How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Mob

Our parallel Mafia games are winding down now; both games should be wrapped up by this weekend at the latest.

What happens in this game, is that there are two factions: Citizens and Mafia. The Citizens are trying to kill the Mafia, but do not know who they are. The Mafia are trying to kill the Citizens, but are severely outnumbered, so they try to complete their task without giving themselves away.

It’s as much a game of paranoia and deception as it is about trust and leadership.

The game goes back and forth between Day and Night phases. During the Day the table is open for discussion. People list suspicions, point fingers, make accusations. The Citizen’s goal during the Day is to suss out who among them is a Mafioso, and snuff them out. The Mafia’s goal during the Day is to act enough like Citizens they don’t get killed.

Once they’ve strung someone up, the game moves to Night. Citizens do not act at Night, but the Mafia silently picks someone to murder. Once they’ve done that, the sun rises and the whole rigamarole begins again.

Having played two of these games now, and experiencing a third vicariously, I’ve decided that our current ruleset is too stacked for the Citizens. In order to help with their information handicap, the following powers are distributed to random Citizens at the start of the game:

  • an Inspector, who at Night chooses someone to investigate, and in this way can identify Mafia;
  • an Oracle, who at Night is told the identity of the people killed;
  • a Vigilante, who at Night can make a kill in the same manner as the Mafia;
  • and two Angels, who at Night can each protect one person with their divine power.

The game starts out pretty wild: everyone jockeys for position, accusations based on nothing or less-than-nothing go flying, anyone with a superpower tries to keep it under wraps. The Citizens scramble to make a few kills, end up lynching their own. The Mafia start eliminating people. Things look bleak.

But then something happens: the Citizens with superpowers start identifying themselves, and what they know. The Inspector can not only finger Mafia, but also use his proven Citizens to build a voting bloc. This reduces the number of places the Mafia can hide during the day. The Vigilante can be directed, effectively giving the Citizens two kills per the Mafia’s one. And the Angels can shuffle their protection around, keeping these important players alive as long as possible.

As the game wears on, it becomes more and more apparent the Mafia aren’t going to win. And I believe this has been borne out in our three games so far.

There’s a lot of discussion on how to adjust the ruleset. For my part, I would like to see the Angels dramatically declawed: one shot of divine protection per game, rather than the infinity chances they have now. Useful in a pinch, but they cannot be relied on indefinitely.

Other suggestions I like include not relaying the identities of lynching victims to the Citizens, leaving them with far less information to work with. (Are there four Mafia left? Or five? Yes, this makes a big difference.) Or only listing a possible set of superpowers for the Citizens to have, rather than telling them for certain. Imagine a game with two Inspectors: “I’m the Inspector.” “No, I am!” “You’re obviously a Mafia plant! Get ‘im, guys!”

But then, the parallel games aren’t technically over yet. There exists the possibility that one of our guys has been Mafia all along and has just played us like a fiddle collection. I’d actually love to see that happen, if only because it would prove the game isn’t as broken as I observe it being.

Here’s looking forward to Mafia Round Three!

1 comment to How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Mob

  • Sounds cool, but I’m always terrible at games where you have you secretly pick sides and double-cross people while watching your own back. Maybe I’ll try it anyways.

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