Welcome to the Family: An Introduction to Mafia

By Acklow. Art by V0x.
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Lying in the very deep areas of the forums, far away from Dragonspiral Tower and WiFi, under the very shadow of a 4m itself, lies a subforum not known by much of Smogon. Using the inconspicuous alias "Circus Maximus", this subforum is host to what seems like criminal activity to the layman. Gathering in large groups, users act cooperatively to kill one another in fights to the death. They take part in the hideous means of execution, "lynching" users as a means of entertaining themselves. Under-the-table dealings occur via real-time chat, leaving many clueless to what is going on. "Mafia", they call it. It's like some sort of game to these people...

This will be one of a miniseries of articles on the game known as mafia. My goal in this article is to educate you in the fundamentals of mafia. By the end you should have a clear understanding of how Smogon mafia is played and what to expect in your first game (if you are a newbie).

Mafia 101

As with any game, it is important to understand the rules and basics before starting. When playing Pokémon, one must know what kind of rules are being used in a battle. Playing OU means that you cannot use Ubers, and playing NU means OU Pokemon aren't allowed. Likewise, having a clear understanding of the basic rules in mafia is very important. When signing up for your first mafia game, it is imperative that you have read the rules. The rules will explain a variety of things: from the number of players in the game, to how long days and nights last, or who the hosts are. The standard set of rules will usually include these things, but will also vary from game to game, depending on the complexity of the game and whether or not there are certain experimental concepts being tried out. As a disclaimer, if a host includes in their rules that their game is experimental, do not sign up for the game unless you have had at least one or two games of experience. This is also a good reason for you to read up on past games if you plan on signing up for games at all. One of the best ways to learn about what to expect from other players in the games that you play is looking up what they've done in the past and what their habits are, especially as mafia games revolve around the players' actions.

Once you have read the rules to a mafia game that has open signups, it's time to sign up. Following the Circus Maximus guidelines, if you are not in any mafia games at present, you have the highest priority for getting into a game, and as such your post should include Priority 1 or P1 in bold. If you are in any other games, your priority number will increase by one for every game you are in (P2 for being in another game, P3 for being in two other games, etc.). Priority only applies to Beginner and Standard games, and since you, the reader, are likely a beginner, you should make sure that you look for a "Beginner" game to sign up for.

Assuming you were accepted into the game, the hosts will send you a role PM. A role PM is essentially your persona in the game. Based on the theme of the game, you will receive the name of your role, some sort of flavor (this isn't always the case, but most of the time there will be some kind of flavor), an action, and a win condition. In more complex situations, your role may even include multiple actions or items. I will discuss what actions are very shortly, but first comes an explanation on cycles and how they are used.

In most standard mafia games, you will encounter a two-part cycle in which the host updates twice within a certain time period. One of these updates is called "Night". It is during the night that most actions may be used. Usually roles like the bodyguard/doctor, inspector/cop, or mafia killer are able to use their actions during the night portion of a cycle. Hosts will include something along the following lines to delineate the usability of a night action: During the night you may PM <HOST NAME> "Night X - Flavor USER". "USER" in the action means another player in the game, or yourself (sometimes you can use an action on others, including yourself). When the host announces that it is the night cycle, they will include information about how long the night will last. It is during this time that you coordinate with anyone you are teamed up with as to who you should target with your action. Once you've made that decision, PMing your action to the host via Smogon or IRC is imperative. In most cases, the hosts will send you a result if you have an information role or if something happened to you during the night. The hosts will then proceed to update the thread with details on the happenings of the night (you will see who died or if there were any announcements that were made by announcer roles; sometimes, certain other results will be displayed in the nighttime update).

Sometimes, an action is available during the "Day" portion of the cycle. This is the other piece of the two parts that make up a cycle. During the day, most roles cannot use their actions (in most standard games, you will not see a daytime role); instead, users take part in a vote or "lynch". There have been many variations on how the lynch has worked in the past; however, the most standardized version of the "lynch" is where players cast a vote towards any other given player in order to effectively remove that player from the game (therefore, that player "dies"). The hosts will usually give a deadline for the day as well (as I mentioned with nights), and it is within this timeframe that players have to place their votes if they wish to do so. A technique known as stealth lynching occurs right before the deadline is called. As I mentioned earlier, deceit is a huge aspect in mafia, and as such, stealth lynches are a manifestation of deceit. The point of stealth lynches is to make sure that the opposing party does not realize that they were set up (or if they do, that they are not able to counter the stealth lynch as easily). At the end of the day, the host will call deadline and will post up results as to who was lynched. If you have an action during the day, and depending on the role, you may see results from the host after they have called deadline.

One final, fundamental aspect of mafia that is important for the beginner is the usage of outside communication. The widespread usage of instant-relay chat means that private conversations are much easier to establish and secrets are a bit harder to be discovered. In fact, in recent times, hosts require IRC access in order to conduct the game, due to ease of access and for the fact that it allows the host to keep tabs on who is active in the game. Hosts will usually include what channel the mafia game will be using in the sign-ups thread or once the game has actually started. Other than IRC, other forms of outside communication include private messaging via Smogon or the use of Quicktopic / AIM / outside forums. However, these are a bit more difficult to maintain, due to IRC being a staple among mafia players as a means of conversation.

Game Structure

Now that you know about the fundamentals of mafia, now we will review three major game structures that you will see in Circus Maximus.

2v1 Standard Structure

In the most generic form of mafia, you will usually find an uninformed majority in conflict against an informed minority. One of the most used (overused would be an even better term) forms of mafia is the Mafia vs. Mafia vs. Village structure. In this structure, two small yet unified teams will go head to head against each other and a larger, scattered team that lacks any unification at the start of the game. The goal for the village is to unify itself and extinguish members of the mafia that are attempting to mole their ranks. In doing so, the village reaches victory via the lynch and through the use of their vigilante (the vigilante is a village-aligned killing role), if there is one. The goal for either mafia team is to infiltrate ("mole") the village, while attempting to whittle both the village and the other mafia's numbers enough so that they can secure a win. Both mafias are equipped with killing roles and roles that enable them to screw with whatever roles the village has.

Information is a key factor in all mafia games, but plays an especially prominent role in 2v1 games, due to the nature of the structure. A well-placed mole can easily ruin the village's chances of winning because the mole can give the village bad information or can stay under the radar long enough to deal enough damage to both the village and the other mafia. Likewise, an inspector plays a vital role in making sure that anybody with plans of leading the village is clean.

Multi-faction Structure

Another form of mafia, one that has been very common, is multi-faction. In this structure teams are separated in varying forms of equality. Some games may run with faction numbers with equal numbers but varying goals for each faction. The nice thing about faction play is that it is much easier for players to step up and lead factions without worrying as much about being moled. On the other hand, it is much easier to get backstabbed if numbers favor a single faction. When playing in a multi-faction game, it is important that you take initiative to find out who your potential teammates are. In many cases, idle players only hinder their faction and being actively involved in what your faction does greatly impacts your faction's success. There are many cases, however, when people will attempt to mole another faction. A lot of the time, hosts may place a mole role among your ranks pre-game, in order to allow information to be fed to an opposing faction. Therefore, it is imperative that your faction is able to make sure everyone is clean. Just like in most 2v1 games, a well-placed mole can create major problems for your faction if you are not wary.

A few recent multi-faction games include EXPERTS, Advance Wars Mafia, and Underground Mafia. In EXPERTS, there were seven factions. Each player had some sort of posting restriction which was the main factor in having the factions unite. Unfortunately, some factions took long to unite due to moling being a huge factor in the game, creating problems towards the end of the game. Advance Wars Mafia included a three major factions, a neutral, and a secret faction. The secret faction had mole roles that were inspect-proof, allowing them to mole all three factions with great ease. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the game, the three factions were unable to realize that they were actually under the threat of being moled, and as such were defeated in a sweeping victory by the secret faction. Underground Mafia was a rather unusual game that could also be defined as a 2v1, but due to the unbalanced numbers on all the factions, it was more of a multi-faction than anything. There was one big village faction, one mafia faction with mediocre numbers, two small partnerships made up of 2 players each, and one neutral. The game revolved around how well the neutral was able to mole the mafia faction. Being an HP-based game made it all more interesting. However, one of the most interesting aspects of this game was the fact that the neutral was not inspected a single time and as such remained at the forefront of the game before winning.

Free-for-All Structure

The last major form of mafia is free-for-all games. In free-for-all, there usually are no factions whatsoever; everyone has a role and individual goals attributed to those roles. Free-for-all isn't used as often due to the work it takes to make the game balanced for all of the roles individually. Many games that do use a free-for-all structure will in many cases include some sort of HP system or win conditions based on roles. The thing about free-for-all is that it gives great leeway for players to team up with friends or with people they do not need dead, allowing them to play as "pseudo-factions" working towards the goal of having them all win. Free-for-all is also a bit more difficult to play, due to the fact that if the goal of all the players is to remove a group of specific players (each player needs certain others dead), then being able to find people compatible to you becomes a challenge. Someone could be masquerading as a person who doesn't need you dead, but in reality they could very well be your foe. Thus, it is easy to backstab others or be backstabbed. One of the most recent examples of Free-for-All games is Submarine Mafia. As opposed to its prequel, Mafia 360, this game included HP in order to provide more leeway in terms of killing people, allowing users to have a better chance at teaming up with one another to take out their enemies.

Some Tips

So now that we have gone over the various types of mafia games that you will see in Circus Maximus, I would like to examine what kinds of things you should do in mafia games. First of all, activity is the biggest issue that occur in mafia games. Hosts tear their hair out whenever a player needs to be substituted out of a game because it means that whoever is the substitute must fill in the offender's shoes and transition into the game smoothly. When signing up for a game, make sure that you plan to remain active, as most mafia games on Smogon run at a faster pace than traditional mafia games on other websites. Being responsible about your personal schedule along with the schedule of the game that you plan on playing in and making sure the two don't interfere too much gives you a chance to enjoy the game and your own personal life as well. Mafia requires quite a bit of attention, and making sure that you are on top of things when playing definitely helps the gameplay experience for yourself and others in the game. Recently, Circus Maximus has had the problem of people signing up for games, but then becoming inactive or subbing out, making the games become more like chores than games.

One of the biggest things that determine your activity in games, as mentioned earlier, is your usage of IRC. Most, if not all hosts (with the exception of those that run No-Outside-Communication games) prefer to see you on IRC when determining your activity in the game, as it creates a fluid sense of communication and allows hosts to assist you or deal with problems immediately whenever those scenarios arise. The thing about IRC is that it is not all that hard to log into. There are IRC clients for practically every type of operating system out there, and if you don't have a client created for your OS, you can always utilize online IRC sites, such as Mibbit. When on IRC, be aware of what you say, as most of the things that you chat about can be logged and saved by others, allowing them to check back on the things you have said. This is an important factor in mafia games, as IRC logs are often saved for personal use by others. Another aspect of mafia games you should be aware of is claiming. In many cases, especially in 2v1 games, people will try to step up to lead your team. If you are playing on an uninformed faction, such as the village faction in 2v1 games, you will want to make sure you do not claim right off the bat to anyone who asks, as they could very well be lying about their role.

Finally, one of the biggest parts of mafia—and any game in general—is good sportsmanship. Taking games too seriously can ruin your health. I'm serious! If you lose or if you die, dust yourself off and lighten up! There will be plenty of opportunities for you to win in the future, and even if something didn't go in your favor, there will always be a next time.

Final Thoughts

So now you can think of yourself as educated in the ways of Smogon Mafia. Smogon Mafia is always changing and there a lot of unique concepts that are used a lot in many games. In recent times, Multi-faction has become very popular and almost overused. It is highly likely that hosts will try to gear their games towards a free-for-all experience or will use other means of team play (such as 1v1). However, you can certainly expect your experience in Smogon Mafia to be a unique one. As you are equipped, now, with the knowledge you need to be able to properly play mafia, you definitely should come visit the Circus Maximus subforum sometime. Read up on a few past games, lurk around and watch whatever games are going on, and sign up for a game! I look forward to seeing you around.

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