The Stealth Element of Mafia

By Mekkah. Art by #Az.
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It's 2010, June 22nd, and We Don't Need No Mafia has just ended. It was a pretty crazy and fun game, hosted by Amelia and Gmax. Both hosts had put time and energy into making this an enjoyable, unique, and refreshing game. It was Smogon's first Expert game, and it had the best player list we have seen in a while. This game had five factions: two village factions and three mafia factions. Each of them needed two of the others dead to win, in a balanced cycle. You can find the completed postgame here.

Now let me take you back to Fire Emblem Mafia, in 2009. It was probably June as well, so over a year ago. It's a bright new Day 4, and the village rogue and bodyguard just died.

Jedil, alias Bagheera, was aligned with the evil Begnion Senate. The villagers (called the Greil Mercenaries) had found him out. A barrage of votes were posted by the village (and by mafioso believed to be villagers, but that's a story for another day), and Jedil was doomed. But he wouldn't go down without a fight... here is Jedil's role PM.

Dear Jedil,
You are Kishuna.


You are one of Lord Nergal's morphs. In case you don't know what you are, despite being one: those are his flesh puppets, made of dead bodies given unnatural life, revived only to do their resurrector's bidding. You are the only morph capable of showing emotions, and emotions happen to be the last thing the Senate was looking for, so the Senate will gladly be making use of your other ability: your ability to make people feel uncomfortable, eerie, touchy. Even if they were feeling strong, wise, and right at that point, they will be fading back into the shadows, and wait and sit still until this mysterious mood is over. This is why they also call you "Bringer of Silence".

Night Role

Once per night, you may PM the host with title "Night X - Seal USER". This user will be unable to post next day. He will be notified privately, but it will not be known in public. He can still post on Smogon, talk to people privately and all that stuff, and he may tell others that he has been silenced. If the user posts under his alias, he will be godkilled.

Day Role

Personally, you are unable to speak as well. All you can post in the day threads is "..." (you are able to post normally anywhere else, including night threads, like any user). To vote, you must post "..." right after someone else. Your vote will be for whoever that "someone else" voted for. If you post anything but "..." in day threads, you will be godkilled.


You have 0G.


Begnion Senate

The moment Jedil and his teammates were looking at the topic, they saw that the last vote had been posted by Captain Hook (Blue Kirby). Funnily enough, Captain Hook was the recipient of another one of their tricks: the Propaganda. Behold:

Dear CyzirVisheen,
You are Lekain.


You possess three typical traits of the Begnion Senate: you are corrupt, inconsiderate, and ugly. That doesn't mean you're not good for anything though, it's just that the goals you serve are usually those that nobody would call honourable. Still, you have a decent ability to persuade followers, and if nothing else you can be slaughtered in a harsh winter, as people could live for years on your fat supply.


You hold the Propaganda - your very own cleverly written propaganda. Whoever holds this item at the start of the day has to vote for whoever the propaganda depicts as evil. Nobody but you has a clue what is on it though - anyone else who gets this item on their hands will not even know that it is propaganda. No matter what or whether they post in the day thread, their vote will be counted for who you want. This also works on yourself or your allies.


You have 30G.

Night Role

Once per night, you may PM the host with title "Night X - Propagandate USER". Whoever holds the Propaganda at the start of the day will have their vote count towards that user.


Begnion Senate

If anything doesn't make sense to you about these role PMs, consider reading the postgame and/or the game's rules for a better understanding!

So during that last night, the Propaganda had been given to Captain Hook, and it secretly changed his vote to LightWolf, alias Quasimodo, who was Ike, the village vigilante. Jedil had posted his trademark "..." right after his, so even though nobody could see, there were actually two votes against him. Of course, this was nothing in the face of the million votes against Jedil. If only there was a way to make them not count...

And then the Senators formulated the brilliant plan that would change a large part of how mafia would be played out in the future. Jedil would break his posting restriction (only being allowed to post "..."), which would get him godkilled. All the votes on him would be votes for a dead person, which are void (as well as his own vote), and the person with the next most votes would be lynched. And since only they knew that this person was LightWolf, they were in good shape. One issue: the moment they'd do it, all other parties would shift their votes to another suspect. Jedil would have to break his posting restriction just before deadline to make sure their plan wasn't foiled.

The poor boy had to get up at 3am to do it, but he succeeded (here and here. With a big post he went out with a big bang, taking the village's most powerful role with him. In this post, he typo'd "I'M A FUCKING TIGER!" as "I'M A FUCK TIGER!", and from then on, this method of taking someone with you upon being lynched would be referred to as a "fuck tiger".

The Effect of Fuck Tiger and Other Stealth Maneuvers on Mafia

So back to the present, a year ahead. We've had over 50 games played since then, and in quite a few of these, you can find maneuvers similar to the above one: people getting themselves godkilled at the last minute in order to take someone else with them. It's easy enough, with all the persuaders, silencers, and posting restrictions that allow you to get yourself killed. As long as you're present at deadline, and you're lucky enough to be able to off yourself, you can usually take an enemy with you.

That's a key element in mafia nowadays: being around at deadline. Not just for doing these kind of maneuvers, but also being able to prevent them if you can catch them in time. Of course, there doesn't have to be a godkill. Ever since Smogon mafia became characterized by its politics rather than its psychology, there's negotiations involved between multiple factions in nearly every lynch. Which brings us back to We Don't Need No Mafia: whatever faction you were aligned with, you had two enemies, and two possible allies that shared one of those enemies. There would always be a lynch between two factions going on, and you can't keep both of your friends satisfied. If you vote with one, the other might start voting against you. What better way to keep up the illusion for as long as necessary than to keep your vote on one party all day long, then switch it to the other at the end?

And of course, you can do these with multiple factions at once. As long as there's enough people present, just change your votes at last minute and you can unexpectedly gain the advantage.

And this is, in my opinion, something that hurts the overall value of mafia games overall. There is a significant advantage involved in being present at deadline. Things like your time zone, your sleep schedule, and the speed of your internet can suddenly mean the difference between life or death of you or an enemy. The focus is now on that small window of time right before deadline, rather than the days before that deadline.

Besides the above problem, this kind of maneuver has also changed the way silencers, persuaders and other vote modifiers are used. While strategically it's pretty safe to lynch a person you persuade or vote for himself, the threat of the fuck tiger means you will have to do something that might be inefficient. You might have to dedicate some of your available votes to voting another opponent, or you have to silence/persuade a different guy. The latter is usually not that big of an issue, though it might be if you aren't sure of their allegiances, or there are lynch proofs, mayors, etc. involved.

The Proposed Changes

I would prefer to change the game so that your time zone and sleep schedule no longer make such a difference. Therefore, it would be necessary for hosts to either rule out any kind of stealth maneuver, or facilitate them so that anyone can do them.

I have no strong preference towards either end, and I'm interested in seeing both happen. It isn't very hard to think of ways to keep most of the game's standard roles as they are with these new goals in mind, and in fact, hosts might even be able to get more creative with them.

The first option, ruling out the problematic factors, requires changes to either the way roles, lynches, and godkills work in this situation.

Most of the tactical godkills come from silencer and persuader, so the easiest way is to stop allowing their targets from godkilling themselves. Instead of "don't post or you are godkilled" and "vote for [user] or you are godkilled", hosts can put "your vote does not count" and "your vote counts for [user] today no matter who you vote for" respectively. Note that this solution does not prevent anyone from godkilling themselves through other means, such as by not following a posting restriction. Anyone who wants to solve the problem through this way will have to take care of every possibility of getting yourself godkilled.

The "fuck tiger" problem can also be solved by changing the lynch mechanics. The whole maneuver relies on the fact that all votes for the godkilled person do not count. Simply change that rule to "all votes that are not on an alive person count as voting for no lynch". Now the end result of a fuck tiger is simply that the player is godkilled instead of lynched, and everything else remains the same.

Above are the two most used solutions. I'd like to briefly mention the big PokéMafia game, where only one fuck tiger was allowed by the host before the ruling was changed. The game continued to have lots of stealth maneuvers, though.

The last solution to rule out these situations is to change the consequences of a godkill. At their root, godkills were meant to be kills done by the host for someone who broke a rule. Breaking another rule, such as sharing your account password in an anonymous game, results in both a godkill and the rulebreaker losing the game regardless of the win condition. A similar consequence could heavily discourage people from committing suicide through silence and such roles. However, there might still be people who are willing to take this kind of bullet for the team, especially since they will still consider their team the winners. This solution would probably the least popular and effective of all of them.

But what if, instead of eliminating the element, we want to stimulate it? Then we'll want to give everyone equal opportunities at these maneuvers. Anyone should be able to change their vote at any time, for starters. This can be facilitated easily if the host has the powers to edit any post by any player, so either it has to be an anonymous game, or the host needs to be able to moderate the Circus Maximus forum. Allow players to tell the host to change their vote at deadline before they go away (to sleep, for example), allow players to get the host to change their teammate's vote, etcetera. You can take it one step further and allow conditional vote changing. "If Earthworm and Jackal's votes are still on Gmax at the end of the day, then change my vote from Altair to Gmax", for example, to cover yourself against backstabs.

Of course, you can argue that at this point, you may as well make voting private, then at the end of the day (and perhaps once at halftime as well) the host posts who everyone voted for. This just shows how different voting is on Smogon games: the meaning of someone's voting behavior before the end of the day becomes almost nihil. Personally, I wouldn't even mind trying out games without a lynch at all. We can have plenty of our politics at night, with the aims of our kills and hooks. Then again, this emphasizes the problem of the largest faction getting ganged upon, since they no longer have their large amount of voting power to threaten with. And that problem is certainly larger then the stealth issue, and also much harder to solve.

Or let's take a step back for a second. We don't have to allow everyone to vote privately all the time. It can be a role on someone's team (on a united team, perhaps a global role that can't be killed) that allows this private vote. That way a team of four, where one member is never able to be on at deadline, can compete just as well as a team of four people who can. Or simply make it a rule that everyone is allowed to do this a certain amount of times in the game (for strategic purposes, I think once per player is enough).

Closing Words

This article was the easiest to write out of many of my recent ones so far, because all I'm doing is writing down things I want to change, and how I want to change them. I think hosts are sometimes a bit too limited in the "think outside the box" department. So many games have been carbon copies of past games when it comes to the rules, roles, and formations, and this element is one where you can make the difference. After games such as I Am The Mafia, where we had a fuck tiger through silence for multiple days in a row, and PokéMafia where we had a fuck tiger and numerous last minute lynch changes, you'd think someone would have seen this and changed things around, but nobody did. So that's why I believe it's high time for hosts to step up and take a large jump into the right direction again. Let's eliminate the time zone element from our games, and go back to politics, tactics, and psychology.

A Footnote of Sorts

It's August 1, release date. A few days ago me and my team lost blue_light's Expert game to a stealth lynch, which we might have been able to avoid if we had all been up, frantically refreshing the thread. Instead, I was roughly half a minute short of saving pretty much my entire team from a horrible death to the Von Karma role. I could not have asked for a better ending to emphasize how, well, borked our mafia metagame is in this aspect, and I was very glad I had this article written up before the game ended.

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