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Mafia is a party game modeling a conflict between an informed minority (the mafia) and an uninformed majority (the innocents). At the start of the game each player is secretly assigned a role affiliated with one of these teams. The game has two alternating phases: "night", during which the mafia may covertly "murder" an innocent, and "day", in which surviving players debate the identities of the Mafiosi and vote to eliminate a suspect. Play continues until all of the mafia has been eliminated, or until the mafia outnumbers the innocents.
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Gameplay in Details
In its simplest form Mafia is played by two teams: the mafia, whose members know each other's identity, and the innocents (a.k.a. "civilians," "townspeople," "village," "town," etc.), who at first know only the number of mafiosi in the game. Live games require a moderator who does not participate as a player.
There are two phases: "night," when the mafia may eliminate a player from the game, and "day," during which players vote to "lynch" (eliminate) a suspect. These phases follow each other continuously until all mafiosi have been eliminated or the mafia outnumbers the innocents.
Some players may be given a role with a special ability. Common examples include:
the detective: an innocent who may "investigate" a player each night, learning that player's role from the moderator.
the doctor: an innocent who may protect a player from killing roles each night.
the barman: a mafioso who may cancel the effect of another role's ability each night.
the vigilante: an innocent who may kill a player every night.
All players close their eyes. The moderator then instructs all members of the mafia to open their eyes and acknowledge their accomplices. They pick a "victim" by silently gesturing to indicate their target and to show unanimity, and then close their eyes again.
A similar process occurs for other roles with nightly actions. In the case of the detective, the moderator may indicate the target's innocence or guilt by using gestures such as nodding or head shaking.
Night may be accompanied by players tapping gently to mask sounds made by gesturing.
The moderator instructs players to open their eyes and announces who "died" the previous night. According to some rules the role of the murdered player is revealed, while according to others it is not. Dead players may not attempt to influence the game.
Discussion ensues. At any point a player may accuse someone of being a mafioso and prompt others to vote to lynch him. If over half of the players do so, the accused person is eliminated, his role is revealed, and night begins. Otherwise, the phase continues until a lynching occurs.
Because players have more freedom to deliberate, days tend to be longer than nights.
The naming of various roles, factions, and other elements of play is theme-dependent and has limitless variation. Common alternative themes restyle the mafia as werewolves, cultists, assassins, or witches, with other roles being renamed appropriately.
These additional roles are named differently in the many versions of Mafia, for thematic flavor, or historical reasons. Also, the same role-name can have differing functions across different versions of the game. What follows is a general list of role types found in Mafia variants; since the specific names vary by milieu it must be non-exhaustive.
Players with these roles use their own night-phase to discover something about other players. Though the standard game now includes the basic Detective, these roles are optional, and games can exclude them entirely
Investigative roles (standard)
—Detective, Seer, Commandant, Sheriff, etc.
Allied with the Innocents, the Detective can detect whether a player is a mafioso. They will typically wake up, and point at one person; the Narrator will silently indicate to the Detective whether that player is Mafia or Innocent. In some versions of the game, the Detective's investigation result is announced publicly by the Narrator, for example the Detective found a Mafioso!. More commonly, no announcement is made. As with other roles, which player is the detective is not generally known, leaving anyone the option of pretending to be the Detective.
A Detective is usually included in modern games. For example, somebody is always assigned this role in all commercial card game versions, and almost all internet-based, and most face-to-face games start with at least one detective. Multiple detectives either act in separate night phases (unaware of the identities of other detectives) or work together as the police (an association role).
Investigative roles (less common)
—Psychic, Wizard, Fortune Teller, Oracle, etc.
Psychic, Psychologist, or Sorcerer-type investigators can determine other players' roles, rather than their alignments. Roles which detect other roles are usually implemented in the same way as the Detective's ability to determine alignment. For example: the Psychologist points to a player (at night) for a Thumbs-up from the moderator if the Vigilante is pointed to. A Tracker may see what someone's night action was, or the target of their action.
Information revealed to investigators is fallible (in more complicated variants). Online versions can give information with a confidence level, and in other variants the Narrator deceives the Detective by showing all players as Innocent, all as Guilty, giving reversed results, or random information (these can be termed as Naive, Paranoid, Insane, or Random respectively). Additionally, some Alignment roles give immunity to successful investigation.
In some games, there are Mafia Detectives, who have the power of a normal detective but are on the Mafia side. The Super Commandant has the standard power of a Detective, while also protecting the investigated from night-time attack.
—Witness, Child, Little Girl, etc.
Instead of having to investigate, some innocent roles give complete information on the entire mafia: The witness is told who the mafia are during the first night, while the mafia are not told the witness's identity (differing from the stool pigeon in not being a part of the mafia).
The Little Girl in Werewolf and Werewolves of Miller's Hollow is allowed to secretly peek and watch as the werewolves choose their victim; if discovered doing so by the Werewolves, she dies of fright.
—Guardian Angel, Doctor, Bodyguard, Hero, etc.
Allied with the Innocents, the Doctor-type role defends others at night. Typically, they will awaken at night after the Mafia have gone back to sleep and point at one person to protect; that person will survive any night-time attack.They are typically allowed to protect themselves, and are commonly barred from protecting the same target on successive nights. A Guardian Angel can only protect others. The Nurse gains the Doctor's abilities if the Doctor dies. The Firefighter, or the Herbalist can protect from some night-time attacks but not others (in Werewolf, for example, they choose one person to protect with wolfsbane, but that person may still be killed by the Serial Killer). Other games limit this ability to a certain number of times.
—Vigilante, Hunter, Bomb, Woodcutter, etc.
Aside from Mafia, Werewolves, and Serial Killers (solitary guilty parties), the Innocents may have some roles with the ability to kill at night. The Vigilante is an innocent who kills every night, in his own night-time phase, in some variations, having a limited bullet supply for the entire game. Some variations introduce a time limit of two nights before the player in the Killing Role can exercise his right to kill again. The Bomb may only trigger if targeted at night (not necessarily for death) by another role. Variants exist where this person can kill during the daytime cycle (e.g., the Terrorist / Gravedigger), sometimes only if executed during the daytime. The Woodcutter or Hunter can take one other person with them whenever they die.
—Miller, Godfather, Alpha Wolf, Wildcard, etc.
Some roles can fool investigations to determine their alignments: the Miller is an Innocent who appears guilty (usually because they are an outsider); the Godfather, on the other hand, appears innocent despite being the Mafia leader. The Alpha Wolf or Master Werewolf have the same role as the Godfather in Werewolf settings.
—Traitor, Possessed, Undercover Cop, Godfather, etc.
The Traitor is not a mafioso (in that he does not awake at night and is not revealed as a mafioso by Detective type roles), but works to protect them and hamper the town during the day cycle, and wins only with a Mafia victory. Conversely, the Undercover Cop is a mole within the Mafia group who acts with the Mafia but wins with the innocents. The stool pigeon may be the only optional role in play, and makes up one of the few modern game forms to be played without an investigative role.
Distinct from the alignment-role Godfather, the double-agent Godfather behaves as a standard mafioso, but wakes again (after the Mafia sleep) to perform an extra kill. This Godfather-role wins only if he survives.
—Role-blocker, Bus Driver, Thief, Barman, etc.
These roles can stop or alter the night actions of others; for instance, they may prevent a protection or investigation from occurring, or they may change the target. The Role-blocker can block the Vigilante for a night, while the Thief, Prostitute or Hypnotizer might be able to disable the powers of any selected target.[Note 15]
When the thief is used in Werewolves, an additional townsfolk card is added before dealing, and the Thief may choose on the first night to steal the role of another player or to take the unused role card. The player whose role was stolen gets the unused role card and the Thief card is discarded.
—Godfather, Psychiatrist, Piper, Cult Leader, etc.
The Mafia Godfather may be able to recruit innocent players into his faction under certain circumstances. The Yakuza is a regular mafia player with an extra power: they may sacrifice themselves from the second night (during the night) and choose an innocent to join the mafia.
Each night, the scientist selects a player to cure; if a mafioso is cured, they awaken as an innocent. The Psychiatrist is an innocent with the ability to convert the Serial Killer into a normal innocent.
Cult Leaders recruit followers at night instead of kill; they act as an independent faction, usually with the ability to talk at night. The Piper wins by charming every surviving player; she charms players at night, who then know each other (but not the piper) but are otherwise unaffected.
—Freemasons (Masons), Siblings, Lovers, Police, etc.
Possessors of these roles know one another and what their roles are. On the innocent's side, a Mason usually has no special abilities, but knows the identity of all other Masons and that all Masons are also innocent. Every member of the detectives or the police knows all the rest, because they collaborate at night to investigate someone (sharing the powers of the Detective role between them).
Sibling pairs typically consist of one Mafia and one Innocent; if one dies, both die. Cupid in Werewolves chooses a pair of Lovers on the first night. In this variant, the Lovers can also win the game (regardless of whether they are Mafia, Innocents, or both) by being the last two standing. In most versions, if one Lover is killed the other dies immediately.
—Doublevoter, Priest, Rabble Rouser, Lawyer, etc.
Until the Rabble Rouser dies there are two lynchings per day.
In some games there are players who can change the vote count. Some players have 2 votes (Doublevoter); some players can only cast the final vote to kill a player (Actor); cannot vote to lynch (Voteless Innocent);must delegate someone else to vote for them (Fool), or require one fewer vote to lynch (Hated Innocent). The Priest cannot place the final vote (this role is not necessarily the same as the Reanimation-role priest). The lawyer selects someone during the night, and if that person tops the lynching vote the next day, saves them (a different lawyer role releases the wills written by players killed up to that point, when she dies).
—Mayor, Judge, Sheriff, President, etc.
This role is taken in addition to the assigned role, and it endows the player with additional, overt, powers (particularly during the daytime). Empowerment can be random, but is usually made by vote. For instance, the Mayor or Sheriff can be elected each morning, and gain two lynching votes,or a Judge could moderate discussion in parliamentary fashion (to the advantage of their team). The elected President has the sole lynching vote.
—Murr, Drunk, Village Idiot, Teenage Werewolf, etc.
This may be a secondary role, taken in addition to the assigned role. However, it has the opposite effect, giving the bearer a handicap, like speaking only gibberish in the case of the Village Drunk, etc.
Alternatively, it may be a standard role with a particular constraint, such as the teenage werewolf, who must say the word werewolf at least once each day.
—Silencer, Dentist, etc.
The Dentist may select any other player at night, and prevent them speaking during the following day. The Silencer is a mafioso with the identical power, except that they may not silence the same player on successive days. The silenced individual wakes in the morning and is immediately instructed not to talk until the end of the day. They can still raise their hand to vote in live games, but being silenced in online games typically prevents any postings, including that needed to vote.
—Dark Background, Priest, Medium, Coroner, etc.
The dark background roles are standard (mafia or innocent) except for revealing a deceptive alignment when killed. The M.E. gathers information from the killings that can help the innocents, while the Priest learns about the alignment of the dead in the same way that the Detective learns about the living.The Medium can interrogate dead players. While the coroner survives, the narrator will explain the means of death in all night kills.
—Reviver, Governor, Martyr, Witch, etc.
Revivers and Master Revivers are able to resurrect dead players, Master Revivers can bring the revived into their association (e.g., the Masons: see Association roles). The players resurrected by a Necromancer are converted to the Necromancer's alignment; those revived by the voodooist join a separate zombie group. The Governor can reprieve those killed during the daytime, as can the Martyr if he sacrifices himself. The Witch has a (single-use) revival potion. At night, she's shown who will die in the morning, and can choose to save them.
—Bulletproof, Oracle, Elder, etc.
The Bulletproof innocent is invulnerable at night, though usually with limits; for example, the Elder will survive the first night attack, but not the second.
The Oracle has an investigative role similar to a Seer but also has the power to talk when inactive (talking in a sleep phase is usually a rule infraction).
—Baker, Village Idiot, Cobbler, etc.
The baker is on the side of the innocents. During the night, the baker gives one player a loaf of bread, potentially revealing his identity. If the baker dies, the innocents have just three nights to dispose of the mafia, or the innocents starve, and the mafia win. The Cobbler,Village Idiot, or Jester has the objective of convincing the town to kill him, or is required to vote in favor of all proposed lynchings. Sometimes, successful lynching of the Village Idiot results in the mafia being able to kill two people that night.
Additional variations exist, sometimes with even more specialized or complicated abilities. There are many special roles, and many moderators design novel roles for each game. Some commercial variants ship with blank cards to allow this customization.