anonym_mouse (anonym_mouse) wrote in linguaphiles,

Ransom as a language-learning game?

RANSOM is a modification of a well-known party game called "Mafia"
in which 2 52-card packs of ordinary playing cards are used to add
solid ground to base players' deductions on, something the original game
regretfully lacks, forcing participants to make random or silly and unmotivated steps.

The game has been tried briefly in a group of 8 players and seemed to work great

    1. Players can use one pack (if the number of players is 4-6) or two if the number of players is higher.

    2. First, we separate out cards of one suit (e.g. clubs) and
    decide how many mafia members are in the game (one half of the players
    seems reasonable), then deal the shuffled cards of this suit face down.
    E.g. for 6 players King, Queen and Jack will mean "Mafia", while 10,9,8
    are "Good Citizens".
    These are the "role cards". They are revealed only when the player is
    "killed" or at the end of the game.

    THE AIM OF THE GAME is for one party to figure out who the other side
    are and "kill", eliminate them from the game by "murdering" their
    abducted victims, if they are the Mafia, or by "bringing them to justice"
    if they are honest citizens, as explained below.

    3. Next, each is dealt 4 cards from the deck. These cards are player's
    "money". Small cards' value is determined by their own point values
    (e.g. 2 = 200 dollars, 10 = $1000). Picture cards are valued as
    Jack=11, Queen=12, King=13, Ace=14 (e.g. an Ace could become $1400 in
    the game).

    4. The Ace of Clubs is put in the centre of the table. The game
    moderator declares "night". Everyone closes his eyes and hangs his head
    The next command is "Mafia, open your eyes and decide on your victim".
    The moderator (who himself may be a sleeping player, or a mafioso)
    counts out 20 (30,..) seconds. Then he announces "it's daytime: everyone
    wake up".

    5. They discover that the Mafia (after silently selecting their
    victim with gestures) have moved the Ace of Clubs towards
    one of the players. This means he has been abducted, and is still alive
    - but the Mafia will demand ransom, and kill their victim unless money
    equal to or exceeding their demand is collected and payed up. The amount
    is determined during a round of card play, and it is exactly
    from the actions and words of people during this round of collection that
    the honest citizens will begin to guess who the Mafiosi are.

    6. So, everyone selects 2 cards and places them on the table. One of them,
    face up, is the amount of money he is contributing towards releasing
    the victim. The other one, face down, will determine the Mafia demand.

    You see, the Mafiosi have to pretend they are like ordinary citizens,
    and therefore they also contribute to the collection. On the other
    hand in our little town totally controlled by the Mafia, everyone
    pays his or her protection money anyway, so some of the cards from
    your hand (i.e. your "money") goes to the heap that will determine
    the mafia demand for ransom.

    Your only choice is how much. If you are an honest citizen, you will
    contribute a high-value card to save another citizen (the one facing up),
    while as little as your hand allows to determine the "mafia demand"
    (the one you do not reveal).
    If you are a mafioso, you'll do it the other way round of course.

    A number of bluffs and tactical moves are possible here, but we'll discuss
    them later. Remember however that the Mafia may point at one of their own
    as a fake "victim of abduction".

    7. Next, the amount of collected ransom is calculated (e.g. 52 points,
    which will stand for, let's say, $5200 in our game).
    Next, the cards facing down are picked up, shuffled and then revealed and
    their total value counted. Let's say, 48 points ($4800).
    We see that the citizens' collected ransom exceeds the Mafia demand,
    and the life of the player is spared. From this point on he continues
    in the game as usual.

    The collected money however go to a special discard heap, which becomes
    "the Mafia Proceeds" (i.e. the payed ransom becomes Mafia money)

    8. Another situation arises when the face-down cards amount to more
    than the collected "ransom", and the player is "murdered".

    His "role card" is turned and revealed to everyone. If he is an honest
    , then the collected (insufficient) ransom is taken by the citizens
    and becomes part of their "City Fund".

    /generally, yes, but need to CLARIFY THIS for special cases. Money
    collection in this scheme works against elimination, which can be good design/

    So the Mafia had their night hit and either obtained Ransom and
    let the abductee go, or murdered him or her because the citizens
    could not pool together enough money.

    9. NEXT - it's still "daytime" - the citizens begin to discuss what
    to do against the Mafia. The best indicator is of course how the
    cards were played out. Basically, the only difference between the Mafia
    players and the rest, the "honest citizens", is that the Mafiosi know
    who they are (they did open their eyes at night and saw each other),
    so they play as partners -- while Honest Citizens have to guess
    and reason to figure out who to hit back at and eliminate as their
    Mafioso enemy.

    Talking a bit (I will later tell how to control this discussion), the
    players (some of them are the mafiosi, too - and they will bluff and
    lie etc. etc.) decide on one or several suspects for "bringing to
    justice" as possible Mafia members.
    Obviously, the Mafia will try to put an innocent citizen to trial (and
    they know for sure which are which), while for the Honest Citizens
    it's a guessing game, and they could be mislead by the Mafia members
    false reasoning and tricky argumentation. This is the core of the game
    and fun in it (as well as the main active language-using part).
    But anyway, one or several possible names appear.

    IF there are several suspects, say, 3 of them, 3 cards will be
    drawn from the "stock" deck of yet unused cards and the highest card
    will decide which of the players will be "arrested" and
    "put on trial" for possible elimination.

    10. Then the second round of card playing follows. People again
    use 2 cards (the 2 remaining cards from the original 4 dealt out),
    and will place one of them in the "prosecutor's pool" and the other one in
    the "advocate's pool" (= for and against the execution) -- THIS TIME FACE UP.
    Each player has to give reasons for his or her choice:
    "No, I do not believe player X is a mafioso because ... (here some
    past player's moves and words may be remembered as a justification
    for this decision) -- and so I am placing a small amount of money,
    the smallest currently possible for me, in the hands of his prosecutors,
    while I am contributing as much as I can to save him from execution"

    11 Each player in each round of card play in fact HAS TO state
    his reasons
    . We are playing this game for fun, language learning etc. etc.,
    so words - how people justify their decisions, how they understand
    and analyze past moves, is as important, if not more important, than
    the card play, from which these decisions arise.

    12. At the end of this round the player "put on trial" by the
    town citizenry is either convicted (and executed) or declared
    not guilty and released. If he is eliminated, his role card is
    turned up, and the whole town finds out if the executed prisoner
    was a real Mafioso, or an innocent victim of a miscarriage of justice.

    In case of conviction, the prosecutor's fund goes towards the "City Fund"
    In case the prisoner escapes conviction, the advocate's fund goes to the Mafia.
    /or whatever - it must be symmetrical to the first round; there the
    Mafia collected money. Need to correct this/

    13. NEXT players are dealt more cards (to total 4 in each hand for
    everyone remaining in the game - or, "people in the town work hard and
    earn more money, and just then the next Mafia hit happens", if you
    prefer), and the same cycle is repeated,
    of "night" and paying out "ransom" for an abducted citizen -- and
    a following daytime "trial" when the fate of a suspected citizen is decided.

    14. As the game proceeds, two things happen.

    FIRST, it becomes more and more obvious from both the card play
    and from the explanations and justifications uttered during the
    obligatory player's addresses to the citizens, which of the players
    are acting in concert, and which play to eliminate "honest citizens"
    So the game moves closer to the total elimination of one party or the
    other, and either Mafia taking over the town, or Honest Citizens clearing
    their town of all crime (losing some of their members on the way either to
    the Mafia or as a result of a miscarriage of justice).

    SECOND, both the City and the Mafia collect more and more money
    as the citizens' City Fund or as collected Ransom. Even if the remaining
    players know fully who they are, this remains the aim of their play to the
    end, because the side that ultimately wins has the right to collect this
    amount from the losing side.
    Which can be symbolic, or actual money (only scaled down:
    the $1000 of game money might become payable as 1000 cents, or $10
    in real money etc.)


    (1) The Mafia Bluff
    The Mafia, especially in the beginning of the game, when it would be
    natural to assume that the victim is an innocent villager, or if
    during their night council the Mafia flash their cards to each
    other and see they've got a few aces etc -- the Mafia in this case
    might wish to bluff and point to one of their own as an abductee.

    If this works, it can create 3 advantages for the Mafia:
      -- one of them is seen as a "victim" by everyone.
      -- other Mafia members contributing their Aces to the Ransom pool,
      publicly become good protectors of citizenry in the eyes of
      others (we remember that for the Ransom-collecting round the
      "save-the-victim" contribution card is always open, while the "Mafia
      demand" card is hidden from view)
      -- and thirdly the collected Ransom becomes mafia money, it's their
      winning trick after the end of the round, if everything goes according
      to their plan that is

    However there is a chance that Citizens play against the "victim", having
    suspected him or her to be a mafioso, or that card values add up in such a
    way that this bluff falls through.
    Then it could be a disaster for the Mafia: not only they will lose one of
    their own, but will also reveal themselves by their play.

    (2) Balancing the game
    It's not immediately obvious if the equal number of Citizens and Mafiosi
    will lead to a balanced game, the mafiosi having an advantage of knowing
    each other and that of the first move etc.
    So it might be useful to experiment with the relative number of Good
    Guys and Bad Guys.

    (3) Cards that are not taken and accumulated as City Fund or Mafia Proceeds
    should go into general discard and reshuffled and dealt out in subsequent rounds.
    Even the Fund and Ransom cards can be reused if one is keeping a score on a
    piece of paper: the game ends not when the deck runs out, but when all enemy
    players are eliminated

    (4) Jokers may be introduced
    Usually 52-card decks come with 2 or 3 joker cards. Those may be introduced
    into the play as "special agents", who, once produced by a legitimate
    player, save the abduction victim (or in case of a suspect on trial - as
    a special government ruling that releases the victim) etc. etc.
    Then it might be necessary to deal 5 cards per player, or not - this
    idea needs to be tried first.

    Generally, it may make sense to deal out 5 or 6 cards per player for him
    to have more choice in expressing his support or otherwise. Players should
    remember that they will have to play 2 rounds (night/ransom and day/trial),
    2 pairs of cards out of their hand and therefore plan: it may be bad tactics
    to automatically throw the highest/lowest pair in your first move.

    (5) The Dead Bodies - players who've been murdered by the Mafia
    or executed should not leave the game and be sitting around as silent dummies.
    Whether played as a party game, or (and especially) for language-learning, it
    could be much more fun to turn them into "Journalists".
    Their obligation in the game will be to provide a review and analysis of players'
    moves and motives.
    For example, the moderator announces "it's daytime, everyone open your eyes".
    Then the Journalist player chimes in with "..and here's our morning news.
    We have just received a report of a terrible crime that happened in our
    town last night: one of the citizens got kidnapped. The owner of Crunchy Bagel
    on the corner of Oak Grove and Hazel Hill Mr .... did not return home, as his tearful
    wife revealed to our correspondent, and about 3a.m. a male voice over the telephone
    demanded ransom"

    When there are several of them, they could interview each other, or, say,
    a former Mafia member may become an owner of a tabloid and start questioning the
    wife's story, implying her husband ran away with a lover, or that the whole
    thing was a scam as his Crunchy Bagel had long needed to be renamed to "Crumpled Bagel"

    The idea however is (a) to draw attention to the past play and words (b) for
    the purpose of swaying the public opinion

    (6) Players usually talk in turn when making their move. They are
    obligated to speak, their aim is to influence other players. Mafia has obvious
    purposes, while ordinary citizens are trying to figure out who the Mafia are, and
    draw attention to certain points in the game to help others see their reasoning is

    (7) The more advanced the players are, the more these exchanges
    should sound like parodies (e.g. of newspaper reports, prosecutor or barrister's
    speeches, and so on. Lots of fun could be had (possibly) by inventing names and
    details about events as they unfold.
    ONE IMPORTANT POINT - the discussions have to be conducted in terms of townspeople,
    ransom money, their income (the dealt cards represent their income) etc., and NOT
    IN TERMS OF A CARD PLAY (trick, dealing, aces, queens and kings etc, etc)

    For less able players it might be necessary to become more basic and simply analyze
    past moves and quotes using factual language.

    (8) This is a first draft of the game of Ransom, and so more
    adjustment of the rules may be needed. Only the practice will show.
    I hope this variation of Mafia dispenses with its innate silliness, and becomes
    suitable both as a better party game for native speakers, as well as a sort of
    game that provides changing plots and generates language learning situations
    to which players may react using the language they already know.

p.s. sorry for typos etc.


    To the memory of Vladislav Illich-Svitych. This is just to bring attention to something very ‘Nostratic’ (far beyond ‘Indo-European’ languages —…

  • Three one-hundredths of a second

    (Somewhat prompted by watching the Olympics.) Why is that silly redundancy there in "three one-hundredths of a second"? Nobody says "two one-thirds…

  • Word 'Climax'. A note for aspiring etymologists.

    The English word climax has two seemingly incompatible meanings of "climax" and "orgasm". Yet, we should not forget that the word has not only a…

  • Post a new comment


    Anonymous comments are disabled in this journal

    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded