Mahjong: The Secret Garden review

Mahjong: The Secret Garden is a Facebook game from Inertia Game Studios. It’s available now to all players on the social network, and is presently showing up as a Trending app on App Center.

Computerized representations of mahjong, or more accurately mahjong/Shanghai solitaire, is a surprisingly under-represented subdivision of the puzzle game category on Facebook, as it has been a popular tabletop game to adapt into standalone casual computer games for many years now. There are a few mahjong solitaire games on Facebook, but none have managed to capture the public’s imagination in the same way as the myriad Bejeweled and Puzzle Bobble clones out there — despite the mechanics of mahjong solitaire being no more complicated than those games.

In mahjong solitaire, mahjong tiles (which are printed with various symbols including Chinese characters) are arranged in an aesthetically-pleasing and/or symbolic formation, often with several layers of tiles overlapping one another. Players must remove tiles from the arrangement two at a time by matching those with the same symbol and value that are “exposed” — in other words, able to move freely from side to side without disturbing other tiles. This typically means matching tiles from the outermost tiles in each layer of the arrangement, and tiles from different layers may be matched so long as they are exposed.

In Mahjong: The Secret Garden, players alternate between playing games of mahjong solitaire and building up a garden in a similar manner to the structure typically used in hidden object games. Building items in the garden earns the player “energy” — here used as a form of currency to unlock new levels rather than a play-throttling device — and additional items to put in the garden may be unlocked by playing through a linear series of increasingly-difficult mahjong solitaire challenges. Alternatively, items may be unlocked using hard currency, and certain premium items are only available through hard currency. These more expensive, rarer items are typically worth more “energy” and thus allow the player to progress through the game quicker.

While working through the series of mahjong solitaire challenges, the player will occasionally run into locked gates that can only be opened by earning sufficient “stars” on previous levels. Stars are earned by completing levels quickly — once a level begins, a timer bar at the top of the screen begins to deplete, and at various intervals the player will lose one of the three stars they start the level with. Levels may be replayed without penalty at any time, and the player may make their life a little easier by purchasing boosters with soft currency before the level begins.

Mahjong: The Secret Garden is a pleasingly relaxed experience that allows the player the freedom to decide how long they would like to play for rather than throttling them after a certain number of games. At no point is the player forced into lengthy wait times — the most friction they will encounter will be if they don’t have enough soft currency to decorate their garden up to the next “energy” level, but this is easily rectified simply by replaying previously-completed levels and trying to beat one’s best score. From the developer’s perspective, this may have a bit of an impact on monetization if the player isn’t provided with much in the way of incentive to pay up, though the player does at least have the option to purchase additional soft currency to use for purchasing items, or unlocking items early and acquiring premium items using hard currency.

There are a few flaws that mar the experience a little, however, most notably with the sound. The game features music and sound effects that can be turned on and off independently, but for some reason the music that plays during the mahjong solitaire levels plays on the sound effect channel instead of the music channel, and sometimes continues playing even after the level has finished. This means that once the music for the map screen starts up again, it clashes horribly with the mahjong solitaire music. Not only that, but this issue means that those who want to play completely without music must also turn off sound effects altogether, which may not be desirable. That said, the music isn’t particularly good anyway and the sound effects are relatively minimal throughout.

Aside from the aforementioned issues, Mahjong: The Secret Garden is a decent game, if rather simplistic and relatively lacking in interaction with other players. For those looking for a solid implementation of mahjong solitaire that doesn’t punish them for wanting to play for free, it’s a good choice — the developer might just find itself struggling a little bit without a few more monetization hooks around the place, however.

Mahjong: The Secret Garden is currently ranked in the 100,000+ MAU tier with a rank of 2,052, and the 10,000+ DAU tier with a rank of 1,729. Follow its progress with AppData, our tracking service for social games and developers.


A good implementation of mahjong solitaire that might struggle in the long-term due to relatively light monetization.