Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Tuesday, November 06, 2021

If you’re not acquainted with the social-mixer-cum-strategy-game that is Mafia (also known as Werewolf, although I disdain that scenario), you should be.

In addition to different options for scenarios, there are several variations on the specific playing parameters. I recently was introduced to the game at a party, and the house rules were fairly simplified:

1. Gather a fairly large group of players — ideally a dozen or more.

2. Designate one person (probably the host) as the Narrator, who’ll control the flow of action.

3. Narrator deals out a like number of playing cards face down, with a ratio of 3:1 between two different colors/suits of cards (for example, a game with 16 players would require 12 black cards and 4 red cards).

4. Everyone looks at their own cards. The resulting majority of players are Villagers, while the select minority are the Mafia.

5. The Narrator then announces that “night has fallen”, which is a cue for the players to all close their eyes.

6. Once everyone’s eyes are shut, the Narrator instructs the Mafioso to open their eyes and (silently) identify themselves to one another.

7. The Mafia then, through use of sign language and signals, pick out one of the Villagers to mark for “death”, i.e. expulsion from the game, and acknowledge to the Narrator that they’ve made their selection. They then close their eyes again and “blend in” with the rest of the Village.

8. The Narrator then announces “the sun is up”, and informs the marked Villager that s/he has been knocked off by the Mafia, and to leave the room.

9. The remaining Villagers (including the Mafia, in stealth mode) then start to debate who among them are Mafia, and decide collectively to exile a single suspected Mafioso in this round. (Note that this process doesn’t necessarily result in an actual Mafioso being exiled — innocent Villagers can be targeted by the rest.)

10. The exiled player then leaves the room, and the Narrator declares that “night has fallen” again.

11. Once again, the Mafia coordinate to select another Villager to knock off once the sun comes up again.

12. This goes on round by round, until either every Mafia member has been exiled, or else the number of Mafia exceeds the remaining number of Villagers.

It’s a basically simple game structure, but strategically, it can get socially complex. Especially at the outset, reads on body language, poker faces, etc. count for everything. Working against an enemy in the midst fosters an environment of paranoia — albeit a mild one — and encourages one-on-one alliances and other nuances. It’s like “Survivor” with hors d’oeuvres!

The underlying purpose is to get people acquainted (perhaps better so) with one another, and that actually seems to come more in the exiling/killed portion. I found that when people had to gather in the next room, away from the active gameplay, the socializing really began. There was a built-in ice-breaker, after all.

In order to get significant mileage out of Mafia, you really do need to have a big group. It won’t work with just 4-5 people. The more rounds that it takes, the more possibilities.

The only downside I can see is this leading to a life of crime. Or lycanthropy.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 11/06/2021 11:55:17 PM
Category: Society, Creative | Permalink |

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  1. My friends and I have been playing Mafia since college. A game erupts almost every time we get together (which, obviously, is rarer with each coming year, but still rooted in our annual ski trip to West Virginia)… a great game, one that incorporates a lot of intellectual thought.

    Our version includes two variations, though obviously since I know the game through my group they aren’t “variations” at all:

    1. There are two inspectors who awake after the Mafia commits their hit. They silently collaborate to point at one member of the group. The narrator either nods or shakes his/her head to indicate if the person they have targeted is a Mafia member. They’re also villages; yet they have significant cause to not “out” themselves as an inspector since if they do, the Mafia will inevitably assassinate them in the next evening. So they try to point toward the Mafia member they have identified without being “too confident.”

    2. After the inspectors go to sleep, the doctor awakes. He can point at any member of the group. if that person was assassinated by the Mafia, they are “saved” and the villagers are told when they awake that there was an attempt on someone’s life, but it was avoided by “a doctor.” (for reasons similar to the above, it is in the doctor’s best interest to let his/her identity remain a mystery.)

    The two extra roles also allow Mafia members to state their case for not being executed by the villagers; “but I’m an inspector/the doctor” they can claim, and the villagers have to decide if the person is telling the truth or lying.

    Mafia is amazing, and whomever developed the game is a true genius.

    Comment by tim — 11/07/2021 @ 01:37:08 AM

  2. You’re playing the advanced edition, I think. The simpler rules are more my speed. I usually don’t hang out in large groups, so that’s probably why Mafia eluded me to this point. Gotta start slow.

    Since you mentioned: No time for me to look up the reference now, but I believe a Soviet intelligence officer took credit for inventing the game back in the mid-1980s.

    Comment by CT — 11/08/2021 @ 12:07:49 PM


    When I learned of the parlor game called Mafia recently, I didn’t remember the rules covering a mobster perversion of the 10 Commandments.
    That’s what Italian police uncovered in Sicily last week, and here’s the translated rundown: …

    Trackback by Population Statistic — 11/11/2021 @ 02:26:28 PM

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