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A note beforehand—if anything is unclear to you in this article, it would be wise to read the mafia articles in the last two editions of The Smog. Many terms and concepts used here are explained there. A reoccurring term in this article is "claim", which means "to tell someone what you are" (which can be a lie, obviously).
The moment is here. You log into Smogon, and notice a new thread in Circus Maximus. That mafia game you signed up for has finally started, and you got in! Your eye moves to the top right corner, and you notice a new notification! Excited, you click, go to private messages, and see a new one, with a title along the lines of "Role PM". You click again, start to read everything, perhaps two or three times over. Your brain is already going full power. It is only asking one question—how am I going to play this?
The barebone basics of mafia usually involve an uninformed majority versus an informed minority. The villagers have the numbers, but they do not know who is with them, unlike the mafia. Therefore, it is obviously in the best interest of the village to learn who their allies are, and to turn the game into an informed majority versus an informed minority. Obviously, this also means it is in the mafia's best interest to not allow this to happen, without making this clear to the villagers.
It has been shown time and time again that it is much harder for a village to successfully unite (and win games) if their information is all over the place. Collectively discussing every bit of info with everyone makes misinformation more likely to come up and more likely to matter, due to below average players and evil players pitching in. Because of this, yours truly invented the concept of a "village leader" in Saw Mafia. The idea was simple—prove your own innocence as much as you can, then gather all of the village's information and roles for yourself and use them as efficiently as possible.
Leading a village isn't as simple as you might think. It isn't just stepping up and asking for claims, thinking everyone will come to you with their abilities and results. Believe it or not, it takes a whole lot more. For beginners and intermediate players alike, here is your step-by-step guide to leading an uninformed majority to glory.
Nobody in their right mind will (or should) claim to someone who says he's going to lead the masses just because he wants to. You have to prove yourself as clean. There are several methods, and the sad truth is, none of these are always possible or foolproof.
The first method is by having some kind of inspector clean you. If this works, you are essentially golden, since the inspector is one of the, if not the, best roles in the village to find clean people and lynch targets. And it will be easy to find a replacement leader in case you die—just appoint the next and most capable cleaned villager.
There are drawbacks, however. You need to get an inspector to inspect you, which can be difficult since they tend to have their own agenda. They might inspect someone else. Inspectors should also be wary of moles that are trying to get themselves cleaned. And of course, even if the inspector does clean you, the masses might not buy it. After all, anyone can claim that the inspector cleaned them. Thankfully, this problem is partially solved if the inspector tells everyone that you have been cleaned, but that brings about other issues. Without some kind of cover, the mafia might kill the inspector. Thankfully, an anonymous setting prevents this from happening.
The second method is cleaning by theme. The "theme" of a mafia is the origin of all the role names and flavor for that game. There are two kinds of themes in mafia—closed and open. A closed theme is a game entirely based on something like a game, TV series, franchise, etc., whereas an open theme is essentially a collection of characters that can come from anywhere.
Cleaning by theme can only be done in an closed-theme game. All you need to be is a prominent character that can't be anything but good—for example, Ron Weasley in a Harry Potter game. The idea behind it is that in a game based on Harry Potter, there would surely be a role named Ron Weasley, so claiming to be Ron when you are not would be a foolish move for a mafia.
However, in today's mafia, completely closed themes have become less and less common, and when they are there, the evil players often get safe claims from the host to work with. So while this method worked in the past, it's likely that it won't in the next game you play.
A third method would be cleaning by claiming a role that can pretty much only be on the village. A good example would be a role that blocks all the kills done during the night, as this helps the village significantly. The advantage of this particular role is that it is easy to prove you have it. Of course, not everyone will agree if a role would only be on the village or not.
A fourth and last method is a mix between the second and the third one—claim a role that would surely be on the village, such as inspector. The drawbacks are nearly the same as well—you need to actually have this role, and you are exposing yourself to every side. And of course, there can be multiple inspectors in the game, including evil ones.
As you can see, even if you want to take the lead, you need a bit of luck with the role you get. A miller won't be able to lead a village, and someone like a mayor only has a small chance of making himself trustworthy.
If you managed to provide sufficient evidence for your trustworthiness, now is the time to gauge others'. Many players make the mistake that once they've outed themselves, people will contact them with their claims. This simply doesn't work. Some people are lazy, others will not immediately see why you are so trustworthy, and some are mafia that don't feel like claiming to you at all. As a leader, you have to be the one taking the initiative. Seek out people on IRC and on the forums, point out why you are clean, and get their role PM. Some people will be eager to claim to you, but many won't be.
Make sure to put all the information given to you in a private spreadsheet of sorts so you don't have to remember all of it.
If all went well, you should now have a claim from everyone. Now, you'll want to see which of the claims are trustworthy, and which aren't. Roles that can prove themselves are more trustworthy than others, but often, it only proves that they have this role, but not the same alliance as you.
Things to look out for are:
None of these are foolproof mafia signs, but they are reasons to be suspicious.
When a night starts, you are the one who contacts people to discuss their night targets. You don't have to give them a reason if you don't fully trust them. When a night ends, again, you are the one who contacts people to get results, and based on that you decide on a lynch target.
You will also want to appoint one or two trusted villagers and give them the information you have, for two reasons—to preserve the information obtained in case you die, and to have a second opinion on night and day targets. Pick these back-ups extremely carefully, or else all your valuable information will go straight to the mafia.
If you notice that at any point, the mafia did manage to get into your information somehow, all is not lost, but you need to get your act together. Take a step back, and put no one else in the know of any new information, such as recent night results or targets. Figure out who the mole is, and have him executed. You might want to consider publicizing some information so your fellow villagers are not completely lost if you die. It's better for everyone, including your allies, to have the information, rather than just you and a few people you cannot trust completely.
A game of mafia is like a theatre piece—even though you have your written role, it is up to you to turn the theory into a living act. Regardless of whether you are evil or not, you will want to look innocent.
As a villager, you will want to have your role known by a competent village leader, but not by the mafia. Do not rush into claiming to the first guy who asks you to—sometimes it is better not to claim at all than to claim to an untrustable person.
When you do decide to claim, it might be worth proving your role. Keep in mind this isn't always possible or practical, nor does it prove your innocence, but it's better than having no story at all.
As a mafia, you will want to act like a villager taking the above into consideration. The moment you get your role PM, get in touch with your team mates and devise reasonable false claims for everyone on the team, or at least think of something to say when someone asks for claims. Early in the game, you can usually get away with pretending you don't trust somebody, but sooner or later you will need a believable claim. Sometimes, the hosts provide information to help the evil sides to claim, like telling them what roles are not in the game. These so-called "safe claims" are heavily recommended. Don't be too hasty and paste your fake PM everywhere.
After playing multiple games with the same people, you might notice they behave differently depending on their faction. Think about how quick they are to claim, whether they want to lead or to follow, how they think certain roles should be used, etc. Take note of this for future games.
Through all the games I've watched, played, and hosted, I've seen villages that do well, and villages that make complete fools of themselves. Besides bad luck and/or other factions focus-firing on them, a lack of central, competent leadership is the number one cause of a village loss. Even though people seem to expect otherwise, controling a seperated faction that contains roughly half of a game's players is not a matter of asking for claims and giving orders. It's one of taking control, talking to every single player after every single cycle, and having good judgement on who to trust.
I hope this article was informative. Moreover, I hope it improves the quality of any future games you might play.
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