“The shadow of paranoia is hanging over the village – every man and woman at the table is suspiciously looking at others. There should be outsiders somewhere; we just need to find them and eliminate one by one. All the good men and women are nodding, showing their approval. Truly, the village had already lost two people in the last two nights. If outsiders are not caught right away, the game is as good as lost for the villagers. Everybody agrees that it’s essential right now to find at least one of the outsiders. The villagers decide to take a risk and vote for who will be eliminated. Fingers crossed, everyone hopes that the choice was made right and the community managed to hit one of the outsiders. Otherwise, the village is lost to the rival party.”
You may think that we are retelling the plot of a horror movie or some other piece of speculative fiction. Maybe a historical novel about witch-hunting in 17th century America? Well, sounds like a fair guess. Still, we were just describing a regular round in the game of Mafia, one of the most exciting and engaging party games ever invented. Mafia requires players to be good at bluffing, develop social interaction skills, strategic thinking and team play. Now, when we have your attention, let us tell you more about the game, its history, rules, and how it became so popular.
The Invention of Mafia and Global Success
The game of Mafia was invented by a Russian psychologist Dimitry Davydov in 1987. The game was developed primarily for university students as an experimental method to analyze complex patterns of social interaction in artificially simulated conditions. Quite soon, the game spread all over Moscow State University and later became popular all over the Soviet Union.
In the early 1990s, the game reached European countries and even turned into a TV show in Latvia. A little later, the game of Mafia also reached the United States. In 1997 mafia was popularized within the US by Andrew Plotkin, American interactive fiction author, who also reworked the game, changing its name from Mafia to Werewolf. According to Plotkin, the Werewolf concept, who looks absolutely normal in the daytime and turns into a fearless killer in the night, suits the game perfectly.
Until now, the game is mostly known as a Werewolf in the US. However, it managed to gain such a wide fan community that many other variants were invented. Quite often, you can bump into such alternative namings as Vampire or the Thing. In the last case, it is a reference to a cult sci-fi movie that features hidden alien enemies that disguise as humans, which makes perfect sense if you know the rules of the game.
Rules, Terms, Variations
The most basic rules for the game were developed by Dimitry Davidov, the author of the game. However, the game grew so big and gained such a huge community of fans that you can find hundreds of different sets of rules or simply playing card sets that feature alternative images printed on them. For instance, you can easily find a mafia card deck featuring cats, politicians, movie characters, etc.
The very first version of Mafia invented by Davidov was played with a standard deck of cards. Cards are drawn face down, so none of the players knows the roles of each other. There are 3 basic roles that cannot be omitted – mafia member, sheriff and common citizens. If 8 people play the game, there should be 2 mafia members, 5 citizens and 1 sheriff to maintain fair chances for every party. The purpose of the mafia members is to kill all the citizens and take control of the city. The citizens, at their turn, have to find out who the mafia is and eliminate them. Citizens can vote to expel a person who, in their opinion, is a member of the mafia.
The game consists of two main phases – night and day. During the daytime all the players are “awake,” they can communicate, make suggestions about roles that other players have, vote for an exclusion and address questions to each other to understand the roles of other players. When the discussion and voting are over, the village “falls asleep.” All players close their eyes, after which the game moderator asks the mafia to wake up and decide who they want to kill tonight.
Naturally, mafia members have to communicate silently and shouldn’t make any noticeable moves that can unfold their role to other players. After the mafia committed the killings, the sheriff woke up. Each night he has the right to reveal the role of one player while all the other players are “asleep.” The moderator of the game will nod when the sheriff points at the mafia member. When the city wakes up, the sheriff can use his knowledge to persuade people to eliminate the mafia member.
Playing the mafia requires a lot of deception and persuasion from players – if you are a member of the mafia, you will have to convince other players that you are a citizen or sheriff to make sure you are not expelled at the next vote. Also, mafia members can organize voting against civilians, which is a risky but rewarding strategy. The sheriff can reveal his role at any time. However, he must be sure that everyone would believe him. Otherwise, he will be killed the next night, since killing the sheriff is always a priority for the Mafia.
The game of Mafia is impossible without a moderator who knows all the roles at the table and, in most cases, has the right to silence players who are breaking the code of behavior by interrupting other players during the discussion, using strong language, etc. A good moderator can choose their own narration style during the game to add some genuine sense of fiction to the gaming process. To a certain extent, the work of a game moderator requires good storytelling and management skills. In some cases, the moderator is also responsible for turning on the music during the nighttime that will prevent sharp-eared citizens from unraveling the roles by the sound of movement.
Since the international Mafia community is very wide, many alternative Mafia variations have been developed. These variations may include a complex gaming mechanics that may feature roles that have an ability to heal, resurrect, serve as a witness, protect, kill on behalf of the citizens, alter the powers of other players for a certain period of time, instantly change other player’s roles, have limited rights or even can perform some actions after the death of their character. Also, Mafia may elect a mafia boss during the first night when the members get to know each other. The boss has the power to decide who to kill and make some other decisions as well.
Duration, Setting, Gear
As you probably understand, the big advantage of the game is that it does not require any specific gear and can be played practically anywhere and anytime. However, many professional and semi-professional Mafia clubs love to invest some additional effort to make the game more comfortable, more atmospheric and to decrease the edge between the teams to the most extent.
Games of Mafia are usually played behind round tables, so all the players can have direct eye contact with each other. In some cases, the tablets with numbers are used, so the communication between the players and a moderator becomes more formal. Some mafia clubs use sleeping masks during the nighttime period of the game to prevent unfair players from peeping. However, some mafia variations actually feature the role of a Peeping Tom, a player who has the right to peep at night.
However, if the mafia members notice the one, he will probably become the first candidate for the crime family’s elimination. Many professional mafia clubs also practice costumed Mafia games. The most evident dress code for this occasion is classic American mafia clothes from the 30s and 40s. Still, players also frequently enjoy other popular themes like wild west, sci-fi, modern mafia, spy fiction, etc.
The mafia game duration can vary dramatically depending on the rules, moderator, and, of course, the number of participants. It is believed that provided that the game involves 6 people (the minimum number of players), the duration of the game may be about 6-15 minutes. The regular round played by 12 people lasts about half an hour. Some clubs may have a time limit for the discussion stage to speed up the gaming process.