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
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
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.
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
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.)
NOTES ON TACTICS AND LANGUAGE LEARNING
(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
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.