Mafia–the ultimate pre-orientation/term break trip game. There’s no better way to bond as a group than killing and turning on each other.

In the game, a team of killers strikes secretly at night, then try to conceal themselves as an angry mob decides whom to kill (Historically, it was “lynch” instead of kill, but considering that word’s place in American history, it makes sense to use another).


In the eighties, psychology researcher Dmitry Davidoff at Moscow State University needed to find a less boring way to teach psychology to high school students. He decided to have them kill each other in secret and turn on each other by day to learn about mob mentality. Naturally, the game became popular with young people and spread to the West. Colorful additional roles were added. It was commercialized as a card game called “Werewolf.” It inspired a Latvian game show of Latvian celebrities playing Mafia (“Serial Killing with the Stars”?). It prompted an ethics investigation at a middle school. It has been studied by psychologists as an example of reading body language and other nonverbal signs.


All except God are assigned randomly, by drawing playing cards. Adjust to fit number of players. Note that all roles after Doctor are dispensable.

God/Narrator/News Broadcaster – Must make up the story behind each person’s death. Note that this character can be called by any of these names, to avoid heated debate over whether there is a god, and whether playing with a “God” character implies that there is a god, and whether such an argument takes a party game too seriously. Stays “awake” at all times, knows all. Like God. Like Walter Cronkite. Selected based on talent, not by card.

The Bad Guys

Mafiosi (two or three Kings) – Jointly or singly kills someone each night. (Note that it is, in fact, racist to assume that the Italian person in the group is a Mafioso.)

The Townspeople

Detective/Inspector/Sheriff/Investigator (Ace of Spades) – Inquires into someone’s guilt. Usually is wise enough not to reveal what information he has.

Doctor/Medic/Nurse/Angel (Ace of Hearts) – Saves someone’s life (potentially his own). Bound by the Hippocratic oath.

Prostitute (Queen of Hearts) – If she visits you at night, you’re occupied for the evening. Whatever work you were going to do at night (killing, inspecting, saving, etc.) will not get done. PG-13 variant: Bartender, gets his customer too drunk to do his job. PG variant: Stranger who gives you candy, his candy makes you sick.

Pimp/Jack Bauer/Dentist (Jack of Clubs) – Bitch-slaps someone. In the case of Jack Bauer, round-house kicks someone in the face. In the (lame) case of dentist, removes someone’s tonsils. Then his victim is not able to speak during the accusation round.

Village Idiots (two Jokers) – Desperately want to be executed as Mafia. They work as a team; their goal is to both be killed off.

Paranoid Gun Owner/Vigilante (10 of Spades) – Is very paranoid of people coming near his house at night. If he is actioned by another character, has the opportunity to shoot the person who actions him (be she Prostitute, Mafia, Angel, Detective, Pimp).

Medium (8 of Hearts) – Inquires into the guilt of the dead. Just like the Narrator, but can only ask the Narrator about characters who have died.

Corn (3 of Clubs) – If killed, has the opportunity to come back to life one time by stealing an already-dead person’s identity.

Lady Gaga (7 of Diamonds) – When killed, has the power to take someone else of her choice with her. Because all her love is revenge. Because you’re a criminal as long as you’re hers.

Star-Crossed Lovers (pair of red twos) – When one of them dies, the other one must die.

Tree Stump (6 of Spades) – Does nothing. At all. Can admit at any time that he or she is the tree stump, but dies upon admittance.

All other players are ordinary Townspeople (even more boring than the Tree Stump).


Everyone sits in a circle. God counts out exactly as many cards as there are non-God players (the cards that assign the roles included, and however many filler cards as necessary). Players pass the deck and each player draws one and learns his role. God collects the cards.


It is Night. God tells everyone to go to sleep (close their eyes). Then he speaks.

“Prostitute, sleep with someone.”

She wakes up, points at someone, goes back to sleep. When God comes to that person’s role, he skips them.

“Mafia, kill someone.”

Both Mafiosi wake and decide through nonverbal communication whom to kill.

“Doctor, save someone.”

The person he points to is protected from death in this round.

“Detective, investigate someone.”

The Detective points at the person he suspects of being Mafia. The Narrator nods or shakes his head.

“Pimp, slap someone.”

The victim is not allowed to speak during the accusation round.


If it is the first round:

“Village Idiots, dance.”

Each Village Idiot wakes up and sees who the other one is.

“Star-Crossed Lovers, exchange vows.”

Each Star-Crossed Lover wakes up and sees who the other one is.

If one or more people are already dead:

“Medium, channel someone.”

She points to a dead person she suspects of being the Mafia.

If someone actions the Paranoid Gun Owner:

“Paranoid Gun Owner, shoot or don’t shoot?”

He nods or shakes his head, totally unaware of whom he is or is not killing.

It is day. Everyone wakes up. God explains, with as much detail as he chooses, who died, who was saved (whether he needed to be saved or not), and who was bitch-slapped. Gameplay usually involves a God who tries to make up amusing stories of how each person died/got saved/got bitch-slapped. (Note that small children are frightened by scary stories. When a fifth-grade class in New Hampshire played Mafia, one little girl had nightmares of “reliving” her death. When the mother tried to get the game banned from the school, its champions spoke up, saying that the game has an important positive message–good people working to snuff out the bad guys.)

Dead people immediately go silent and become observers of the game. The angry mob round begins. All living people begin arguing over who might be the Mafia. “I heard a rustle over there,” “Laura has a smug look on her face,” and “Adoley is doing it for revenge” are all valid reasons to accuse someone. These accusations usually end up landing on two people. Once popular consensus has narrowed it down to two, God takes a vote; each person raises his hand to indicate publicly whom they want to execute. The person who gets a majority of votes dies. Ties are not allowed—in the event of a tie, everyone begins arguing again until someone changes his mind.


If Lady Gaga dies:

Lady Gaga can choose to shout out the name of someone to die with her.

If Corn dies:

Corn chooses an already-dead person and takes her card (card unseen). If he is the first to die, he hangs in limbo and then takes the card of the next person to die.

If one of the Star-Crossed Lovers dies:

God announces publicly who the Star-Crossed Lovers are, and they both die.

Optional rules:

“Dying breath” – Upon dying (if not Lady Gaga or Corn), shout out someone’s name: in English if you think he’s innocent, in Pig Latin if you think he’s guilty. Nothing to say? Say “rosebud.”

Time limit – Limit accusation/debate time to five minutes.

Secret ballot – Have each person write down the name of the person they vote to execute. Advantage: Gives the Village Idiots the chance to vote for themselves without arousing suspicion. Disadvantage: Takes time.

Return to night. Skip the roles of any character who has died. Repeat the night/day cycle until one of the following outcomes is reached.


(1) the Townspeople win: They execute all Mafiosi while there is still at least one Townsperson living.

(2) the Mafia win: They kill off all Townspeople. Only Mafiosi (one or more of them) is alive at the end.

(3) the Village Idiots win by being executed by the mob. Both of the Village Idiots must be executed by the mob (not killed by the Mafia) for the Village Idiots to win. Once one Village Idiot is killed by the Mafia, the Village Idiots cannot win and the other Village Idiot becomes an ordinary Townsperson.

Do you enjoy reading the Nass?

Please consider donating a small amount to help support independent journalism at Princeton and whitelist our site.