Characteristics of a Desirable Mafia Game

There should be a discussion of what makes a mafia game good, and what can get in the way of a mafia game being good. When we talk about what makes a mafia game, role, concept, team, etc. good or not, it’s important to know what exactly we’re talking about. People use terms like “broken role” or “harmful neutral” without ever defining what exactly they mean by those terms, so it would help to have a discussion about what makes elements of the game good or harmful. Not only would it clarify what people are talking about when they discuss mafia games, but it would also be helpful for the hosts. Hosts would be able to judge their roles and concepts based on a set of characteristics, and evaluate whether individual elements of their games make the games better or worse. Moderators would also be able to give more specific advice about why or why not they give games their approval. Here is a set of characteristics, modeled after DougJustDoug’s characteristics of a desirable Pokemon metagame, that I think make for a desirable mafia game.

Competitive - Every player should play to win.

Winning is fun. So is playing against opponents who are trying hard to win. When players play to win, they not only help themselves, but also make the game more fun for everyone else by making the game closer and more involved. I’m sure you can all think of at least one game that was made less enjoyable by a player not playing to win. Players who just screw around and don’t try to win are disruptive to players who care about the game, and occasionally even ruin entire games like AlphaBravo ruined Smogon User Mafia. The Competitive characteristic also explains why kingmaker situations should be avoided, since in a kingmaker situation a player with no chance of winning affects players who do.

Playing to win necessarily involves being active. A good mafia host should take measures to encourage players to be as active as they can be, because it’s no fun to play against inactive opponents or deal with inactive allies. Vanillager roles or other roles that do not require night actions, for example, do not encourage activity, so they should not be in most games. While the host’s ability to keep players active is limited, a good mafia game should encourage players to be active.

Balanced - All players should start the game with roughly the same chance of winning.

Balanced games are evidently more enjoyable than imbalanced ones. Players want to have control over what happens to them in the game, and if the game is practically decided when users get their roles, the game is less fun for both the winners and losers. The Balanced characteristic ties into the Competitive characteristic. When a game is imbalanced it is also less competitive, since players the overpowered team don’t need to put as much effort into winning and the players on the underpowered team are tempted to give up.

In many games, the wolves have much less of a chance of winning than any of the other players. Hosts have tried to justify this by saying that the glory of eking out a difficult victory as the wolf is satisfying enough to make the wolf still try hard. But many wolves are so weak in comparison with the other teams that not even the coolness of a wolf win can make them competitive. Moreover, why have wolf wins be harder to achieve in the first place? There’s no reason why games have to have the opportunity for long-shot wins when balance and potentially competitiveness are the cost.. Having a balanced game is more important than providing the opportunity for an underdog win. Wolves should be given the same chances as the other teams, or they should be eliminated altogether.

Skill - The players who play the most skilfully should be the most likely to win.

This is another fairly obvious characteristic of a good game. If playing well doesn’t help players win, where is the motivation to try to play well? The game quickly becomes uncompetitive when the role of skill is too small. Pretty much everything I said about balance applies to skill too - when players have to play skilfully to win, they try harder and make the game more interesting for everyone. Plus, losing to a team that played worse than yours simply isn’t fun.

The Skill characteristic explains why kingmaker situations are bad, since in a kingmaker situation, whether a team wins or not is decided by something other than how well the players on that team played. Also, going by the Skill characteristic, false information roles are usually harmful to the game. A player can play extremely well based the information he or she has, but lose anyway due to acting on false information. Just look at the end Bad Character Mafia for an example, where the entire game was decided by the fact that Sarah Palin secretly had a vote with zero value when everyone thought she was a mayor.

Variety - Players should get to experience new mafia scenarios.

Players don’t like to have the same role in the same game format over and over again. When players sign up for mafia games, they want to have a new experience. In a game with variety, players either have roles they have never had before, or get to experience game formats they haven’t played before. Giving players variety doesn’t mean every host has to come up with a radically new rule-set, faction layout, or set of roles. Creating variety can be as simple as giving players roles they’ve never had, or putting them on factions with people they haven’t worked with before. And it’s okay for Beginner games to have ordinary roles and team layouts, because the players probably haven’t had much prior experience with Smogon mafia. The risk of giving someone a repeat of an old role is low. Of all the characteristics of a good mafia game, variety is the easiest for hosts to create.

Efficiency - A game should be not have any complexity that does not enhance the other characteristics of a good mafia game.

If a mafia game is needlessly complex, players will be less able to understand what is going on in a game. When players are confused about their roles, the game format, or the rules, they play in less skilled ways and might even end up breaking the rules. Also, if a game is too complex, it might intimidate people into not wanting to play. Mcflurry mafia, one of the most complex mafia games ever designed, couldn’t get enough players to start, and I suspect that the complexity of my own Pokemon Items Mafia was the reason I couldn’t find people to sub in. Complexity can also lead to players not getting their actions in on time, since they need more time to figure out how to use complicated roles.

This isn’t to say complexity is always bad. When done well, complexity in a game can promote skill in a game by helping the players best able to figure out complex roles and arrangements. The games that give players the most variety tend to have original, complicated rulesets and roles, and without that complexity a lot of variety would disappear. There’s a reason I called this characteristic “efficiency” and not “simplicity.” While “simplicity” implies that lack of complexity is always better than complexity, “efficiency” emphasizes that games should be not have complexity for the sake of complexity. If you have a better name for this characteristic, please share it.

Effective Hosting - Hosts should be active, not make mistakes in results, and be able to make fair decisions about the game.

Achieving this characteristic isn’t as simple as it might seem. Hosts do not merely write flavor and process results; they also have to decide how much information to share with the players, and how to deal with unexpected events. Even the best-prepared host will probably encounter some scenario that he or she didn’t plan for, and the host has to decide what course of action is most in keeping with the other characteristics of a good game.

Roles and game mechanics that place huge burdens on the hosts should usually be avoided, since they make it much harder to ensure effective hosting. For example, Arceus in Pokemon Lynchpin Mafia could kill at any time during the game. Making this role work as planned would require the hosts to be active practically 24/7. Also, complex games are more prone to hosting mistakes.

Flavor - Hosts should give their games flavor text that makes the game more interesting for the players.

This characteristic is obviously more subjective than the others, and is less necessary for having a good game than any of the characteristics above. But even so, games with better-written flavor are more engaging than those without it. Good flavor keeps a game from being just a matter of abstract concepts and logical rules. With the flavor, the host tells a story and makes the players care more about the game. It also makes the game more fun for users who are watching instead of actually playing.

This list of elements of a good game is, of course, not set in stone. If you have a new characteristic you want to add, one you don’t think should be there, or a revision to one of my descriptions, please share what you think. You can also discuss the implications of these characteristics for specific roles, formats, etc.


<@dtc> every day with alk is a bad day
is a Live Chat Contributor Alumnus
I'd say pragmatism instead of efficiency, but really in this context they're interchangeable. hit all the points though, the efficiency one is really something I wouldn't have thought of myself. If only we had a way of making a balanced mafia game every time.... I've never figured out the magic formula.
I think when we say balance, it's important to say faction, rather than player. Some roles are really weak on their own but end up becoming crazy when combined with other roles. In addition, if a faction is full of weak roles, plus one strong role that brings them all into focus (ygo players, think fish otk and coelacanth), that could still be balanced, even if that one player has a role that looks astronomically out of proportion with everyone else's. Nothing immediately comes to mind (ygo has been dominating my competitive games brain) but I think it's a relevant concern. And let's also watch out for wolves that are too good.
been a while since I posted; I've been busy lurking.


social forums is a real tier
is a Forum Moderator
a higher amount of mafia created and hosted by more then 2 people would be nice.

there would be more total time of thought going into it, the variety of ideas from multiple creators, more chance of there being an available host at all times, and more people to keep track of things in case one person forgets something.

filling out the PM recipients bar would be annoying though.
So something I think that contributes to mafia games becoming less-desirable is the village leader system. I understand its usefulness, of course, but it's something that can both equally help and hurt the game.

The help, of course, comes in the form of making your faction stronger and giving you a better chance of winning. Dur.

The hurt, however, is that the non-leader players are subjugated by the leader, and lose a big chunk of control over their part in the mafia. If you lack a night action (fairly rare now, but not impossible) then you're basically just a vote (or Mayor, if you're cool).

If you do have a night action, though, you can become little more than a tool. Some people are cool with that. The problem is that people without all of the info can't make good informed decisions, but informing them can compromise your faction blah blah blah.

Anyway, something to somewhat decentralize the leadership of a faction without easily giving away what factions were what would probably help boost activity, I think. Easier said than done.

But it certainly made Viking mafia more fun for me when I was a part of the decision making process with 1-2 other people. FF5 mafia is looking like it'll actually do something along what I suggested, but I dunno if the alliances will be more public than what I'm saying.


<@dtc> every day with alk is a bad day
is a Live Chat Contributor Alumnus
the above is a classic complaint about mafia. generally in order for the village to win in a "standard" mafia game, they must simplify the control structure so that they can act as a unit against the mafia, who is united from the very beginning. this is an uphill battle for any village. hence the leader system. if all voices attempt to speak at once, nobody will be heard, and in the meantime the mafia will pick you off one by one. ofc this raises concerns from other villies about their becoming follow-the-leader sheep.

i know there were at least a few games i've watched that tried to subvert the system and prevent it from stabilizing in that way, to encourage participation on the part of all players. i forget which ones. either way, whether or not the leader is good for the gameplay of all participants is, I think, an arguable topic in and of itself...
i know there were at least a few games i've watched that tried to subvert the system and prevent it from stabilizing in that way, to encourage participation on the part of all players. i forget which ones. either way, whether or not the leader is good for the gameplay of all participants is, I think, an arguable topic in and of itself...
All the multifaction games (MGS, WDNN Mafia, etc). However, the fact is that a leadership is needed in normal games for the village to win, but unless you are trusted by the leader, you won't have a big say in anything, which means you won't get to do much of the fun either.