Welcome to the first issue of Counterpoints! Every edition, we present a mafia theory question to a (changing) panel and gather their responses.
These are meant to be interactive - you are invited and encouraged to share your thoughts on both the question and our panelists’ answers!
Without further ado, here is our first question:
What’s the single most important attribute of a successful town player?
Cephrir: Confidence but not oveconfidence
The real answer is “reading correctly”, but I’m going to just bypass that answer as stupid, so, here:
The most important attribute for a town player is the ability to project confidence, but not overconfidence. A player who can offer his reads with confidence and candor is going to be the most long-term successful at getting his suspects lynched, because he’s willing to put his opinions forward without expressing self-doubt or turning the other players against him. Note that I say “project confidence,” and not “be confident.” In my view, a player needs to be able to moderate his inner monologue and shape it for presentation to the game.
Many less successful town players who don’t believe this is important suffer for not attempting it. Players who are innately less confident about their reads often express too much doubt within their own posts to get their agendas through. You can’t doubt yourself publicly and expect anyone else to follow you. Although constant self-doubt can be a useful strategy for avoiding the lynch if your reads truly are poor, it doesn’t do much to further the town win condition, and your suspects will be no more likely to be lynched than they were before you posted. Furthermore, you’re likely to talk yourself out of good reads if you put too much stock in, say, a few genuine-sounding posts from a scummy player. Even if something like this makes you doubt your reads, it can be a better idea to hold to them in public until more evidence supports your doubt.
Perhaps the more prevalent problem, particularly among good scumhunters, is overconfidence. This includes such behaviors as shouting down opposition and forcing through lynches by sheer force of will. By leading the town too aggressively, some players put themselves on a pedestal. It’s possible to get towns to coalesce behind you with votes this way, but no one is perfect, and when this type of player makes a mistake, the town is likely to abandon him because he has failed to make himself an attractive person to work with, and because their actions will then appear to be a potential scum tactic. Other players want to feel heard, and if they feel forced to fall in line they’ll begin to resent this player. Emotions are a significant part of this game, and there is little point in pretending it’s a chess game; egos of other townies need to be managed just as much as votes themselves.
Even if this player can nail three out of four scum on average, when he is inevitably wrong he’ll lose much of his power, particularly if he does not already have a reputation as a fearsome scumhunter. A player who correctly identifies two of four scum on average but does so without incurring the ire of his fellow players or burning his own credibility, in my opinion, will be both more successful and more fun to play with. Moreover, a player who is too confident internally about their own tells or reads may ignore mounting evidence their suspicions were wrong and hold too tightly to wrong reads because they believe themselves infallible.
Ellibereth: Don't be an impediment to the rest of town
First we need to define “successful town player”.
We’ll take it to mean someone whose town win rate is in a high percentile over sufficiently many games, either measured lifetime or through some sufficiently long period(s). What high means is obviously variable; for the purposes of this response we’ll it take it to mean the top 10%. We’ll call everyone else unsuccessful.
The best response to the given question is then the trait that can fill in both of the following blanks:
All successful town players are [blank].
No unsuccessful town players are [blank].
We don’t have a good answer when considering the entire set for each but we do have some when we look at a very high percentage.
We’ll quickly break down the skills that go into playing town. We’ve structured them in such a way so that someone only has to perform a skill if other players are not performing the skills below it.
Convincing others that you are right when you’re right.
Convincing others that someone right is right.
Identifying someone that is right.
Supporting others in doing the above.
Not being an impediment when others are already doing the above.
Working from the bottom of this skills hierarchy, we’ve found that remarkably few successful town players actively impede others from doing well, while many unsuccessful players do. It turns out that in the majority of instances, there’s usually someone who’s performing one of the skills from the higher levels and it becomes sufficient to just support or not impede. The set of skills that involve consistent accuracy and persuasion may only be needed to go from good to great.
In short, to become a successful town player, be able to make life easier, or at least not harder, for the other players.
Empire: Good reads and an appreciation for diverse playstyles
tt’s hard to nail down one thing that a town player needs to do above all else but obviously having good reads is way up there, and you’re only going to develop that skill through playing a lot.
i’m one of those people who thinks that there are no hard and fast scum tells and that you can only develop this ability through playing a lot of games, keeping an open mind and being willing to reassess when you’re wrong.
It’s also important to recognize that not everyone plays mafia the way you do and accept the fact that people have different ways of processing the game and communicating their thoughts.
The single most important attribute of a successful town (OR scum) player is popularity. Popular players don’t get mislynched. Ability to scumhunt is secondary to your ability to survive, and your reads won’t matter if you’re dead. The ability to come across as competent, entertaining, useful, funny, or whatever else quality that will cause people to pass you over for a lynch will increase your win rate. Take me, for example. Something clicked in the winter of 2012 or so, and I have never been lynched since. Needless to say, my win rate also gone up dramatically. But wait, what if you are good at surviving but you have terrible, terrible reads, such that scum keeps endgaming you? I always thought the single worst possible insult the mafia team can do to a town player is to endgame him/her alive. (Have I been endgamed? Yes, exactly once by Nacho during winter of 2013. The other twelve games that I made it to endgame, I emerged victorious.) I think it’s very unlikely, but if you are consistently getting endgamed rather than mislynched, then you should consider improving your reads.
Mathdino: Accuracy and charisma
If they’re well known for this attribute, I would say accuracy. With accuracy, they can be read via BoP (burden of proficiency) or whether they are nightkilled.
And people will actually follow their reads I’m unsubtly talking about ellibereth. However most people don’t have the time to get super high accuracy. So I would say in general, the single most important attribute is charisma. By charisma, I mean an unlynchable player who can always lynch their top scumreads. Even if they have random reads, by being themselves unlynchable, they slightly increase the probability of hitting scum.
Part of charisma is compromise, listening to others, and persuading them. These actions will naturally increase their accuracy, anyway. Charisma ideally also means not getting in irrelevant fights with other charismatic players. (people forget that’s important).
Unlynchable does not mean easily readable. Easily readable players get shot.
Reads are the most important attribute. All a successful townie has to do is properly read the other players. Some people are naturally gifted and sensitive to subtle cues, particularly in either conversation or logical thought processes. Some are particularly adept at research, fact checking, and/or meta analysis. Some are quite knowledgeable on game strategy and the team play of the informed vs the uninformed ‘mobs’. Some players favour some combination of insights. But what it all comes down to is getting reads right. And some of all the above can actually be practised to improve play.
Tammy: Work with the town you have
At first I thought this was an easy question because I thought oh it’s “Look town”, which is an important part of being town. I don’t think anything you do or want to accomplish can feasibly happen for town if people don’t believe you’re town. So, that is important, but it’s not necessarily the most important attribute of being a successful town player. So then I thought, “Be persuasive” because it’s something that I’ve really been valuing in players like nacho, regfan or whiskeyjack for instance who can pinpoint decisively why people are their particular alignment, and save them or get them lynched.
Those are important traits for town, but I think one of the most important attributes of a successful town player is to be able to work within and with the town they’re playing. And I think this is two-fold. The most important aspect of being able to work within the town you’re playing with is recognizing and working with other town players. This doesn’t mean working with only people who think the exact same way as you or town blocking, which is something I have an aversion to, but working with people who you think are town - figuring out and discussing reads, helping to pinpoint each other’s blindspots, and solidifying your read on each other in the process. Continually assessing your town read here is an important part of the process, though, because confirmation bias is a bitch.
Part of this process is also recognizing the role you need to play in the town. Each game, each day in fact, will offer up its own challenges, and sometimes you need to play the leader, the mediator, the observer/analyst, or maybe even the follower. Here, there are lots of personalities involved and some people really just want to play a particullar way, and refuse to play any other role, so being malleable is important. It’s also important to figure out how to work with other town members to help to achieve that sometimes all too fleeting town win.
zMuffinman: Strong communication skills and constant vigilance
If town wins are the measure of a successful town player, then accuracy is without question the most important aspect. It doesn’t matter how well you gel with the rest of the town or how well you argue your points or anything like that; accuracy is key to wins…
But it’s kinda like if someone asks you “how do you be successful in life?” and someone answers with “make lots of money”. How do you get better at accuracy? Pay attention to what people are really saying when they say something. I don’t know if there’s an easy answer here, though. It’s all about analysing the underlying motivations and intent behind what someone says about different people in the game (including themselves) and getting better at understanding motivations requires getting better at understanding communication in general.
REALLY understanding communication is super important. e.g. in face to face, being good at reading or manipulating body language, tone, word choice, etc and adjusting it depending on who youre talking to is important in influencing people but also in understanding how they think and why they say the things they say. Even simple techniques such as using the same words they use, or using visual aids for a visual person, etc. can massively help improve two-way understanding.
Without a good understanding of things like that (even if it isn’t a conscious understanding), you are just playing a guessing game really.
For, example, if you’re someone who frequently misunderstands what people say, you need to think about why you misunderstand what people say and how you could work to better interpret their meaning (even if it means stepping away and coming back later to think about why someone said something instead of reacting in the moment).
Mistakes I see frequently come down to the player not thinking very deeply about intent when analysing statements. For instance, if I direct a question at someone else they get confused and think i directed it at them. The confusion distracts from the player I’m trying to interrogate and understand, and can give a scum player the cover to avoid the question.
Accuracy and gelling and whatnot are all things that are easy to do. Anyone can do it. what towns that lose often lack is constant vigilance. I’m not sure i’d label it the most important thing a town needs because towns can certainly win just based on finding scum really well… but the games that town lose? especially the close ones… they’re often lost because they lack that one town member whose philosophy is constant vigilance – someone who often reassesses, looks at different angles, thinks about how claims make sense both within the context of a player’s play and within the setup, etc.
Towns that streamroll scum do so by having good reads and geling together. Towns that win hard-fought victories… well, they usually do so by having that one player that goes “hold on a sec, this doesnt make sense…”
And towns that lose hard-fought victories often lack that one player who goes back and thinks carefully about how things make sense. Or don’t.
Most people who do a lot of re-reading fit this category. or take notes on key things (including claims and actions), but there’s more to it than just remembering things; you have to put it into a specific framework. And, don’t forget about or overlook obvious things that make someone town.
Cephrir started playing mafia on the Nuklear Power forums in 2005 and spread himself across a lot of sites before settling on Mafiascum. He used to pride himself mostly on his scum game and meta manipulation, but these days what would get him to play a game is a good group of people he know he’ll enjoy. “The community has influenced my life for the better in indirect and unexpected ways.”
Ellibereth is a co-founder of Mafia451 and has played forum mafia since 2007, most prominently on mafiascum. He has been involved in popularizing POE lists, cross-game activity hunting, and various meta techniques. He’s the incumbent (2017) winner of mafiascum’s Paragon of Mafia Hunters award.
Empire started his mafia career on EpicMafia (a chat mafia site), and later joined MafiaScum and other sites to play forum mafia. Meta analysis is one of his core strengths as a player. Empire won MafiaScum’s Rising Star annual award in 2013.
FakeGod started playing mafia in 2010. As well as an excellent player, he’s known in the mafia community as a great game designer and moderator. He’s designed Touhou-based role madness games, as well as games with unusual mechanics.
Mathdino has been playing forum mafia since 2013. As well as playing mafia, he has a passion for analyzing and improving Open setups and theory articles.
Pyx has been playing mafia since about 2010, and played on a variety of debate, gaming, and anime sites that also have mafia communities. He is a member of a band of wandering players who visit a variety sites to play mafia games. Pyx has participated in several Mafia Universe cross-site championships. Due to his ecumenical exposure to a variety of mafia cultures, he has developed a unique approach to the game that strikes some players as “old-school”, but a better description is “other-worldly”.
Tammy started playing mafia in 2011 at Westeros, a site dedicated to the “A Song of Ice and Fire” series. Since then she’s played at Mafiascum, MTGS, MafiaUniverse, GOG, and Dark Lord Potter, but her favorite site to play is Westeros The site features alted (anonymous) games so the focus is on the game that is being played rather than player meta. The games are usually low roled, so the focus is on day play and scum hunting rather than night play. Westeros games feature some of the highest level play she’s come across in forum mafia. “I keep playing mafia mostly because I like the social aspect of it; it’s the best part of the game.”
zMuffinMan started playing mafia in 2010. He won the 2013 Don Corleone, Most Cunning Manipulator award in MafiaScum’s annual awards ceremony. Despite his prowess at fooling and manipulating towns as scum, his preferred alignment is town because he enjoys the puzzle-solving aspects of the game.