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Game of Mafia

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A mob has formed...

The Game of Mafia is one in which the players are divided into teams (or factions) and must decide as a group who to exile (or eliminate) from the group until only one team remains. Typically, the two teams are a relatively small Mafia group, and the much larger Town group. Given that the Town starts as the vast majority of the players, this would be a one-sided game were it not for how the Town players are not aware of who the other Townies are. As a result, the Mafia can try to blend in with the Town and sway the majority vote onto Townies, hoping to turn the Town against itself until the Mafia controls the majority vote and therefore the game.

At its heart, Mafia is a game pitting an uninformed majority against an informed minority. It (as well as variations on it) has been commercially rebranded numerous times, often with werewolf flavor, but the central idea of the game is the same.


The game of Mafia (Russian: Ма́фия, also known as Werewolf) was created in the USSR by Dmitry Davidoff in 1986 based off the idea of an informed minority (the Mafia) against an uninformed majority (the Town). His motivation for developing the game was to combine his work as a high school teacher and psychology. The first known game of Mafia was run at the Psychology Department at Moscow State University in the spring of 1986, it became increasingly popular amongst the staff and students as a result of this. It's popularity spread to other Soviet schools and colleges and by the 90's the game was being played across Europe and the US. A Latvian television series was based off the game during the period of time, featuring a parliamentary setting and Latvian celebrities.

In 1997 Andrew Plotkin created the well known werewolf-themed variant of the game. He argued that the Mafia were not a cultural influence and that the concept of werewolves hunting people during the night and looking like any other person during the day made more sense than the original theme. This werewolf-themed version of the game became widespread at major tech events like Game Developers Conference, Foo Camps and South by Southwest. In 1998 the Kaliningrad Higher School of the Internal Affairs Ministry published the methodical textbook "Nonverbal communications. Developing role-playing games 'Mafia' and 'Murderer' for a course on Visual psychodiagnostics", to teach various methods of reading body language and nonverbal signals. It was then later that year introduced to Princeton University where a number of modern variants were created which are still used today.

A Model for the Game

Most games of Mafia require an outside moderator who knows (among other things) who is on which team. This moderator begins the game by secretly assigning roles to players. The moderator then calls upon the Mafia to secretly reveal who they are to each other. This is Pregame.

Then, the Day phase begins. The players as a group vote a player out via a majority vote. Players are not allowed to conclusively prove their role by showing everyone what role the moderator gave them, but beyond that, almost anything goes as players argue, accuse, plead, protest, beg, and flail in hopes of getting the vote to go toward someone they think is scum (or if they ARE scum, not themselves!). A player who is chosen by majority vote to be eliminated is ceremoniously removed from the game as the moderator reveals to everyone what their role is. Players who are removed from the game may no longer take part.

At this time, all the players go inactive as the Night phase begins. Most players can do nothing but wait while the Mafia secretly chooses a player they wish to murder during the Night. There may also be Town players who have Night actions as indicated by their role. Separately, they may choose to take action toward someone, with varying results depending on their role.

The next Day begins with the moderator announcing that a player has been murdered by the Mafia, and the game continues anew.

The game is generally over when there is only one faction left in the game - either the Town has voted out all of the scum, or the Mafia has made it so that the Town is helpless but to get voted out of the game.

There are several variations on this process, but this is generally a model for how the game works.

On occasion, you will find other alignments in the game, such as Serial Killer. More commonly, some players will have special roles that they may use to hopefully sway the game in their favor.

F2F Mafia vs. Online Mafia

Mafia is usually played face-to-face. In this type of setting, it is much easier to catch scum by picking up on how well someone can lie convincingly. Players who draw scum tend to have a harder time acting like a member of the Town, simply because trying to convincingly lie is not something many people practice and is just harder for some people to do. Nonetheless, the scum players must find a way to deceive the others into APPEARING to be part of the good guys while pushing the vote onto someone else who actually IS a member of the Town. In some ways, the process is similar to poker - by watching the facial expressions and tics of the other players, you can determine who is bluffing.

Online, though, the expressions and idiosyncrasies of players become much harder to determine. You cannot, after all, watch as a player stutters to say something they know is not true - you just see the carefully vetted message at the end. This is why most people are simply not good at forum Mafia, and as a result Mafia tends to win quite a bit more. As a result, online games tend to feature more power roles in hopes of giving Town a better chance than they normally would have.