Summary: A stationary group game involving lots of strategy. People play as a member of the mafia, police, or town. The object is eliminate the mafia before they eliminate the entire town.
Ages: 14 and up. Recommended number of people: A groups of 8 to 12. Messiness factor: No sweat. Materials required: A deck of cards to determine who plays which role. Recommended setting: Indoors.
This stationary game (originally invented by psychology student Dimitry Davidoff in Russia, 1986) is a popular group game involving strategy and bluffing. It is good for discussing topics such as lying, deception, trust, good versus evil, etc. or just for a fun time. There are five roles one can play: one narrator, two members of the mafia, two members of the police (or one the group is not large), one doctor, the remaining people are townspeople.
The narrator needs to prepare the right number of playing cards to set up the game. He or she takes out two aces (which represent mafia), two kings (which represent police), one queen (which represents the doctor), and several number cards (one for each of the remaining roles to be played). Therefore, if there are 12 people playing, there would be two aces, two kings, one queen, and seven number (non-face) cards, adding up to 12 cards. The narrator shuffles these cards and each person randomly selects a card, without revealing his or her identity. The person assumes the role for the round.
- Ace card: Anyone who gets an Ace card is a Mafia member. Their goal is to keep secret that they are Mafia and blend in with the Townspeople. For them to win the game, they want to eliminate the townspeople one by one each round but not to get eliminated (voted off) during the day.
- King card: Anyone who gets a King card is a member of the Police. These members try to figure out who is guilty of being a Mafia and who is innocent. Thus, their goal is to help the townspeople vote correctly in who to eliminate during the day (the good people, not the bad!). They generally want to keep their identity secret so that the Mafia cannot eliminate them early.
- Queen card: The doctor role. This optional (but recommended) role serves one purpose – to try to protect people during the night. He or she can also be selfish and choose to protect himself during the night.
- All other cards (number cards): Townspeople. Their goal is to figure out who is a member of the secret Mafia, and to eliminate them from the town during the day.
How to Play
Arrange the players in a circle, with the narrator outside the circle and walking around it. Each “day” of the game, the narrator takes the entire town through the following commands in this order:
- It is nighttime, so everyone please go to sleep.” (Everyone puts their head down and closes their eyes)
- “Mafia, please wake up.” (Only the mafia quietly opens their eyes. The ones that are still “alive” quietly and unanimously choose a person to eliminate by pointing to someone in the group. The narrator takes note of the person chosen.
- “Mafia, please go to sleep.” (The mafia closes eyes and places their heads down again.)
- “Police, please wake up.” (The member(s) of the police that are still alive open their eyes and quietly points to one person who they suspect is a member of the Mafia.
- The narrator quietly nods or shakes his or her head to indicate whether that person is indeed Mafia.
- “Police, please go to sleep.” (The member(s) of the police close their eyes and place their heads down.)
- “Doctor, please wake up and choose someone you’d like to protect.” (The doctor, if still alive, wakes up and silently points to someone they would like to protect for that day.)
- “Doctor, please go to sleep.” (The doctor closes his or her eyes and puts his/her head down.)
- “It’s morning. Everyone please wake up.” (Everyone opens their eyes and raises their head.)
2. Daytime Update
- The narrator announces the person who was eliminated, unless the doctor correctly selected the person who was targeted by the Mafia for the night. The person who was eliminated MUST quietly leave the circle. This person may not speak to anyone for the remainder of the entire game, but he or she may now keep his/her eyes open to watch everything.
3. Daytime Discussion/Voting
- The townspeople (along with the Mafia and Police who may pretend to be townspeople) then nominate and vote on people who they suspect is a Mafia. Each person nominated may make a defense and plead their case. The person receiving a majority vote (50% or above) is eliminated. After someone is voted off, the day is over. The day may also end without any eliminations if the entire group decides to do so. The day ends, and the pattern starts again (Nighttime, Daytime Update, Daytime Discussion/Voting).
How to Win
The police or townspeople win if they successfully eliminate all mafia members. The mafia win if they successfully eliminate all the townspeople. This group game involves lots of strategy, knowing how and when to reveal your identity, who to trust, etc.
A variation for younger kids is known as Predator. Instead of mafia, there are “predators,” and instead of police there are “hunters.” Usually three separate predators (lion, wolf, bear) are chosen and they are instructed to pick up their heads separately and kill someone (they sometimes kill each other). Also, rather than using cards, simply just tap them while their heads are down (“If I tap you now, you are the bear.”) It makes it easier for the kids to keep it a secret. (Thanks Sara!)
Many other variations exist for the game of Mafia. If you know some more good ones, please leave a comment and tell us!