Question for mafia game players and game designers

What in your opinions are the essential elements of mafia? What can be changed and altered without changing it into a new different game and what must be in a game if you are still going to call it mafia.

For context I am working on designing a game with Hoopy Frood and Rysto that is intended to be a fairly radical departure from traditional mafia. We are still in the very early planing stages, so I don’t want to say to much about it now, but I in some of my thinking about the game I started to wonder…what really is absolutely necessary and what can be changed?

Must there be teams? Must there be sides? Must there be roles? Must there be rules? How far can things be pushed away from the norm before it stops being mafia? And how far can they be pushed before it stops being a fun game?

I now fully expect this thread to sink like a stone.:stuck_out_tongue:

stands on soap box

Mafia is, for me, a game of “informed minority vs. uninformed majority”. As I believe either Blaster Master or storyteller pointed out, the scum use their information to trade for numbers, whereas the town use their numbers to trade for information. On top of that, however many sides are in a game, each side should have an approximately equal theoretical chance of winning.

I think we definitely pushed the envelope in the Bastard Mod game. Fundamentally the game was playable and fair, but the players were so convinced that we were going to screw with them more than we did, they were in danger of being paralyzed with indecision. (And you know my stance on the extra stuff we kept throwing in to “spice things up”, so I won’t repeat myself here.)

Similar to dotchan’s theory, I’d say the essentials of Mafia are information (gaining, exchanging, leveraging, etc) and elimination (lynching, killing, blocking, etc). The information available must increase as the game advances and the number of players must decrease. In terms of physics, the game goes from a high-entropy state to a low one, until the game crystallizes at a win condition. :slight_smile:

The game works best with two sides and maybe a few singletons. My Conspiracy rules push that, as our debates about how to handle/balance collusion between sides show. In the limit, I’ve sketched out some rules where everyone has exactly the same powers, but each has their own (secret) distinct victory conditions. Collusion becomes necessary to win.

Is this still Mafia? It follows my meta-rule of increasing information (barely) and decreasing players, so I’d say yes. But it plays very differently.

While I’ve yet to participate in an online Mafia game, I’ve played a few in real life (admittedly, more than 10 years ago–but not much more than 10) and I’ve read a number of the Mafia games on this site and a few off-site.

I think Mafia in general is not just a game of numbers vs. information, but it is also a game about human interactions and psychology. When is it ok to lie?

(Especially interesting playing with a College Christian Fellowship group-- one guy, I’ll call him Harry, was especially good at observing people and guessing which person would put what answers for games like 2 Truths and a Lie. Harry was a natural at identifying the Mafia people in our circle, but it made one wonder sometimes how he’d play if he ended up being Mafia. One day with just a half dozen of us playing, he asked questions of each person going around the circle until he had identified the Mafia player. We picked who was Mafia by passing around playing cards. Whoever got the Queen was Mafia. He started by asking each of us if we were Mafia. Then he’d ask if we would lie about it if we were. Then he asked if our card was red or black. Then he asked what the number on the card was. . . Stuff like that. He’d spend a lot of time looking at us. I don’t think he was ever wrong about who was Mafia that morning.)

How do you establish trust between yourself and others? If someone responds differently how do you know whether they are trying something different because their former playstyle hasn’t worked or because they are hiding something.

In someways, the Batman game was very interesting to read, because there was so much stuff people could talk about beyond the mechanics of an ordinary game. Due to good game design and the depth of Canon, there was a lot of interesting discussion about the likelihood that someone’s role claim made sense or not.

It was also interesting because of the number of self-imposed post restrictions. I’m not entirely in favor of the number of secret win conditions that existed in that game–although I no longer recall why they bothered me.* Perhaps largely due to their effect on the replayability of the game? I don’t know. I thought at the time of it’s conclusion that it would be interesting to see a replay of Batman which was Semi-Open–as in people would be able to re-read Batman the first to see what kind of players and secret win conditions and secret powers players had had the first time, but the mods would have tweaked the details of many players win conditions, and perhaps a few alignments, and maybe given a few new disguises to the Do-Gooders

*Oh, I recall–it was the whole Playing For Keeps debacle that bugged me. As I recall, the mods wanted the Malicious PFKs dead for the Baddies(Town) to win. But not so much the Non-Malicious PFKs. But it was hard for people to tell the difference, and some of that was due to the exact wording of the win condition. At least I think that’s what bugged me.

I don’t know if any of that is helpful, but maybe it will help you to get other people to post their thoughts.

Very helpfull actually. All the responses have been so far. Getting different perspectives on the same idea is good, so I hope more people respond. I don’t want to say more right now because I want to see what others have to say. Hopefully others do have thoughts.

Must there be teams? Yes. While you can have a few roles that play individually (SK, survivor) the way to catch Mafia resides primarily in analyzing interactions between players. The only true impediment to “acting town” for a mafioso is the idea that they cannot honestly look for scum, as they already know who the scum are. Without that basic tell, you cannot infer affiliation.
Must there be sides?* Yes, in that there must be at least two exclusive win conditions for the game to be non-trivial. The only alternative I can see is if all the mafia were sock puppets run by the mod, and all the human players are town…or something. That doesn’t seem very interesting.

Must there be roles? Beyond win condition? No. You could have a flavorless vanilla game, sure. 8-9 town versus 2 scum as a baseline. It would get old fast, but you could do it.

*Must there be rules? *Yes, although most rules can be tweaked or ignored. The existence of rules is the definition of a game. Even Fluxx has rules.

*How far can things be pushed away from the norm before it stops being mafia? * There is a great deal of design space available, and much of it has not been mined here. I think one key element is to limit exploration to one or two areas, and keep the rest par with expectations.

And how far can they be pushed before it stops being a fun game? Fun has to be an overriding concern. A guy named Milos ran a game which pitted 4 mafias against each other, no town or SK. By the dawn of day two, it was apparent what was going on, and it was massively unfun. Another guy ran a game where he unexpectedly reanimated every dead player on day 5. With several confirmed townies and 3 auto-lynches, the rest of the game was trivial to solve.

You have to give serious consideration to the effect of a big change like that from a player perspective. My attitude lately is that each mafia game is so varied just from flavor and having different players involved, that making sweeping changes is unnecessary, and actually detracts from the overall experience. Examples:

Recruitment - I am against recruitment. Fundamentally, it is unfun, as it punishes good play. Consider a townie who has been instrumental in the lynches of two scum. They get recruited, but by a side which by definition is close to losing, and now that townie is punished for all their accurate reads.

Multiple scum groups: Unfun. Why? Because you remove the town’s best weapon of analysis. If there are two scum groups, each can hunt the other and be truly, honestly townie. It is very, very difficult to pick out scum from a town perspective in that scenario.

Excess abilities: Unfun. It’s critical to include a large number of lynchable townie, at least equal to the number fo scum, and probably higher. It doesn’t matter how much you buff the mafia if it’s nearly impossible to lynch anyone but scum.

I’d be happy to talk privately about your ideas if you want a sanity check. There’s also another mafia-eque game called clans that a friend of mine invented. You might find it interesting.

I will send you a PM in a bit. Thanks.

Based on chess variants, I think you need to exercise caution.

Building on what others have said, Mafia is only fun if there are clear objectives, not too many complications and increasing amounts of information.

The clear and present danger is that game designers have ‘fun’ for themselves, without thinking about it from the players’ point of view.
I suspect you’re planning to have lots of secrets from the players (e.g. new roles + factions), and that these will not be enjoyed as much as you wish. :eek:

I agree with Pleo on information vs. numbers.

I think the essential characteristics of Mafia are Town (open) side, with numbers, and Mafia (hidden) side with coordination, pitting the lynch against the nightkill.

You can go a lot of different directions, add more sides, add more layers, roles, etc., but I think if you don’t have a large Town groups lynch vs. a smaller Scum groups nightkill as the core mechanic, then you don’t have Mafia. Not to say that you might not have an interesting game, but it wouldn’t be Mafia, IMO.


I myself recently fell into this trap with my most recent game. Bad all around. It could have been fun, but at the end of the Day I think it wasn’t really fun for anybody. Well, that isn’t true. I don’t think it was really fun for any of the players who lived past the first couple of rounds. Dot and Rapier42 can probably back me up on that one.

Not a whole lot is being planned yet. But I will keep that and your “clear and present danger” in mind. There is a fundamental idea that has been established and everything else is sort of flowing from that. It’s sort of a “What if” senario. This basic “what if” that is being proposed is just enough of a departure that when I started to really think about it, it kind of tweaked my brain a bit. So I figured I would get some thoughts from outside observors and see what they had to say.

I should underline that this is not actually my game. I have myself been brought on as an outsider. For better or worse I am just lending a hand. Heck, I am not even doing the heavy lifting in terms of game design on this one. But I figure that this is an interesting conversation anyway and I can put it all to use later.

I think one of the things about Mafia is that the hosts try to ramp things up each time. People don’t always want to be vanilla town, and hosts don’t want to re-use the same power roles every game. That’s one thing that I think backfired on me when I was hosting my game on the other board. I wanted to try and make it unique and stand out from the other games so I messed around with things hoping it would be memorable. But it’s not really about what roles going into a game that make it memorable, it’s how the players play the roles. And Person A playing a normal cop is different from Person B playing a normal cop.

As for your latest game, if you’re talking about the Gastard game I enjoyed it, but I enjoy puzzles. I guess I didn’t enjoy it as a Mafia game, I enjoyed it more as solving a puzzle and trying to figure out what the mods were up to. :smiley: Well, I also enjoyed it as a Mafia game too I suppose. I really liked my role. :smiley:

Glad you enjoyed it. Most of the feedback I heard was…not negative, but not really positive either. I liked making the puzzle of a game. Personally I was hoping that it would have enough meat to it that people who liked puzzles would try and solve the game, and enough fun weird that people who just wanted to kick back and enjoy a strange game would be able to do that too. KidV (Rapier on this board) Blocky and Dotchan were awesome to work with. If anyone has a chance to work with them in the future I strongly suggest taking it. I think we sort of missed what we were aiming for with that one, mostly because the game ran too long. If it had ended on Day 6 I think it would have been better. Next time.

I think I agree about the uniqueness angle too. Some of the best games here have been surprisingly simple.

I hope I didn’t come over as snarky. :o
I realise that you’re trying to make an interesting alternative.

The problem with changing Mafia is that there is already a lot of hidden information and no clear way to play - mainly attempts to analyse other people’s posts for hidden meanings.
New players often struggle with this (understandably).
If you bring in new rules, everyone becomes a ‘new’ player…

Although I’ve played a couple of Mafia games, I’m now fully committed to roleplaying. If you want to let me know your new fundamental idea, I’ll keep it secret, but give you my thoughts.

For comparison, the last rule-change in chess was about 600 years ago!

Well, actually it’s my game he’s referring to. I’ve announced a preliminary thing about it on the offsite board, so it’s not particularly secret, but I think because some of the things we want to try will work best on the SD boards rather than the off board site, we’re probably going to run it here, which is why naf was being a bit vague. It’s not mafia in the traditional sense. There will be no sides and no factions except for what the players themselves make. It’s a last man standing setup. The idea is if you don’t work with your fellow players, it is unlikely you will win. But, if you trust your fellow players implicitly, they will no doubt backstab you at some point. So it’s almost more of a game of politicking rather than Mafia. And naturally, some people will have roles that are stronger in power than others. But the idea is that the overall distribution of roles ends up where no one is at too much of a disadvantage or advantage. Anyone player should be able to win it if they play well. Also, one thing that can happen in mafia is a series of bad luck can directly affect the game for the rest of it’s length. This game being more freeform in what the players can do, can (hopefully) rebalance after the start as players begin to find out more and turn against those who they view as too powerful.

The roles will be pretty much variations of the normal Mafia roles, but alignment won’t figure into it. The stronger a role, the less of them in the distribution. Every role can be a benefit and a threat for every other player out there. It’s up to the players to determine how to best use their roles and their fellow players’ roles to win the game. The only information anyone starts out at the beginning is their role and the fact that everyone is ultimately their enemy. Where they go from there is up to them. And there’ll be plenty of opportunity for people to discover who their fellow players are. However, for most to do that, they will also be exposing themselves.

Don’t worry glee. I knew where you were coming from. I was being vague too, partly because it’s really not my game (It’s hoopy’s, as he said), partly because the game is in the very early planning stages, and partly because I want to be able to use this conversation as a grounding point for future games that I will work on and don’t want it to get too bogged down in the details of the one game that prompted the questino.

I would be interested in what you have to say about the basic set up once we have things shaken out and the fundementals are in place. I have a lot of respect for your knowledge of games and game theory.

Something else to consider: how much of the rules do the players know at the beginning of the game?

This has a huge effect on how the game is played. If the roles are known, and how they interact, players can formulate tactics in advance. If roles are not known, players will have to be much more cautious.

As a more tactical player, I prefer open rules. But a few unknowns can add some excitement.

It’s a good question. I have been thinking a mostly open setup, but I don’t think we have actually talked about it yet. But we should. Assumptions are bad when collaborating.

Just my tuppence worth from a newcommer to all of this mafia malarky. I think others hit it on the head with the key elements being a larger group without information pitted against a smaller group who have information, and the tools being lynching, night kills and interaction (which is the point of the game).

What hoopyfrood described sounds like some cross between free form Diplomacy, a balloon debate and Big Brother. I am not saying that is a bad thing , but it does not have the team aspects of mafia where trust and interaction can have a reward. With the game described above, trust will always end up biting you. It is possible the lack of teams and common goal may lead to a less friendly game.
All in though it sounds like a fun idea, just not mafia.

I think jsexton’s post sums it up for me, especially regarding recruitment. There are so many reasons why recruitment is not as fun.

I would like to see a game with a bit of a role-playing aspect to it as well, that makes it easy to stay in character. I know some people will do that anyway, but it would be cool to have a game where everyone is expected to do so.

I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed playing the Gastard game, even when I thought I had no chance of winning, which was for most of it. I wouldn’t want every Mafia game to be like that, but it was kind of a nice break from super-serious Mafia. It was like having a party where everybody kept dying in fun and cool ways.

I’d also like to think I’m not a total Mafia newb now, which makes me happy. The current off-board game is my 6th or 7th. I think my mafia record is missing a game. Anybody recall which one had me and RoOsh at each others throats at the end? I wanna say it was RoOsh’s first game on the SDMB, but I could be wrong.

Honestly, when I first saw your idea my first reaction was that it was a mix of Survivor and Mafia. I know I tried to get a Survivor game started a while ago here on the Straight Dope but there wasn’t enough interest to get a full game going. It’s not a bad idea and I’d be interested in it, but it’s stretching the name of Mafia a bit. To me, it’d be more like playing a game of Survivor with special powers than a game of Mafia. Alliances, backstabbing, etc.

I think that was Simpletown, but I could be wrong. It was either that or the made-for-new-people game that somebody hosted.