What is Mafia?

Mafia (also sometimes known as Werewolf) is a forum-based game with heavy social and psychological elements. It is originally derived from a parlor game which was developed by a Russian teacher as a way of teaching about aspects of social psychology. It was so popular with his students that it grew and spread, and is now played all over the world. Although normally played face-to-face, it can also be played on an Internet forum.

This is specifically a description of the forum version, not the face-to-face version.

Basic Concept

Mafia is a team game, but with unequal teams. One team has more information but is smaller in number, the other team has less information but is bigger in number. The game also requires a referee, often referred to as the “Game Moderator” or “Mod”, and in some quarters as “Game Master” or “GM”).

The larger team is usually referred to as the “Loyal Town” or simply “town”. The players in this team have no information at the start of the game. Each player in the team knows individually that they are “town”, but does not know which other players are also town and which are on the opposing team. Usually about 70% of the players are on this team.

The smaller team is usually referred to as “Mafia Scum”, or simply “scum”. Unlike town players, the players in the scum team know who is in which team at the start of the game. However, they normally make up only about 30% of the total players in the game.

The object of the game for either team is to eliminate all members of the other team. Elimination of players is done by voting for them to be removed from the game.

The town players only need to eliminate a small number of scum players, but they first have to work out who those scum players are, and they have difficulty working together to do this because they are not able to trust each other – any of them could secretly be scum. The scum players, on the other hand, know exactly who the town are but because they are in a minority they are not able to vote out the town players directly. Instead they must try to persuade the rest of the players that they are really on the town side and that other players are actually the scum so that the town players will vote for them.

Basic Gameplay

The game is divided into “Day”s and “Night”s. These can correspond to actual real-world days and nights in short duration games, but days can last considerably longer than 24 hours (and on our forum they generally do last longer. The sequence of events is as follows:

  1. Dawn. The Game Mod creates a new thread giving a summary of the current game state (who is alive and who is dead, who died during the night, etc.)

  2. Day. All players post in the thread and discuss the game. During the day, each player will vote for who they want to be “Lynched” at the end of the day as suspected scum.

  3. Dusk. Votes for lynching are tallied up, and the person who got the most votes will be lynched and eliminated from the game. Normally the Mod will give a short narrative at this point describing the lynching, and revealing whether or the person eliminated was town or scum. The day’s thread is normally locked at this point.

  4. Night. The town players generally do not act during the night. The scum players secretly chat to each other via Private Communication and decide which of the town players they wish to eliminate. They then notify the MOd of their choice. That player is considered to have been “Murdered by the Mafia” and is eliminated from the game.

The cycle then starts again from Dawn, but with fewer players.

The game continues until one of two situations occurs:

A) All scum players have been eliminated. This result is a win for all town players, regardless of whether they have been eliminated or not (yes, it is possible to win posthumously).

B) Enough town players have been eliminated so that there are at least as many scum players as there are town players. This result is a win for all scum players, regardless of whether they have been eliminated or not.

Majority vs Plurality Lynches

Under Majority Lynch rules, the game day ends when a player receives 50% + 1 lynch votes. In this type of game, each new vote a player receives increases the pressure. When players are one vote away from Majority (“L-1”) they are expected to claim their role. Scum players usually fake-claim that they are town. Then the rest of the players decide whether they want to go through with the lynch or vote for a different player. If the day’s deadline is reached without a player receiving a majority of votes, then no lynch occurs.

Under plurality lynch rules, the game day ends when the deadline is reached. Whoever has the most votes at the end of the day is lynched. There are various ways game mods can ensure that there won’t be a tie for the lynch.

Under hybrid rules, if a player receives 50%+1 votes, the game day ends and they are lynched. If not, then the player with the most votes at the day’s deadline is lynched.


The default theme of the game is that the players are all townspeople, some of whom are secretly members of the mafia. However, many games use a different theme. One of the more common ones is setting the game in a medieval village and having some players secretly being werewolves rather than mafia. There can be many other themes, often taken from popular culture such as films, or novels.

Power Roles

To make the game more interesting, usually some players will be given power roles. The Mod may tell the players in advance which power roles are being used (open setups), or may leave it up to them to find out as the game progresses (closed setups). Since power roles strengthen one team or the other, the number of town and scum players may need adjusting if the Game Mod uses power roles. In theory, power roles are limited only by the imagination of the Mod; in practice however, there are some standard power roles that crop up in most or all games, and some custom roles are theme-specific variations on these.