The Mafia party game presents a conflict between the Mafia – the informed minority – and the Innocents – the uninformed majority. Originated by Dmitry Davidoff of the USSR in 1986, this popular game has many variations and can be played by a group of seven or more people. For very large groups, we suggest adding additional characters.
The game has two phases; night, when the Mafia might secretly “murder” an innocent, and “day” when Innocents vote to eliminate a Mafiosi suspect. The game ends when all the Mafia members are eliminated or there are more Mafia members than Innocents.
There are many variations of the game, some of which we have included below. Realistically, the minimum number of players needed to play is seven (5 Innocents against 2 Mafia). The basic version described here requires a deck of cards and works best with between twelve and twenty-four players.
Table of Contents
Begin the Game
- Select a Moderator
This should be someone who knows the rules and has played the game before if possible.
- Choose Players
The Moderator divides the deck of cards as follows:
- A king – the Detective
- A queen – the Doctor
- Cards of one suit (such as hearts) for Mafia members – one for every three Innocents
- Miscellaneous cards (no hearts) for the Innocents
- The Moderator may either assign additional roles or have players draw cards designated as being for a particular part, i.e. Jack of Spades for the Magician.
- Shuffle and Deal the Cards
The Moderator shuffles the cards and then deals them out so that each person has a card. Players are not to show their cards to anyone else.
- Time to “Sleep”
The Moderator begins the night cycle by having all players close their eyes and put down their heads. After everyone is “asleep,” the Moderator instructs the Mafia to wake up and choose a victim. At this time, the Mafia members will be able to see all their fellow members. They pick a victim by gesturing silently. Players may gently tap their fingers to disguise any noise made. They tell the Moderator their decision by pointing to him or her. Then the Mafia “sleeps” again until “morning.”
- Awaken the Detective
While everyone else is still asleep, the Moderator wakes up the Detective, who points to someone they suspect is a member of the Mafia. If the Detective is correct, that Mafia member is eliminated from the game. If not, the Detective now knows the identity of an innocent. The Detective then goes back to “sleep.”
- Awaken the Doctor
Next, the Moderator wakes up the Doctor who will choose a person to save by silent pointing. The Doctor can choose to save himself and thus survive the night. If the Doctor chooses another player and that individual is chosen by the Mafia to be killed, nothing will happen to the victim – they are “saved.” If the Doctor is chosen for death by the Mafia, he is out of the game and the townspeople can no longer be saved.
The Day Cycle
- Time to Awaken
The Moderator tells the players to open their eyes and then announces who “died” the previous night.
- Hold Discussions
The players discuss recent events. Players do not show their cards, but try to convince others they have a certain role. If the discussion reaches a point where a player has a suspicion, the game moves on to the accusation.
- Make an Accusation
Whoever has a suspicion may accuse another player of being a member of the Mafia. This accusation must be seconded by another player. Additionally, the accuser must explain the reason behind the accusation. Other players may then tell if they believe the accusation is just.
- Defend the Accused
Any player who feels the accusation is unjust may choose to defend the accused. If desired, this can be done as a trial, with the accused presenting a fictional alibi and even accusing other players. In some versions of the game, the defense if conducted by a player designated as the Lawyer.
- The Vote
The Moderator calls for a vote and players indicate whether they believe the accused is guilty or not. It may be required that the vote be anonymous or not.
- The Verdict
If it is not decided that the accused is not guilty, accusations begin again. Again there is a defense and vote. This continues until a player is declared guilty and leaves the game. If the majority voted the initial accused player guilty, the night round begins again.
Although the only roles that are absolutely necessary are that of the Moderator and the Mafia, others can be added. The number of roles assigned is dependent on the desire of the group and the number of players.
- The Mafia
These players determine who will be killed. They also know the identities of their teammates.
- The Innocents
Also known as the “townspeople,” these players only know the number of Mafiosi in the game. There are fewer Innocents than Mafia members.
- The Moderator
This individual plays an extremely important and significant role in the game. They may choose player roles, create stories about how victims were killed, and moderate the game play, making sure rules are followed.
- The Detective – an Innocent who learns the team of one player every night
- The Doctor – an Innocent may protect a player or him/herself from being killed each night
- The Barman – a Mafia member who may cancel the effect of another player’s ability every night
- The Vigilante – an Innocent who may kill a player every night
- The Magician – on the side of the Innocents; can choose to kill one person who they suspect is Mafia each night or can save one person from being lynched by signaling to the Moderator; can do each of things only once
- The Lycan – an Innocent or a Mafioso; appear to be Mafia during the night; this role helps the Mafia; if killed, they are revealed to be a Mafia member.
- The Peeping-Tom – allowed to open their eyes at any moment; knows who is who in the game; very likely to be killed for this knowledge
- The Grandma with a Shotgun – an innocent who visits during the night and kills any player they wish; if investigated by the Detective, they die, but if the Mafia attempts to kill her, a random Mafia is killed; cannot be killed by the Mafia; no one knows if deaths are caused by her or another player
- Cupid and the Lovers – Cupid is on the innocent team and picks two people to be the Lovers the first night, one of whom dies immediately; the other dies of a broken heart. Alternatively, the Lovers can be awakened by the Moderator during the first night and told of their roles. If one is a victim, the other dies also.
- The Informant – gets to know who the Mafia is but their identity remains unknown. During the first night cycle, the Moderator lets the Informant see who the Mafia members. The Mafia members keep their eyes closed and raise their hands. The Informant helps the Innocents, but need to do so secretively or is likely to be killed.
- The Armor – this player cannot be killed by Mafia and only be voted off
- The Bandit – has not voting power; knows who the Mafia is; works to aid the Mafia
- The Lawyer – chooses someone to defend; that person cannot be voted out the following morning
- Rambo – able to throw a “grenade” at someone and kill that person and the two people sitting on either side
- The Bus Driver – can blindly change two player’s roles
- The Other (Alien) – Looks like an innocent. Awakens after the Doctor and Mafia have finished their parts. If the Alien is picked for killing, the Moderator advises the Other secretly. At this point, the Other attempts to be hung. If successful, the Other stays in the game (or wins). If hung before activation, the other is out of the game.
- A variation that provides fun and creativity, instead of accusations and discussions taking place during the day cycle, the Moderator tells a made-up story. If the innocent was killed, the story tells who was killed and how without (of course) revealing the killer. If the innocent was saved, the Moderator tells how and the extent of their injuries.
- At Halloween, you can play the games with Vampires or Werewolves instead of Mafia members.
- For very large groups, try having two teams of Mafiosi that compete.
Make the game more difficult by not allowing the Mafia to communicate at night. During the night cycle, the Mafia all shut their eyes and the Moderator says the names of the Innocents. Mafia members raise their hands if an innocent’s name is mentions who they wish to have killed. If half or more of the Mafia members vote for the same person, that innocent becomes the victim. If not, then no one is killed that night.
Mafia Game Rules
- Avoid random accusations in the first round, but use this round to assess players’ behavior.
- Watch for players who seen to know other players as they may be Mafia members. Remember: They have seen each other’s faces.
- Increase the number of characters if you have many players.
- The Moderator should keep a written record of the game play to keep track of characters and activity.
- Mafia members can use the strategy of voting off other Mafia embers to avoid suspicion.
- Give a certain amount of time – 5 to 15 minutes – for players to converse secretly before the discussion. Players cannot show cards, but can try to convince others of their innocence.
Mafia Game Tips:
- Try sitting in a circle around a table in a totally quiet room to add a touch of realism to the game. Remember: Getting into the game is what makes it fun.
- Players should attempt to remember accusations, supportive actions, etc. so when it comes time to decide who is Mafia, they will have some information to draw upon.
- The “days” are usually longer than the “nights” because of discussions, trials, and voting.
- For a more balanced game, have the Moderator pick out the Mafia members and other roles based upon the age and experience level of the players.
Add excitement by not having players show their cards when they die, but only at the end of the game. This way, Innocents do not know how many Mafia members are still in the game.
When the game has ended, it is run to talk about strategies used. Additionally, those who are eliminated will find watching the game is fun. Next time you have a party, try the Mafia Game for an entertaining evening.
Susan majored in English with a double minor in Humanities and Business at Arizona State University and earned a Master’s degree in Educational Administration from Liberty University. She taught grades four through twelve in both public and private schools. Subjects included English, U.S. and world history and geography, math, earth and physical science, Bible, information technologies, and creative writing.
Susan has been freelance writing for over ten years, during which time she has written and edited books, newspaper articles, biographies, book reviews, guidelines, neighborhood descriptions for realtors, Power Point presentations, resumes, and numerous other projects.