How to play Mafia – great team building mini-game

How do you play Mafia?

 We get asked all the time about the Mafia game. It’s easy to play and is great for a “space filler” in a team building day.  Youth groups tend to love it once they understand the rules.  And you can easily kill a good hour with a youth group playing this!  (Trust me… I have!)

It’s been around for years under numerous guises, with different names, but we’ve always played it as “Mafia”.


Set up:

Choose one person to play “narrator”.

Then make up small pieces of paper with the following letters on them.

1. “M” – which stands for Mafia. (2 slips)

Depending on group size you might want more then 2 mafia.

  1. “D” – Which stands for Doctor (1 slip)
  2. “P” – Which stands for Police (1 slip)
  3. “V” – which stands for villages – enough slips to cover everyone else in the group.

Tell the guests NOT to show anyone which slip they have and ensure that each of them know what the letters mean. Otherwise you get one person saying “What does D mean again?” and that means they all know who the Doctor is.

Hand out these slips to everyone in the group. The narrator will have been selected at the start and does NOT receive a slip.


How to play:

During the game there is a set order for play. The Narrator will tell everyone when to wake up. If it’s not YOU then they should remain with their eyes closed. NO PEAKING ALLOWED.

During the “night cycle” (when everyone has their eyes closed) the narrator will instruct the various groups to wake up and decide on actions. They should point and have quiet “sign language” style discussions.

No-one is allowed to say if they’re mafia, but the doctor and the police can tell everyone if they’re the police or the doctor if they want during the day cycle (eyes open and discussion time – but it might mean the mafia will kill them next round, so it’s a little risky to do that!).

The mafia can also claim they are the doctor or the police as they’re allowed to lie!

Once everyone knows the rules it’s really simple to play.

The night cycle is when everyone shuts their eyes. The day cycle is when everyone is allowed to speak and have their eyes open.

Play begins with the night cycle.


Night cycle:

Have the narrator begin the night cycle by telling everyone to close their eyes and put their heads down.

The narrator will now say, “Mafia wake up”.

The people who have the mafia cards will open their eyes and decide amongst themselves (as quietly as possible) who they want to kill. They inform the narrator of who their victim is (by pointing to him or her) and the narrator will then tell the Mafia to go back to sleep.

The narrator will now say, “Mafia go to sleep. Doctor wake up”

The doctor will then open their eyes, and silently point to a one person to save. He/she could also choose to save himself (or herself).

If the person chosen to be killed by the mafia was saved y the doctor, then they will survive the night. Otherwise, nothing will happen to the person saved and the person the mafia killed will die.

The narrator will now say, “Doctor go to sleep, Detective wake up”.

The detective will open their eyes and will point out one person that they suspect to be a Mafia member. The narrator will silently indicate (through a thumbs-up or thumbs-down, or a head nod or shake) whether or not that that person is a member of the Mafia.

If the detective successfully identifies a mafia member it will be up to them to convince the townspeople the next day who the Mafia member is!

The narrator will now say, “Detective got to sleep.”

The narrator will now say, “Everyone wake up”

And we move into the “day cycle”.


Day Cycle

The narrator (in story telling fashion) will now tell everyone who was killed the previous night (if they weren’t saved by the doctor!). The dead tell no tales, so whoever gets killed in the game must remain silent for the remainder of the game, but can keep their eyes open like the narrator, and sometimes they’ll join in with the story telling of how a particular person died. (it’s always better to invent a story… e.g. I’m sorry to say that last night Jo tumbled down the stairs and was found with a broken neck.)

Hold discussions. The townspeople (this includes, police, and Mafia) should discuss recent events. Nobody may show their slips of paper, although they can try to convince others that they are a certain role. Once the discussion has evolved to a point where somebody has a suspicion, play proceeds to accusations.

Make accusations. At this point, someone may make an accusation against another player stating that they think that the other person is part of the Mafia. Once an accusation has been made, it must be seconded by another player in order for the accusation to be taken to a vote. When someone has been accused and seconded, the accuser must explain the reasoning behind the accusation. Then other players may speak if they believe that the accusation is just.

Defend the accused. At this point, anyone who chooses to may defend the accused and the accused then has the right to defend him or herself and explain why there is no way that he or she could possibly be part of the Mafia. This can take place in a trial-like setting, where the accused talks about a fictional alibi and often accuses other players in his or her stead. Player’s may cite their relationship to other players as a reason why they could not be in the mafia.

Have a vote. The narrator now asks who thinks that the accused is guilty and a vote is taken. The voting process may or may not be anonymous.

Apply the verdict. If a majority of the voting players vote guilty, the accused is now out of play. The accused may simply state whether or not they are in the mafia.

If there is not a majority vote of guilty, the accusations begin again. The day round continues until someone has been declared guilty and removed from the game, and the night round begins again.

It sounds complicated. It isn’t when you get going and understand the process.



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Flexible and fun!

We contacted Red-Herring-Games for a party for a special occasion. Why going to restaurants to eat is the preferred activity to mark milestones is beyond me and my friends.   The choice of mystery was obvious, looking at the options from New Zealand on the web Red Herring stuck out from the international options.  A quick look at the site and games showed subtlety as well a range of choices.  The numbers you could have for each evening was important,  Red Herring had scaling options a good range of scenarios but most importantly were Jo and team being flexible, responsive and helpful.

Rachel McWilliam, Arts Development Officer, Lincs Inspire

Thank you Red Herring Games for the marvellous 'Murder!  Cargo Connections?' event that you organised for us as part of Museums at Night at the Fishing Heritage Centre in Grimsby. The whole evening went so well and was brilliant fun.  I know from all the feedback that our visitors had a fantastic time. It was really good working with you and I have no doubt that we will do again in the not too distant future.  

A. Nonymous (council employee)

I would like to thank you and your colleague for helping contribute towards our successful conference last month.  Everyone really seemed to enjoy the evening and it was rewarding that so many delegates were able to participate in addition to the main "Actors".  Our conference evaluation froms included the following comments:
  • "Enjoyed the evening entertainment!"
  • The evening entertainment was great and the confusion made it great fun!"
With thanks and best wishes.

Sarah Spencer (Cleethorpes Chronicle)

I had no idea what to expect before purchasing a ticket for Old, New, Borrowed, Blue, which was being staged at a nearby hotel, and feared it might involve taking part in some way. However thankfully for me no acting was necessary, just some amateur sleuthing. "Wedding guests" of which I was one, were called upon to move from room to room in the hotel in groups, questioning a number of possible murderers with the aim of solving the mystery of the dead bridegroom. The interviewees were really fun characters and gave us all some good laughs. Of course they all had motives and it was a case of identifying the shiftiest. The wedding theme was particularly good, as it fitted well with the venue, the buffet that was part of the evening (with a wedding cake in the middle) and the fact that everyone had been able to dress up to fit in without going to the trouble of fancy dress. I didn't think I had enough "evidence" to actually accuse anyone but later regretted not even writing down my first guess as it wouldn't have been too far off the mark. The evening was great fun and everyone seemed to enjoy it and take part. I would definitely recommend Old, New, Borrowed, Blue as good for getting even reluctant or first-time mystery party-goers involved.  

Alan Young (Personal Touch Mortgages)

What a cracking nights entertainment! We don't get out much nowadays with 2 kids and this was exactly what we were looking for in a good night out. Lots of fun with tongue firmly in cheek and everyone kept guessing whodunnit right to the very end. Would definitely attend another!!!!!  


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