Gather 7 or more people to play and have everyone sit in the same room. The players may sit around a table, on sofas and chairs, or on the floor, but they must all be in the same room during the entire game. Make sure that you choose a space that is large enough for everyone to comfortably occupy.
Choose a moderator. The moderator does not actually play the game. They will be in charge of making sure that the game runs smoothly, so the moderator should be someone who has a firm grasp on the rules. If you are the moderator, some of your duties will include:
Telling people when to “sleep” and “wake”
Informing people if they have been eliminated
Declaring the winner
Split up a deck of cards so that there is 1 card for each role. Use a deck made up of as many cards as there are players. The deck needs to contain 1 king, 1 queen, 1 card of a certain suit for each mafia member, and enough additional cards of another suit to represent townspeople.
There should be 1 mafia member for every 3 townspeople, so include this amount of the special suit in the deck.
For example, to play with 12 players, remove all but 1 king and 1 queen, all but 3 cards of a certain suit (or the number of mafia players needed), and include only 7 more random cards.
You may assign any card they like to be the mafia card, such as hearts, clubs, or spades.
Shuffle the cards and have each player take 1 card. Shuffle the deck and hold it out face down to each of the players. Instruct the players to look at their cards, but to keep their cards hidden from the other players. Have players keep their cards hidden for the remainder of the game by setting them face down on a table.
Use a standard deck of playing cards to assign roles in the mafia.
If you don’t have a deck of playing cards, then you can also assign roles on pieces of paper and have everyone draw one out of a bag or hat.
Assign roles to players using playing cards. Whoever gets the king is the detective and whoever gets the queen is the doctor, and these players have special actions that they get to use once per round. If a player gets one of the special suit cards, then they are a member of the mafia. If a player gets any other card, then they are a townsperson.
The detective gets to point to the player that they suspect is a mafia member. If the detective is correct, then that person is eliminated. If they are wrong, then nothing happens.
The doctor may point to 1 person whom they want to save. They may also choose to save themself. If the mafia tries to kill the person the doctor chooses, then that person is saved for the round.
Tell everyone to close their eyes to begin the night cycle. You may instruct the players to put their heads down too if desired. All players should do this no matter what their role is.
For example, if a player is a townsperson, mafia member, doctor, or detective, have them put their head down and close their eyes.
Instruct the mafia to open their eyes and choose a victim. Anyone who drew a mafia card should open their eyes at this time and look around to see who else has their eyes open. Give the players a set amount of time, such as 60 seconds or 5 minutes to decide whom they want to “kill” or eliminate from the game. When they reach a decision, have them tell you whom the victim is by pointing to the person.
Tell the players not to speak with other mafia members and only communicate silently using simple hand gestures, such as pointing and nodding or shaking their heads.
If the mafia cannot come to a unanimous decision about whom to eliminate, then they forfeit their turn and no one will be eliminated during that round.
Tell the mafia to go back to sleep after they choose their victim. Note who the person is that the mafia has chosen to eliminate. Then, tell the mafia to go back to sleep and have all of them close their eyes again.
Wait until everyone has closed their eyes to continue the game.
Say out loud that it is time for the detective to wake up. That person may then open their eyes and point at someone they think is a member of the mafia. Since there is only 1 detective in the game, they will have to rely on their instincts and any other hints they have gotten.
Remember that there should only be 1 detective. If you notice someone else open their eyes, then you may need to check their cards to see who the real detective is.
Note: In an alternative way to play, the Sheriff/Detective does not automatically eliminate the Mafia member they have identified. Rather, it is up to the sheriff to convince the townspeople the next day who the Mafia member is.
Indicate if the detective was right or wrong and tell them to sleep again. Silently indicate if the person the detective identified is a member of the mafia, such as by nodding or shaking your head. Instruct the sheriff to go back to sleep after they make their selection.
If the detective was right, the person will be eliminated. However, if the person was wrong, then they know who another one of the townspeople is and can choose someone else on their next turn.
Wake up the doctor and let them choose someone to save. The doctor can point at someone to save or save themselves. If the person the doctor saves is the same person the mafia chose, they will survive this round and not be eliminated. Otherwise, nothing will happen to the person saved and the person the mafia chose will be eliminated.
If a mafia member opens their eyes when they are not supposed to and sees the detective or doctor, then you may choose to eliminate them on a technicality. Make sure that everyone knows the consequences of cheating before you begin the game!
If the doctor dies, the townspeople can no longer be saved from the mafia in subsequent rounds.
Instruct the doctor to go back to sleep after they make their choice. Once the doctor has pointed out someone to save, note who it is and then tell them to go back to sleep. The doctor will close their eyes at this time, and this is the end of the night cycle.
Tell everyone to wake up and explain the events of the night. You can tell the players a short story about whom the mafia selected if the detective caught a mafia member and if the doctor chose the right person to save. You can add details to your story or keep it short and simple.
For example, you could say something like, “The mafia attacked John during the night, but the doctor was able to save them, so they will live. The detective was unable to catch any of the mafia members in the act.”
Or, you might say, “The mafia attacked and killed Maria last night. The doctor was too late to save her, but the detective caught one of the mafia members in the act. George is in the detective’s custody and will no longer be able to commit crimes against the townspeople.”
Instruct the players to discuss the events of the evening for 5 minutes. The players (including the doctor, detective, and mafia members) should discuss recent events. Nobody may show their cards or reveal that they have a special role. However, mafia members should try to convince the other players that they are townspeople to avoid suspicion. Set a timer for 5 minutes to ensure that the discussion doesn’t get out of hand or go on too long.
For example, players may say something along the lines of “Joey hasn’t said much, which seems pretty suspicious.” Then, Joey might say something like, “I don’t feel the need to say much because I haven’t done anything wrong. However, if I was guilty of something, then I might point fingers at other people.”
Allow players to 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 to move into the defence phase.
For example, someone might accuse another player by saying, “I think Jennifer is in the mafia!” If someone else seconds the accusation, then it goes forward to the defence phase.
Explain the accusation and allow the accused to defend themselves. The accuser gets 30 seconds to explain why they think the person is in the mafia, but the person who is accused also gets 30 seconds to defend themselves. The accuser may draw on their observations or invent reasons why they think the person is guilty. The accused player may declare their innocence, invent fictional alibi, and use other tactics to prove their innocence.
For instance, someone might accuse someone because they look guilty and they didn’t have much to add to the discussion.
The accused may also use fictional alibis and cite other aspects of their character as part of their defence. For example, the accused might say they are the doctor or detective, which no one would have any way of knowing for certain except the moderator.
If the accused is lying (or if the accuser wants to convince others they are lying), then the accuser might claim they are the real doctor or detective.
Instruct the players to vote. The moderator now asks who thinks that the accused is guilty and instructs everyone to vote. Instruct players to indicate their vote by a thumbs up (for guilty) or thumbs down (for not guilty). Count the number of thumbs up and thumbs down. If the majority of players voted thumbs up, then the person is considered guilty and eliminated from the game, even if their card proves they were not part of the mafia. If the majority voted thumbs down, then the person is saved.
You can hold an anonymous vote by instructing everyone to close their eyes or let everyone keep their eyes open.
Everyone gets to vote, including the accused and the accuser.
Start a new accusation round if the player is voted not guilty. If there is not a majority vote of guilty, the accusations begin again. Allow someone else to make an accusation and progress through the accusation, defence, and voting as before.
The day round continues until someone has been declared guilty and removed from the game.
Begin the night round again after a player has been declared guilty. If a majority of the voting players vote guilty, the accused shows their card and is now considered killed. They are eliminated for the rest of the game and may no longer participate in discussions or votes. After this happens, the night round begins again.
The person who is eliminated may keep their eyes open and observe the rest of the game, but they must do so silently, and they cannot interfere or give the players any information.
The game continues until all of the townspeople or the mafia are eliminated. The team with players left is declared the winner by the moderator.
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