Mafia Card Game: How to Play

Translated from French by Steve ThorsTen (2019)

Dimitry Davidoff created Mafia in 1986 when he was studying psychology at the University of Moscow. According to him, inspiration struck him when he was studying the works of Lev Vygotsky. As you can see, that’s not a ‘traditional game,’ as some people tend to say. Not quite, because Dimitry Davidoff is still the owner of the game and he hasn’t released the game rights to anyone.

The main principle of the game is very easy to follow. It’s about finding who the players are and who the killers are – plain and simple. To determine this, each player has to rely on multiple tools in their arsenal, but it’s the ability to judge characters that are in the essence of the entire game. Yet, psychology is not to be trusted on all occasions.

The game was brought to other countries by exchange students who studied with Dimitry Davidoff and this is how Mafia gained the recognition it enjoys today.

In 1997, Andrew Plotkin adapted the game creating a new theme: the so-called Werewolf version of the game. He published it with the help of Looney Labs. Of course, most of these games were developed for solely commercial purposes – to turn a quick profit, simple as that. Two versions appeared, one in 2001 and one in 2003.

The games that have been developed following the model of Mafia/Werewolf are usually called ‘roleplaying games’.

Basic Rules

A player is chosen to serves as the narrator or master of the game. The narrator won’t participate directly in the game but he will be responsible for the development of the game and must remain completely impartial all throughout the game. The narrator then distributes a card to each player which will determine the role of the player, i.e. a mafioso, a guardian angel or a villager. Each player will then see their role and keep it to themselves.

Each round has two phases – day and night. The narrator will determine when a new phase begins.

The Night

The leader of the game announces the beginning of the night and all players will close their eyes, placing the card face down before themselves.

  • The mafioso – or killer – will reveal himself. Then they pick a victim. Once they have pointed out the victim, they close the eyes again.
  • Then, the narrator asks the guardian angels to reveal themselves. Then the angels start looking for the killers. The narrator will nod their head to confirm or deny whether a player is a killer. Once this is done, the guardians close their eyes.

There are special roles to consider which can be played during the first night or at a specific designated point in the game.

The Day

Every player opens their eyes. Then the narrator tells who has been killed. The player who has been singled out and killed will return his or her card to the narrator and he will be eliminated. He or she can then keep their eyes open but they cannot communicate with other people. Once this has been done, the survivors can try and guess who has the killers are. It’s possible for a person to publicly state that they are a killer – or a mafioso, but they may be lying.

Once the survivors pick a possible killer, they will start debating whether he is guilty. Each player will take a turn on whether someone is a killer. Once this is done, the narrator will ask the defendant – and a designated killer – to plead his case once again. Once this is done, the survivors will vote by raising a hand whether they think that the person is guilty.

If the majority of players agree that the person is guilty, then that person is executed. The player returns his card and is eliminated. If he’s acquitted, he cannot be accused of another time on the same day. The day goes on with another execution and another accusation.

The game continues until either camp – that of survivors or Mafiosi – is completely eliminated.

Questions and Answers Regarding the Owner Rights About the Game

Questions (FH) and answers (DD):

FH: Is Mafia a traditional game, as written in the booklet of "Werewolves of Thiercelieux"?

DD: Mafia is not a traditional game, the Loups-garous booklet is misleading.

FH: Is Mafia in the public domain?

DD: Mafia is not in the public domain.

FH: Is Mafia copyleft?

DD: Mafia is available for personal use, and is being licensed for commercial projects.

FH: Can everyone create a "free" version of Mafia or Werewolf and sell it?

DD: There is no "free version of Mafia" for commercial products, one is supposed to get a license for that.

FH: Is Andrew Plotkin the author of Werewolf?

DD: Andrew Plotkin is the author of a Werewolf game website, which was the first online description of the Mafia game with a werewolf flavour. But long before his website, people were playing Mafia with all kinds of themes - aliens, spies, and werewolves too.

FH: Does "Werewolves de Thiercelieux" and "Lupus in Tabula" have a licence for commercial use of Mafia?

DD: These games do not have a license. Companies who produced them […] intentionally mislead their customers about origins of the game. These companies took my game, invented a bogus story about its origins and make profits while selling it […].

Adapted from the original source:

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