.  Second best are Windows and Big Office Building, which have the spaces spread out evenly so a few matches can open things up quickly.  Worst are the ones with the empty space clumped together, with Light Bulb being the worst.  Compare these two boards and see how many more matching possibilities there are in Crossroads.  So if you’re shooting for a high score in the 600+ range, and you’re expecting that Safari bonus of 100 points to help out, you might skip the hard boards like Lightbulb or Whale and find a friendlier one like Crossroads.

Light Bulb Layout

Light Bulb Layout

Well, those are all my strategy tips. Using these ideas, I’d say I score over 500 tokens on at least half my games.  Hope they help, and if you have any tips of your own, please add them in the comments!

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