Mafia (a game)

My sister learned a card game called “Mafia” from her speech and debate teammates.  The game requires a playing deck and is often played in groups of six or more.  It’s particularly popular with high school and some college students (who often learned of the game in high school).

A player acts as the narrator and gives each player a card.  A king, queen, and jack must be distributed.  A player with the king card plays as the mafia.  A player with the queen card plays as the nurse.  A player with the jack card plays as a detective.  A player with any other card is a regular citizen.  Players do not reveal their cards to each other.

The narrator asks all players to put their heads down, and then asks the mafia to put their head(s) up and designated a player to “kill.”  The mafia raises their head and points to another player.  The narrator notes the decision and asks the mafia to put their head(s) back down again.  The narrator then asks the nurse(s) to put their head(s) up.  They are asked who they want to save.  They can point to any player, including thesmelves.  The narrator asks the nurse(s) to put their head(s) back down again.  The narrator asks the detective to put his/her head up.  The detective can point to a player and gesture to the narrator that they suspect this player is the mafia.  The narrator will nod or shake their head to affirm/deny their hunch.

The narrator asks all players to put their heads up.  The narrator is then tasked to create a story in which the targetted player dies, or a targetted player is in danger of dying but is saved by the nurse (depending on if the nurse makes the right decision to save the right player).  If the player dies, they have to re-enact the death the narrator devises, even if it’s incredibly ridiculous.  The story may reveal the identity of the nurse if the nurse saves the targetted player.

After the events unfold, the narrator allows for the players to vote for one person to be executed.  Players must decide amongst themselves and can accuse anyone (they don’t know anyone’s roles).  When they’ve come to a decision, the narrator describes the accused person’s execution.  After that, the narrator will reveal whether or not the mafia are still on the loose.  The game ends when either the mafia manage to kill everybody else, or if the other players successfully figure out the mafia and execute them.

My sister really likes playing this game because it has a lot of room for creative and persuasive tactics.  There are no rules to the narration (other than ‘make it entertaining’), and there are no rules as to what kinds of evidence players can present to accuse one another.  The game also doesn’t allow you to trust anyone, which makes the action suspenseful.

I think the game’s fostering of mistrust among players is particularly appealing to high school and college students because there is still a degree of uncertainty as to the full stories/personalities of your friends.  The game can reveal certain personality traits of  a player depending on if the players play with a personality true to themselves.  And in competitive environments like high school and college, this game allows for a sanctioned and cathartic experience of being unashamedly competitive against your own friends, if it means survival/success in the game.

My sister mentions that some narrators do not need the targetted player to re-enact their death.  This particular version that my sister describes (with re-enactments) is probably also appealing to her group of speech and debate competitiors, because speech and debate requires either persuasive or performative skills.