Mafia is a party game created in the USSR by Dmitry Davidoff in 1986, modelling 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.
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. One third of the players (rounding to the nearest whole number) are mafiosi. First phase is “day”.
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.
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.
Play continues until all of the mafia has been eliminated, or until the mafia outnumbers the innocents.