How to Play Mafia

Four Parts:Setting UpNight CycleDay CycleVariations

Mafia (also called Assassin, Werewolf or Village) is a group role playing game of strategy, survival, and the ability to spot a fraud. The imaginary setting is a small village where the local townspeople and Mafia are in an all out battle for survival.

There are numerous variations of the game. The version described here requires a deck of cards and works best with between twelve and twenty four players.

Part 1
Setting Up

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    Select a moderator. It is best if this person is someone who knows the rules and has played the game before.
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    Split up a deck of cards so that there is one card for each person playing (minus 1 for the moderator). The King will always be the detective, and there should be one King. The Queen will always be the Doctor, and there should be one Queen. Choose a suit (such as Clubs) to be the Mafia. There should be 1 mafia member per 3 villagers, rounded down. Put those three types in the deck, along with enough regular cards for everyone else except for the moderator.
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    Shuffle the cards and have each player take one card and look at it without showing it to anyone else. The card that is picked is the character that that person plays. When everyone has taken and looked at their cards, the moderator will begin the game.
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    Play the game through day and night rounds (as described below) until either the Mafia have been eliminated, or the number of Mafia and townspeople is equal (in this case, the mafia have complete control over the voting). The game begins with a day cycle, in which the Mafia do not yet know who the other Mafia members are.

Part 2
Night Cycle

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    Have the moderator begin the night cycle by telling everyone to close their eyes and put their heads down.
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    When everyone is "asleep," the moderator should instruct the mafia to wake up and choose a victim. The people who have the mafia cards will open their eyes and decide amongst themselves (as quietly as possible) who they want to kill. They inform the moderator of who their victim is (by pointing to him or her) and the moderator will then tell the Mafia to go back to sleep.
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    The moderator will instruct the sheriff to wake up. The sheriff will then point out one person that they suspect to be a Mafia member and the moderator will silently indicate (through a thumbs-up or thumbs-down) whether or not that that person is a member of the Mafia. If the Sheriff was right he eliminates the Mafia member and if he was wrong he knows another innocent (apart from himself or a person he chose wrongly on one of the previous nights). The moderator will then instruct the sheriff to return to sleep. Note: In an alternative way to play, the Sheriff/Detective does not automatically eliminate the Mafia member he/she has identified. Rather, it is up to the sheriff to convince the townspeople the next day who the Mafia member is.
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    The doctor will then be instructed to wake up and choose a person to save. The doctor will then (silently) point to a one person to save. He/she could also choose to save himself (or herself). If the person chosen to be killed by the mafia was saved, they will survive the night. Otherwise, nothing will happen to the person saved and the person killed will die. If the doctor dies, the townspeople can no longer be saved from the mafia.

Part 3
Day Cycle

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    The moderator will then instruct everyone to wake up and will give a short story about whoever the mafia selected, if the Doctor guessed the "dead" person that person will end up staying alive in the short story you come up with about a near-death or death experience and if the person selected by the Mafia isn't saved by the doctor that person will end up dead in the short story.
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    Hold discussions. The townspeople (this includes, sheriff, and Mafia) should discuss recent events. Nobody may show their cards, although they can try to convince others that they are a certain role. Once the discussion has evolved to a point where somebody has a suspicion, play proceeds to accusations.
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    Make accusations. At this point, someone may make an accusation against another player stating that they think that the other person is part of the Mafia. Once an accusation has been made, it must be seconded by another player in order for the accusation to be taken to a vote. When someone has been accused and seconded, the accuser must explain the reasoning behind the accusation. Then other players may speak if they believe that the accusation is just.
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    Defend the accused. At this point, anyone who chooses to may defend the accused and the accused then has the right to defend him or herself and explain why there is no way that he or she could possibly be part of the Mafia. This can take place in a trial-like setting, where the accused talks about a fictional alibi and often accuses other players in his or her stead. Player's may cite their relationship to other players as a reason why they could not be in the mafia.
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    Have a vote. The moderator now asks who thinks that the accused is guilty and a vote is taken. The voting process may or may not be anonymous.
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    Apply the verdict. If a majority of the voting players vote guilty, the accused shows his or her card and is now considered killed. If no cards were used, the accused may simply state whether or not they are in the mafia. If there is not a majority vote of guilty, the accusations begin again. The day round continues until someone has been declared guilty and removed from the game, and the night round begins again.
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    Make a story. In one variation of the day cycle, no accusations or discussions take place. If the person was killed, the moderator makes up a story about who was killed, and how, without revealing who the killer(s) were. If the person was saved, the moderator explains how they were injured, found, and saved. (also without revealing any information about who the killer(s) were). This variation allows for some room to be creative, and have fun.

Part 4

  • In a leftist version of the game the sheriff is replaced by a revolutionary hero of the people such as Assata Shakur, Emma Goldman, or Ernesto Che' Guevara. Likewise the Mafia is replaced by the FBI and winning the game involves eliminating all the FBI agents. Folks that play these version of the game generally call the game "Emma" or "Assata" instead of "Mafia".
  • The moderator can pick out the mafia members, sheriffs, etc., by him/herself. This is good if the moderator knows the playing level of the players, and can make a more balanced game.
  • Give some amount of time (five to fifteen minutes) before each discussion (so this time can happen several times per day) for people to converse secretly. They can't show cards, but this could be a time for trying to convince somebody you're innocent before they openly accuse you.
  • Another position given out may be that of the informant. This person gets to know who the Mafia are without them knowing who she/he is. The informant's job is to help the townspeople, but they have to be careful because if the Mafia suspect anything, she/he will probably be killed. During the first night, the moderator will tell the Mafia to make some kind of sign (e.g. raising their hands carefully) and let the informant open her/his eyes, thus seeing who belongs to the mafia. See the Related wikiHows below for a more detailed description on how to play this version of the game.
  • Some other roles used for fun are the Armor, who cannot be killed by Mafia and only be voted off; the Bandit, who has no voting power but knows who the Mafia are and works to aid the Mafia; the Lawyer, who chooses someone to defend and that person cannot be voted out the following morning; Rambo, who can throw a "grenade" at someone and kill that person and the two people on either side in one turn; and the Bus Driver, who can blindly change two people's roles. The only roles that are absolutely necessary are that of the moderator and the mafia.
  • Another variation adds only two players to the original set, "the Serial killer" and "the Postman." The Serial killer goes AFTER the doctor, so the doctor cannot save who he kills. The serial killer can be killed by the mafia, however, but still kills someone that turn. (Note #1: The serial killer is not the mafia, so the sheriff cannot "detect" him. NOTE #2: It is best to not reveal cards when playing with a serial killer, with the narrator still calling his turn, even when he is dead.) The Postman acts like a normal villager, except for one little surprise. When he is killed, he reveals himself as the postman and goes "postal," taking someone with him to the grave.
  • For large groups, it is often interesting to have two separate, competing groups of Mafia.
  • The game can be made more difficult for the Mafia if they cannot communicate at night. At night, the moderator enumerates all the players' names, and the members of the Mafia, without opening their eyes, make a sign at one player who they want to kill. If at least half of the mafia members voted for the same person, he/she dies, otherwise no one is killed. The Mafia have to choose the victim in the day cycle, probably by eye contact, so that citizens do not notice it. Of course, the first night they must open their eyes to see each other.
  • It is even more exciting if players do not show their cards when they die, only at the end of the game. So townspeople do not know how many mafia members are still alive.
  • Game can also be played as Vampires or Werewolves. This gives it a little more of a Halloween feel.
  • Another variation, is leaving everything else the same, except that when everyone wakes up, the moderator tells a story of how that person died, it can be funny or scary, anything you want. Then everyone votes on who the think the mafia is.
  • One interesting twist: The Other (or Alien). Easiest if you have the doctor in play. The Other appears like a villager. After the mafia and doctor have done their deeds, the other awakens. If the mafia picked him for killing, the moderator gives the Other some sign. the Other is now active. During the next day, the Other should do all possible to be lynched. If successful, the Other wins. (the Other loses if lynched before activation)
  • Some people play this game with a magician who is on the citizens side and can choose to kill one person who they suspect is mafia each night and can save one person from being lynched by signaling to the moderator.They can do each thing only once though.
  • The Lycan --They are a citizen (they know if they are the Lycan though and even a Mafia can claim to be the Lycan), but if the Detective or Psychic checks them during the night, they appear to be a Mafia. It's sorta sucky role to be, but it helps the Mafia. If they die they are revealed to be a Mafia.
  • The Peeping-Tom-- The Peeping-Tom is allowed to open their eyes at any moment. This person may find out who plays each role in the game, however, this makes the person very liable to being killed by the mafia.
  • The Grandma With A Shotgun--If the Grandma with a shotgun is visited by anyone during the night, that person dies. So if the psychic or detective investigates her, they die. If the Mafia try to kill her, a random Mafia is killed. She cannot be killed by the Mafia. The people investigating her do not know if they died because of her or because of the Mafia or whatnot. They're on the citizen team.
  • Cupid--On the first night cupid picks two people to be the lovers. If one of the lovers dies the other dies of a broken heart instantly. So say the cupid picked Bob and Bill to the lovers (just to add, they do not have to be of opposite genders), if the next night the Mafia kill Bob,Bill would also die too that same night. The two people will be alerted once they are chosen and know who the other lover is. Cupid is on the citizen team. Alternatively, the two lovers can be designated at the outset of the game by the cards (for example, the 2 of hearts and the 2 of diamonds could identify the roles of lovers). The lovers would then be woken up by the moderator during the first night long enough to recognize each other.


  • To make the game interesting, the moderator can make up creative and elaborate stories about how the victim was killed or saved.
  • If you've been killed, it's still fun to sit around and watch how the game plays out.
  • As you increase the number of players, you will want to increase the number of character players as well. This is especially good when you have enough people that everyone is tired of being a townsperson every time. At this point, start making up random characters that have the ability to do certain things. This requires more work from the moderator, who has to keep track, but it can be worth it for big games.
  • Keep close track of who accuses whom, who supports whom, etc. Later in the game, there might be a stage where everybody is puzzling to figure out who can be mafia, and knowing the voting record of people can help a lot.
  • The worst giveaway a Mafia member can make is to kill off somebody that had accused a Mafia member during the day, as it points a hand straight at the Mafia member if anybody asks "Who would benefit from it?"
  • An excellent strategy for a Mafia member would be to vote off other mafia members. This way, no one will ever suspect him/ her.
  • Realistically, the minimum number of players needed for a game is 7 (5 Town vs. 2 Mafia).
  • It's often interesting to ask Mafia members (and devious townspeople) about their strategies when the game is over.
  • Don't try to resort to random accusations in the first round. This is the best time to judge people's behavior. Also, look at who seems to be sure of the identities of certain people -- they might be Mafia.
  • Sitting in a circle, without fancy tables or music, gives a chilling "witch-hunt" air to the game. Don't forget, getting into this game is what makes it fun.
  • If the number of players is not a multiple of 4, and you must deviate from the normal 3-to-1 Town to Mafia ratio, then some tinkering of the game is necessary to maintain fairness. Being 1 off from a multiple of 4 can often just be ignored (for example, having 3 Mafia in an 11-player game or 3 Mafia in a 13-player game plays very similarly to 3 Mafia in a 12-player game). It is instances where having 10, 14, 18, etc. players where the game moderator must consider adding another Mafia member, but also simultaneously give the Townspeople added roles such as a Doctor, Inspector, etc.
  • One way of playing is to have an information round before the daytime and nighttime rounds. The moderator asks everyone to close their eyes. The moderators then asks the mafia to wake up and signal to the moderator who they are without killing anyone. Then the Sheriff, then the doctor, then any other special characters. This allows the moderator to know who is who and a chance for the townspeople to listen for clues such as noises or movements for the daytime round.
  • The number of Mafia should ideally be one mafia for every three townsperson. An example would be if there are 16 people playing then there should be 4 mafia, if there are 20 people playing then there should be 5 mafia. Using this ratio, the Townspeople basically have a number of mislynches available to them equal to the number of Mafia members minus 1. If you consider the fact that the number of correct lynches necessary to win the game is equal to the number of Mafia members, then you can see why this 3-to-1 ratio must be maintained.
  • If only the moderator knows how many Mafia members are in the game, then there is an element of guesswork.
  • It's a good idea to make the only time where you can show your card be when you die. Otherwise, the sheriff gains immense power for a round (or longer, if the doctor protects him), and if somebody never shows his or her card, it's a dead giveaway that he or she is Mafia.
  • There are numerous variations of this game. Feel free to experiment.
  • If you want to make the game a little more kid-friendly, make the game about stealing a cookie jar each night instead of killing someone.
  • When accusing a player/defending oneself players may choose to rely on fictional arguments, citing alibis and fictional past events. This is easier to do if the moderator tells elaborate stories detailing how the victim died. While these arguments cannot actually prove someone guilty or innocent, they can provide information on whether or not the suspect feels guilty.
  • When you are called to wake up it would help you if you sit up quietly and when you are choosing someone to kill or point to someone or to save someone.Then when you are told to go back to sleep go back down as quiet as possible so when every body makes accusations they don't think you are the Mafia.
  • You could also play with the Hunter (the card representing him/her is usually the Jack.) It's a neutral role and only has the power of a villager until the player is killed in any way. In which case, he/she can shoot their single arrow and kill one other person before they die.
  • This game can also be played over a forum, which allows more secrecy and deception, as well as a more convenient time process.
  • Another excellent strategy that is a little bit harder to pull off and requires playing with a doctor or medic. A mafia member after leading a charge toward another mafia can say something to the effect of "if he/she is mafia the medic/doctor needs to save me." During the night when the medic is choosing who to save the person could also point to themselves. This will give off the false vibe to the medic that the person is the sheriff or detective. When the mafia member has his/her turn during the night they should then commit suicide. CHOOSING TO KILL HIS/HER SELF. If the medic is smart they should save the mafia member from his/her own suicide. From then on the mafia member will have deterred suspicion for the rest of the game, unless they are checked out by the sheriff/detective.
  • Do not make noise. If you are the storyteller tap your foot or if sitting at a table tap on the table.
  • If you are the sheriff and there is you, a mafia member, and a townsperson make sure if you know who the mafia member is, tell the townsperson that you are the sheriff.


  • Keep in mind that if you play around younger children, they have a tendency of blurting out who the Mafia are.
  • The first round of a game can last longer than an hour. The average round is around 10 - 45 minutes, and a whole game can last well over 3.5 hours.

Things You'll Need

  • A large group of people (usually 10 or more)
  • A deck of cards

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