If you have not yet familiarized yourself with the chapter on Mah-Jongg Basics, it is recommended that you do so before reading this chapter.
The American game uses a set of 152 tiles. The standard 136-tile set is used, plus eight Flowers (four Flowers and four Seasons are regarded by American players as "eight Flowers") and eight Jokers. Chinese mah-jongg sets rarely contain enough tiles for the American game. American players can often be seen to go searching for extra tiles so they'll have the appropriate number of tiles for the game. There are a variety of places where one can buy extra tiles (easy to find on the Internet). American players usually use racks -- and the racks never seem to be the proper length for the walls. These problems don't occur in Shanghai: Second Dynasty's American game, of course (the computer provides the proper number of tiles -- and the racks and walls are not seen).
The American game is not limited to the kinds of tile groupings found in other styles of Mah-Jongg. The American game includes Pungs (three of a kind), Kongs (four of a kind), and Pairs (just as in the Chinese, Japanese, and Western games) but does not include Chows (three in a row). An interesting thing about the American game is that Quints (five of a kind) are possible, due to the use of Jokers in the game. In the past the American game has allowed Sextuplets and even Septuplets. White Dragons may be used as zeroes in some number hands. Flowers are not melded but rather are used in the hand to form pungs, Kongs, Quints, etc.
Scoring is per the yearly special hands card (usually using nickels, dimes, and quarters instead of chips). Only the winner is paid. Certain other characteristics of the hand may result in doubling the score (self-pick, Jokerless).
To make a complete American hand of 14 tiles requires the formation of a number of tile groupings. The grouping may be one, two, three, four, or five tiles in size. Only groupings of three or more can be exposed during the game. Groupings composed of only two tiles (pairs) or only one tile (singles) are only exposed when going Out (going Mah-Jongg, going Maj, Winning).
Quint (five of a kind)
Except for Flowers, a Quint is only possible through the use of Jokers (since there are only four of each tile). You can have as many as five Jokers in a Quint (you do not actually need any of the actual tile being represented).
Kong (four of a kind)
A Kong can be made with all four of the actual tile, or can be made with any number of Jokers. You can have as many as four Jokers in a Kong (you do not actually need any of the actual tile being represented).
Pung (three of a kind)
A pung can be made with three of the actual tiles, or can be made with any number of Jokers. You can have as many as three Jokers in a pung (you do not actually need any of the actual tile being represented).
Pair (two of a kind)
Jokers cannot be used in a pair, unless the card calls for a pair of Jokers. If the card calls for a pair of Jokers, no other tiles may be used to substitute for the Joker.
Jokers may not be used to represent single tiles under any circumstances, unless the card calls for a single Joker.
Note: when you see a special non-identical grouping like "2000" on an American card, that special grouping is not necessarily treated the same as a true "grouping" since all of its components cannot be exposed together on the rack prior to winning. If in doubt, refer to the rules on the printed card you are using. In Shanghai: Second Dynasty's 2000 card, the fourth hand includes such a grouping: