Timewaster Tuesday: Mafia

Today’s game is an interesting one. I first learned it at Girl Scout Camp, and then didn’t hear of it for a good long while. Now, in my last year of college, we decide to play it – and lo and behold it has become so much more extravagant than it ever was in my childhood.

Today, I introduce you to the ultimate game of deception, crime, murder, and better understanding who you’re dealing with: Mafia. If you’ve heard of this game before, chances are that you’ve probably played the simple version, which I’m about to explain.

Witchdoctor, Mad Scientist, Detective, Lightning Rod .. what’s going on?

Basic Gameplay

The game is played with just people, no props, no board, no cards (though it can be – check out variations), and no dice.

Everyone sits in a circle, with one person in the middle. This person is God, and he or she basically controls the entire game. The game has a cycle of day phases and night phases, beginning with night.

Night One: All the players “sleep” aka close their eyes and God begins to assign roles. It depends on the number of people, but generally 1-3 are chosen to be Mafia. All other roles (check out the abridged list below) are also assigned.

Day One: God asks everyone to awaken briefly, and then asks if anyone has something to say. Mostly people don’t, but occassionally, someone will announce their role (or a fake one!)

Normal Night Phase: God asks each role to awaken one by one and they each do their action. Mafia select and agree on someone to kill, or to not kill at all.

Normal Day Phase: God awakens everyone, and tells a story of what happened the night before. Then the townspeople vote on who they want to hang.

Game Over: The game ends when an alignment wins. In the basic game, this means either all Mafia are dead (Innocents win!) or there are the same number of Mafia and Innocents are left (Mafia wins!)

That Sounds Simple, Now What?

Voting who to hang during the day phase

Once you’ve got the basic game down, it’s time to start adding in a few more roles. I’ve listed a couple of favorites in the order I think they should be added, but feel free to mess around with the entire list of roles here.

Guardian Angel: During the night, God awakens this role and they can choose one person to be saved from death that night.

Detective: During the night, God awakens this role and they choose one person to detect. God will then tell the detective what this person’s role and alignment is.

Lawyer: Similar to guardian angel, except the lawyer selects someone to be saved from hanging the next day phase.

Lover: This one is pretty fun to play with. The lover awakens the first night and selects a Beloved. The two are then connected. If one dies, the other dies the following night. They can only win if they are the only two players left in the game.

Woah woah, Roles and Alignments?

Yeah, that gets a little confusing, and sometimes I still use the wrong word, but there is a simple trick to remembering what is a role and what is an alignment.

Role: A role is something assigned to one person that allows them to do something during the night, such as kill, save, or detect. Roles have different rules, but each player with a role also has an alignment. Not all players have roles.

Alignment: This is something with a win condition. Mafia is an alignment. So is Innocent. Every player has an alignent – if one isn’t assigned, they are Innocent.

Would I Make a Good God?

Tip 1: Don’t fall asleep!

God can make or break a game of Mafia, so before you decide you want to play as this role, be sure you know what you’re getting yourself into. Here are a few tips to make the game run smoothly:

1. Stick to simple roles at first. If it’s your first game as God, play with just Mafia and maybe a Guardian Angel and Detective.

2. Pay attention to the game. It’s your job to announce when someone wins, so you better know what’s going on.

3. It’s about story-telling. If all your victims get hit by a bus, that’s boring. But if the player who is a chef in real life gets into an accident with a butcher knife, and the girl taking modeling classes has a tragic high heel moment, the game is far more interesting.

4. Keep track of what’s going on. Each night it’s your job to be sure the right person dies, or is saved.

5. Be sneaky. You don’t want it to be obvious that no one woke up when you told the Detective to, or everyone else will know that he’s out of the game.


It’s tough to come up with variations for a game that is already so variable, but there are a few different ways to play.

Online: Play in a chat room, and use private chats for private communication. God can communicate with each player individually more easily this way, but you lose the aspect of reading people’s faces and body-language.

Cards: Instead of playing with God assigning the roles, deal out cards to all the players, assigning certain cards to be certain roles.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. GeekInsight
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 11:48:26

    If you want a lot more roles, and some higher production values, you can take a look at Werewolves of Miller’s Hollow. Same basic game, except there is a village beset with werewolves.


    • GirlsAreGeeks
      Dec 14, 2010 @ 14:04:59

      Thanks for the tip. I think one of the best parts about Mafia, however, is that you don’t have to buy anything to play the game. It’s free entertainment, which is perfect for my college friends and me!



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