Welcome to the second 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!
Cabd: Create town apathy
The ability to create apathy convincingly and apparently innocently is key to a great scum game. The best scum players are the ones who make town feel helpless while not even realizing they feel that way.
Catspurr: Go with the flow
The important part of playing scum, for me is going with the flow. If a scum buddy is going to be lynched, let them. Every time you try to rescue them; some town player notices. Better to bus than to be caught out.
That does not mean busing has to be the focus of your game. But if it happens, even on day one, then let it roll. Having a natural flow, a consistency to your game is the aim of being a Wolf. If voting your scum buddy is the natural flow, then do it. If, on the other hand it is natural to vote someone else, then do that. Try to treat your scum buddies as if they are town.
For me it is all about taking advantage of towny things to say and do. I can’t think of an example, but I have lost track of the amount of times, town have said, “Oh, he wouldn’t say that as scum”.
As for the night kills, I often let the scum mates decide, even when I don’t agree with them.
For me, a random kill with no meaning to it is better than killing someone who has FoSed (finger of suspicion) you. Even killing the player reading you as “Town”, throws a spanner in the works of information given of by the night kill choice.
Anyway, I know many don’t like the way I play, but just going with the flow, letting things arise naturally is my way, as both town and scum. And, of course, it is all about playing the same way whatever role/alignment you Rand.
I know the one give away of my scum game is that I am far more focused and paying attention as scum than as town. This was picked up on quickly by a player OP8 or is it OP9?
Anyway, I have tried to loosen up since then. A “careful” mistake can help look town. But now maybe I am giving to much away.
Katsuki: Appear town
One of the more important attributes for a successful scum player is the ability to appear town. The goal for town is to identify then lynch scum, while the mafia’s objective is to eliminate enough townies such that they consist of a majority of the town. One can note that the biggest difference between playing town vs scum is the increased importance of survival when scum due to the small size of the team. Not only is there an increased weight on the life each individual scum player, the information town gains from a scum flip is far greater than that of a town flip. Thus, scum have a stronger incentive to stay alive, and the best way to stay alive is appearing to be town.
Survival is but one half of the equation, the scum team still has to secure mislynch targets in order to win. Players who appear town tend to have greater control over which individuals are being lynched. Successful infiltration into the town ranks enables scum to gain increased control over the direction of the lynch. Scum who are able to dictate the flow of the game will win almost every time. For these reasons, the ability to appear town is one of the more vital attributes, as it ensures both one’s survival and capacity to drive the town straight off a cliff.
Lady Lambdadelta: Flexibility
The single most important trait for a scum player to have is flexibility. To be perfectly clear, flexibility is defined in this case as the ability for the player to adapt to their circumstance and surroundings and use it to their advantage. Every game of mafia is different, and each player list creates a unique set of player types, interconnections and reads. They form a kind of web, and being able to see the shape of that web, where the weak points are and where the biggest threats to your position on the web are is crucial. While the web of a game will shift with each lynch, kill, power role result, and even just conversations, knowing how it will shift before it does will give you a good advantage to being able to set yourself up. This is scum’s prerogative. They choose who dies every night, so they choose a major reshaping of the game. As such, the status quo of the web’s setup can be protected or shattered by a good scum player as is needed.
Even with this control and prediction, it is truly impossible to know everything that will happen in a game of mafia, even if you cover your bases as best you can. This is why flexibility is so crucial. The ability to react in the right way to a sudden gambit, the ability to find the perfect fake claim on a moment’s notice. The ability to correctly identify which players you need to fool to ensure you stay alive, since fooling everyone all the time isn’t feasible. The ability to change your strategy and how you play based on the needs of the game, as opposed to what makes you comfortable.
As a result of this, the best scum players are the ones who can do both. They are the ones who can use their game knowledge, relationships and intuition to predict how the game state will look, but also are confident enough in their ability to act, react and shift if something unexpected happens. To be flexible, to be able to adapt, it takes a lot of self awareness and awareness of the people around you. The ability to know how your opponents perceive you, and what you are giving off is crucial. Even more crucial is knowing how to use that knowledge on a moment’s notice. It’s easy to prepare a strategy to pull the wool over someone’s eyes in the long term. It’s much harder when suddenly someone’s perception of you has shifted and you don’t know how to escape it. As such, this skill extends to night play as well as day play. Knowing who to kill and when, knowing when a player who has townread you all game is swinging against you. It’s all about adaptation.
Further, on a meta level, flexibility is super crucial. If your game as scum is very narrow, people will catch on. It is important not only that your scum range be huge, dictating that any move you make COULD be done by you as scum, but also that you actually DO these moves and do them successfully! Fear is a HUGE part of playing scum. People have to be afraid that anything you do could make you scum, because it makes you that much harder to successfully read. When players cannot distinguish their own paranoia from a correct read, that is when you have them in the bag. Some might argue this makes your town game worse, but I disagree. I have a very good win rate as town, and an ABSURD winrate as scum. More importantly, I just don’t get lynched or night killed all that often, BECAUSE of that paranoia. So when I’m still alive in lylo, it’s really hard for people to know if I’m scum or not, because it’s not a question of “oh why is LLD still alive” it’s a question of “did scum not kill LLD because the paranoia or is she actually scum?”. Forcing players to ask themselves those hard questions because of how flexible and varied your playstyle is, it’s very powerful.
On the whole there are a lot of great strategies, individual moves and factors that make a good scum player. I would argue that they make ONLY a good scum player. To be a great scum player, to really excel, it’s not that you need to know how to make ALL these different moves.
It’s that you need to be able to use the moves you DO have to escape any situation.
Probably positivity is the most important one I think.
Everything starts with tone and presence and if you have a negative mindset and you’re convinced that everyone is going to know that you’re mafia when you make your next post and you feel like there is no hope of winning, then your tone will suck, your thread presence will suck, and yeah those fears of yours will come true.
You have to play with a kind of assuredness when you’re mafia to be any good, regardless of what your playstyle looks like, it’s an attitude thing and having a positive mindset is where all that starts.
If you feel really negative then nothing that you do will work, your buds will feel demoralized by it, town will be more inclined to scumread you, and chances are you will just burn out before endgame or give up when things go wrong for your team. And things will always go wrong.
If you feel really positive and it shows, then your buds will feel happier about their rand, even if they’re usually demotivated by the alignment, and town will just find themselves wanting to townread you, even if they don’t really understand why.
People feed off your energy, and it’s important that you keep your energy positive so that you help other people, especially your teammates (and quality teamwork is probably the second most important attribute).
I think if you asked shadow (a friend of mine) this he would probably say flexibility, and flexibility is important because you need to be able to play to what the game needs and to what town wants when you’re mafia, but I think that kind of process-level play is always going to rely on your attitude and frame of mind to even be possible in the first place.
It’s hard to boil down what makes a successful scum game to one attribute, but I think I’d have to say that the most important thing is discipline. Of course, self awareness and deceit play a part in it too, but none of that matters without knowing how to be disciplined. It’s tempting to just lurk and try to avoid incriminating yourself, it’s also tempting to throw a lot of junk into the thread. You have to have the discipline and ability to read the board to talk as much as you normally do when you’re town, and you have to have the discipline not to freak out when you pick up a vote or two.
I personally play a somewhat risky brand of scum, as I tend towards high risk high reward plays, and I tend to value town cred over anything else, to the point that I don’t get town read on my home site anymore for doing anti-scum things. From the outside, it seems to be a bit of a wild style, but it requires quite a bit of discipline to pull off. You have to have the discipline to go through with a plan, even though you know it will draw some heat, and you have to have the discipline not to panic when there are a couple votes on you, but to instead stay the course and trust that you can pull through. Not to mention the discipline required to not take the easy bait and to do actively anti-scum things in thread.
Even for more conservative play styles, discipline is extremely important, as you have to remain disciplined enough not to just lurk completely (assuming you don’t lurk as town, that is) and to make sure your votes are justified.
My biggest pet peeve is when someone draws scum and just goes radio silent and tries to lurk it out. It’s the most unimaginative play possible, it has zero artistry or skill, and more often than not you get lynched anyways. It takes discipline to talk even when you’re scum and maintain your normal level of activity, and it takes discipline to play scum successfully, no matter what style you want to play.
Pirate Mollie: Manipulation and anticipation of Town Herd movements
I think the single most important attribute of a successful scum player is excelling in manipulation and weighing the costs of what the player is willing to live with while simultaneously making the game fun for everyone.
Having said that:
Manipulation is the key to the game. Whether through vote count analysis, night kill analysis or readlists…whatever tool town has, scum can use it against them. Whatever town does, the goal (as scum) is to level the playing field between the x amount of factions so that the odds will be in (the person with a scumrole pm)'s favor.
Manipulation is about altering the perceptions of the players in a game as a whole. It is about convincing the other faction that it is really in their best interest to help you win. This is non alignment indicative. All factions do this to some extent, whether they realize this or not.
The key to scum manipulation is knowing the answer but having to demonstrate a reverse engineering process in order to find the solution to something that you already know, which the uninformed majority does not.
Convincing people that their gut reads are equal to eating bad pizza and that 2 + 2 really does equal 5 is what scum are SUPPOSED to do. It is the only way the informed minority can survive against a wall of majority who’s natural processes will reflect what the scum player should not know.
Anticipating where the uninformed majority will go will give the informed minority a roadmap for how to shift the views/perceptions in order to fit in.
VisceraEyes: Path to victory
In my experience, the ability to appear town is very important, but even more important is having a path to victory. Appearing town is of course part of a mafia player’s job, but recognizing which way the wind is blowing and knowing who to vote for or kill in the night is what will separate a decent scum player from a truly great mafia.
Bios have been provided by the authors.
Cabd is a mostly-retired player from the 2014 generation of Mafia. Known for his tendency to gambit as any and all alignments, he has written extensively about his thoughts on high risk play. On Mafiascum, he holds a custom title referencing his ability to meta players to the point of keeping a digital binder. He currently watches and waits, biding his time for a game meta that favors him once more. Reading. All the threads.
catspurr is a 60 year old, Australian bloke. He started playing 5 years ago on an atheist site and has played twice over the years at what he fondly refers to as “Thingyman Things”, aka the Mafia Universe Championship games. One of his proudest mafia moments is when Pyx modkilled him for stretching his game rules.
Katsuki has been playing mafia since he was a kid. Nototious lurking aside, his playstyle has been known over the years as being largely unreadable with the penchant for being able to live for unholy amounts of time. GreyIce described his play as “READING KATSUKI IS LIKE SOME SORT OF POSTMODERN ARTFORM”. As well as forum mafia he plays face-to-face mafia with several groups of friends. In 2011 and 2015, he won the Best Town Performance at mafiascum, and in 2014 won the Don Corleone for best scum player of the year. And, he is a member of the 2018 Team Mafia winning team.
Lady Lambadelta has been playing mafia since 2008, when she became an Epic Mafia beta tester. She was one of the first 20 accounts to play a game there. She’s well known for being able to come back as a solo player against insurmountable odds. In her first scum game she came back from 6-1, replacing in as the last scum, against an all-star town team. Although best known for her scum game, she’s a strong player as all alignments. One of my favorite spectator moments as a game moderator was when she carried the town to victory as a town compatible 3rd party role in The Deathworlders mafia game.
nancy’s life arc as a mafia player went something like this: she taught herself how to run, Nacho taught her how to walk, then Regfan taught her how to crawl, and it wasn’t until she started crawling that she became a good mafia player. She thrives on real-time interactions and her best reads happen in busy traffic, but the slow crawl of process is what centers her game. At her best, she acts as a kind of gravitational force in mafia games, one that lifts people up and brings them together.
Nanook started playing mafia on the Playdiplomacy.com forums in December of 2016, and hasn’t stopped since. He’s a thoroughly middling town player, and a godly scum player capable of producing more WIFOM reads than a Sicilian bartering with Woody Allen.
Pirate Mollie has been playing mafia since 2010, when she started playing games on atheist debate sites. She won a “Best Town Team Performance” in mafiascum.net’s 2014 annual awards ceremony. She’s at ease in all alignments, and she approaches the game with a scum mindset as all alignments.
VisceraEyes or Ed depending on who is playing, has been playing forum mafia for almost as long as it has been a part of the online zeitgeist. Beginning on TeamLiquid, a pro esports team website, and weaving through various websites devoted to the game, Ed has been finding scum and mislynching townies as a matter of course for almost a decade. Most recently he can be seen playing video mafia on DailyMafia and Mafia All Stars on twitch.
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