Introduction to Face-to-Face Mafia

Introduction to the Face-to-Face Mafia Party Game

Mafia (also known as Werewolf) was originally a game meant to to teach some sociological principles in a classroom environment. It caught on as a party game quickly, and from there branched out into various online renditions, one of which is forum mafia. Although the implementation varies greatly between face-to-face games, chatroom games, video (e.g., skype) games and purely text-based classic forum games, similar principles and strategies are common to all. This article is about the face-to-face version of the game.

Basic Concept

The classic game flavor is a decent law-abiding town infiltrated by members of the mafia. By the time citizens realize what has happened, government and law-enforcement have already broken down and the concerned townsfolk must work together to identify and root out the mafia. The town is also known as the uninformed majority. Each town player knows their role, but does not know who else is town. The mafia is known as the informed minority. Each mafia player knows their role and also knows the rest of their team in most variants of the game.

The game is divided into days and nights. During the days, players discuss who they think are members of the mafia and vote to lynch a player and remove them from the game. During the nights, the mafia team chooses someone to murder and remove them from the game.

There may also be town players with power roles who can perform actions at night, and the mafia may also have power roles.

Another common flavor is townsfolk versus werewolves.

There are a nearly unlimited number of variations on this basic theme, and many Mafia games will have good-guy/bad-guy flavor based on popular novels, movies, TV shows, songs, video games, etc.

The smallest games are usually at least 4 players in size, and there’s no theoretical limit to the number of players in a game. The usual ratio is 3 or 4 town players to 1 scum player, though in larger games, the number of scum may be slightly decreased.

The Roles

The game host decides what roles are in the game, and designates cards to represent the roles. You can use an ordinary card deck to designate roles. Index cards can be used, too, and there are also mass-produced decks of common roles, and groups of frequent players often create their own card decks with only their imaginations to limit the possible game set ups and role combinations.

At the start of the game, the host shuffles the deck to randomize the role assignments, and passes the cards out to the players. Some groups of players don’t use cards at all, and the game host lets each player know private what their role is.

It’s critical for players not to let anyone see their cards. Once the roles are distributed, everyone is instructed to close their eyes. The game host will let the mafia players open their eyes and find each other. This is the moment when they become the informed minority.

Then, the game starts in earnest with the first day phase. Players discuss who they think are mafia and choose someone to lynch.

As players are eliminated from the game via lynch or night kill, they flip their cards face up to reveal their role and alignment (Town or Mafia).

The Day Phases


Any player can nominate someone to be lynched. The player should have a reason, however flimsy, for suggesting their nominee is mafia. The first day phase starts with very little information upon which to base decisions, but the discussion, reactions, and votes will become important data points as the game progresses. When the nominations start to dry up, then the nominees get a chance to defend themselves and explain why they shouldn’t be lynched.


Each player who was nominated will be voted on as the day’s lynch. The player with the most votes is lynched. If there is a tie, the discussion continues, with periodic calls to vote. Eventually a consensus is reached and a player is lynched.

Although not voting is permissible, it goes against the spirit of the game, and non-voters sometimes find themselves up for lynch later.

The Night Phase

The host leads the night phase. He or she will have everyone close their eyes. Then the mafia will be instructed to open their eyes and decide who to kill by pointing at the player they want to kill.

Any other night actions are also handled in this way. The host will walk around the group of players, and with a tap on the shoulder, let individual players know it’s their turn to “wake up”, decide how they’ll use their night abilities, and point to the player they want to target. If the night action is an investigation (for instance, a Cop), the Host will silently give the investigation results with a head nod or shake.

At the end of the night phase, the moderator announces who died (if anyone) and the next day phase begins.

The game proceeds this way, day to night to day, until all the mafia players have been killed for a town win, or until the mafia players and town players are equal in number for a mafia win. If the game is close, it will come down to a final vote where the mafia are only one or two players fewer than the town, and the town will lose if a town player is lynched. If the game isn’t already tense, it will be for this final day phase! Once the final vote is counted, the host will announce the winning team.


Both town and mafia players have similar motivations - to stay alive if possible, and if not possible to advance their team’s chances of winning as they are lynched or night killed. Even so, there are subtle and not-so-subtle differences in how town and mafia approach the game.

The mafia players have something to hide – their knowledge of who is on their team. They may work together to sway the lynch votes toward a town player instead of a member of their team. They may choose to kill someone who strongly suspects one of them. These decisions can leave the mafia open to suspicion as the game progresses.

The town players are less organized, especially at the start, and town players sometimes behave in ways that will look suspicious to other town players.

In face to face mafia, sounds during the night phases can offer clues to both teams. A jangly watch or bracelet might give away a player with a night action as they point to their target. The sounds of weight shifting, a chair creaking or clothing rustling can also give both sides clues about who has a night action. Players are usually careful to keep their movements quiet during the night phases.

Both teams should pay attention to players who seem to be trying to avoid notice or confrontation. And both teams should pay attention to players who are aggressive and quick to vote.


The game of mafia is about betrayal, deception, and taking advantage of gullibility. It is also about establishing relationships, and cooperation. It’s a game about convincing people you’re good, whether you’re good or bad. It’s a game of paranoia and trust, in near-equal parts. The game mirrors some high-stakes aspects of real life in a fairly quick, fairly controlled and fairly safe environment.

People who play mafia sometimes report that they get better at spotting people telling lies or hiding the truth in transactions or in politics, or that they become more cynical about people they meet in real life, whether the cynicism is earned or not!


Thank yous to Katsuki and Cabd for their explanations and descriptions of the face-to-face version of the Mafia Party Game

Related articles:

Forum Mafia (link to come)

Introduction to Scumhunting (link to come)

Basic Mafia Terminology and Three-Letter Acronyms (link to come)

Mafia Game Roles and Modifiers (link to come)

Want to play a forum Mafia game? Click here for Mafia451 games currently in sign-ups!

1 Like

Eventually, I’d like this to be a topnotch article about F2F mafia, but I know it needs a lot of work.

We think that having a library of great articles about mafia will help people find the site, and will get them interested in playing the forum version of the game. And we think that F2F mafia is probably the way most people are introduced to the game.

So, feedback about whether this is currently accurate in terms of how F2F mafia is played, if it covers the important bases, if it gives new players what they’d need in order to successfully run or play a game irl would be really helpful.

Feedback about the writing itself (clarity, grammar, etc) is also welcome!

I’ve revised this article. The new version is in the OP. Thank yous to @Katsuki and @Cabd for letting me pick their brains about how face-to-face mafia is played!