The complete Mah Jong tile set consists of 144 tiles of which 136 are regular playing tiles and 8 are bonus tiles (Flowers and Seasons). The bonus tiles are optional, but they are normally not used by skilful players. The regular tiles are divided into two main groups: Suits and Honors.
There are three suits: Bamboos, Characters and Dots. Each suit consists of 36 tiles: four 1s, four 2s, and so on up to 9. Total of suit tiles is thus 108.
Suit tiles from 2 to 8 are called Simples (or Minor tiles, as opposed to Terminals and Honors, which are sometimes called Major tiles), 1s and 9s are called Terminals. Sets composed of Terminals pay generally more than sets composed of Simples.
Honors consist of Dragons and Winds. There are three Dragons four of each: Green Dragon, Red Dragon and White Dragon, and four Winds, four of each: East, South, West and North. Total of honor tiles is thus 28.
Letters on the Dragon tiles are based on the Chinese terms fa (meaning "flourishing manifestation" and symbolizing Earth), chun (meaning "centre" and symbolizing Man), and pai pan (meaning "white plank", "white tile").
In addition to the regular tiles, four Flowers and four Seasons (some player use only the Flowers) can optionally be used as bonus tiles. Flowers and Seasons are not used in tile combinations: when received, they are immediately exposed, put aside and replaced with regular tiles. Each bonus tile is associated with a wind as follows:
Sometimes jokers are allowed in the game. The number of jokers is normally 4 or 8. "Virtual" jokers (also known as "heart jokers") are also common – this means that each player is provided with an unseen joker given in the dealt hand so accordingly the players receive one physical tile less in the given hand (this version of Mah Jong is called 12-tile Mah Jong; an example of this style of game is illustrated by the Four Winds rule preset Wilmington Advanced 12-tile Mah Jong).
Note: When jokers are used in the game, the scoring should be adjusted accordingly, since collecting of many difficult hand becomes significantly easier with jokers.
When the game was introduced in the United States, numbers and letters were added on the tiles to make them easier to recognize. In Asian tile sets identifiers are normally used only in bonus tiles.