Rules of Mafia

Originally from: The Graduate Mafia Brotherhood of Princeton University

  • The Introduction. On this page, we present the basic rules of Mafia. At the bottom of the page, you will find a large number of variants. Frequently encountered minor variants are noted in the rules in grey.

  • The Scenario. Mafia is a game that pits the forces of light against the forces of darkness. The players in a game of Mafia are residents of a small Italian village. The village is being terrorized by the mafia. During the night, the mafia roam about the village, selecting a law-abiding civilian as their victim. During the day, the villagers gather together, seeking justice, and vote to convict one of their number of secretly being a member of the mafia.

  • The Number of Players. 12+ ideal, may accept 8-12 with slight modifications. No maximum number, although becomes unwieldy with 24+.

  • The Equipment. One standard deck of cards.

  • The Goal of the Game. The goal is different depending on what sort of player you are. If you are a member of the mafia, your goal is to kill off all the civilians in the game. If you are a civilian, your goal is to kill off the mafia before they kill you off. If you are the angel, you are on the side of the civilians and share their goal.

  • The Deal. One player is selected each round to be the moderator. The moderator does not participate in the game as a player, but manages the game and remains absolutely neutral. The moderator shall choose cards out of the deck representing:

      Mafia: K Q J Clubs
      Angel: the queen of hearts (Use the queen of diamonds if you have a second angel)
      Civilians: red numbered cards 2-9
    It is recommended that the number of each type of card be adjusted according to the size of the game. For twelve players, select three mafia, one angel. Fill up the dealing pile with civilians to the total number of people in the game. If more than twelve players are in the game, consider replacing one of the civilians with an extra mafia member. If ten or fewer players are playing, consider having only two mafia instead of three.

    The moderator will ascertain how many of each card to deal and will deal each player, face down, one card. Each player will look at his or her card to see whether he or she is mafia, an angel, or a plain civilian. No one shall reveal his identity before the first day. No one shall ever show his card to anyone else while they are still alive. In a variant, the moderator may deal the cards out non-randomly, choosing secretly who is to play each role. This will raise speculation as to whom the moderator would have liked to be mafia.

  • The Play. Each turn consists of two phases. The first phase is night, the second phase is day. The moderator shall announce when each phase is occurring.

      Night. At the beginning of the game, and at the beginning of each subsequent turn, the moderator shall announce nightfall. All players (but not the moderator) shall close their eyes (and no peeking is allowed). The moderator should take pains not to speak in any particular direction lest he give out information as to the identity of the mafia or angel. The night phase is divided into two parts:

        (i) The moderator shall announce "Mafia awake." The mafia, and only the mafia, shall open their eyes. The mafia may kill one person per night. They may also elect not to kill anyone. In certain variants, they must kill someone. They shall decide amongst themselves by means of hand gestures whom should be killed. They shall communicate to the moderator by means of pointing. The moderator, once he understands who is to be killed, shall announce "Mafia asleep." and the mafia shall close their eyes.

        (ii) The moderator shall announce "Angel awake." If there is more than one angel in the game, then one should be the "Heart angel" (holding the queen of hearts) and one shall be the "Diamond Angel" (holding the queen of diamonds); they shall be called separately so that they do not see each other. The moderator shall ask "Who do you want to know about?" The angel should point to one person, and the moderator shall indicate by nodding or shaking of head and not by speaking whether the person indicated is a member of the mafia (nod) or not (shake head). The moderator shall then ask the angel to sleep. If there is another angel, then repeat this process. In certain variants, the moderator shall speak aloud whether the person is or is not mafia, carefully avoiding using gendered pronouns-- this allows the mafia to know whether the angel has discovered one of their number.

      Day. After this is done, the moderator shall ask everyone to wake up. Before anyone speaks, the moderator identifies who (if anyone) was killed in the night. The person assassinated by the mafia shall turn over his card (face up) on the table. In some variants, the mafia may choose not to kill during the night; although we have yet to come across a case in which this would be advisable, you ought to have a policy on it one way or another if you play some of the variants below.

      If someone is killed, he may not speak at all for the duration of the game, or in any other way communicate with the living. He may keep his eyes open at all times.

      At this point, the remaining survivors may vote to convict someone of being mafia. The survivors may freely discuss the situation. The angel, members of the mafia, or any other special added characters, may reveal themselves publicly if they feel that it is in their best interest to do so (which it mostly is not), provided that they never reveal their actual cards. Lying is permissible, and, for instance, a mafia member may claim to be an angel for the sake of having someone (non-mafia) convicted of being mafia. No player, though, under any circumstances, may display their card to another player, unless the player turning his card over is dead.

      The moderator, after allowing for a period of discussion shall ask for accusations. Any player may accuse any other player of being mafia. If an accusation is lodged, the accuser shall be allowed to explain the reason for his accusation. Then, the moderator shall ask for a second. If the motion is seconded, then the accused shall be allowed to state a defense. Other players may comment briefly on one side or the other. Then, the moderator shall take a vote. If a majority of the surviving members vote to convict, then the convicted player turns their card face up-- they have been put to death and may no longer participate in the game. If there is no majority in favor of conviction, the accused is aquitted and may not be accused again in the same turn.

      The day ends when:

        (a) Someone has been convicted and killed, or
        (b) The moderator determines that no more accusations are going to be (or can be) made.

      In case (b), noone is killed during the daytime. The moderator shall allow sufficient time for accusations to be made, but shall not allow the game to drag on unnecessarily.

      At the end of the day, the moderator shall terminate discussion immediately. Then, night falls and the moderator shall ask everyone to close his eyes.

  • Winning. The game shall be won by the mafia if there are no more civilians left, or if the number of civilians left is less than or equal to the number of mafia left, in which case the civilians will never be able to muster a majority to kill a member of the Mafia. The civilians win if all of the mafia are convicted and killed.

    Known Variants

    There are an infinite number of variants of this game, and we suggest that you try some. One simple variant is to experiment over a number of games with the number of mafia and/or angels you have in the game. It is frequently fun to add some new rule just at the time when people have gotten used to the old rules.

    Some common variants have been listed above, italicized in the rules. Below, we have listed other variants which we have run across:

  • Archangel.
  • Required killings.
  • Open with Day and not Night.
  • Moderator chosen after first night.
  • Random Assignment of Moderator.
  • Bulletproof Vest.
  • Blind Mafia.
  • Secret Identities.
  • Devil.
  • Two Archangels.
  • Competing Mafia.
  • Competing Mafia Families.
  • Multiple Convictions Allowed.
  • Unanimous votes required.
  • One turn lead for the angel.
  • Magistrate.
  • Resurrection.
  • Mafia and Werewolves.
  • The Bookie.
  • Angels work together.
  • Vampire.
  • Special Prosecutor.
  • Davidoff's Game.
  • Masons.
  • Secret Existence of Roles.
  • Vigilante.
  • Prostitute.
  • Dead Men Tell Tales.
  • Miller.
  • Kingmaker/King/Queen.
  • Godfather.
  • Cherub.
  • Witness.
  • Invisible Godfather.
  • Double Identities.
  • Legal Suicides.
  • Random Existence of Roles.
  • Mayor.
  • Governor.
  • Cats Have n Lives.
  • Silence of the Grave.
  • Stalker.
  • Psychologist.
  • Rambo.
  • Sensei.
  • Martyr.
  • Bodyguard.
  • Alternating Power.
  • Tree Stump.
  • One Life at a Time.
  • Walrus.
  • Plan Ahead.
  • Jury.
  • Double Agent.
  • Forensic Specialist
  • Medical Examiner
  • Speed Mafia
  • Turbo Mafia
  • You may also download a convenient reference table including most roles, in postscript format: (105 K)
  • We also provide a scoresheet for this game, also in postscript format: (49 K)

    Do you know of any other variants? Let us know!

    Greg Huey has written a computer moderation program for multi-life games featuring many of the characters listed above. The source code (in C) is available as moderate.tar.gz (41 K).


    Occasionally, there are irregularities or violations of the rules during a game of Mafia. We present our solutions to irregularities below. It is always better if you can salvage a game instead of throwing in the cards and starting over.

    • Suicide. A suicide occurs when a player shows his card to someone, flips his card over before he has been killed, or tells someone what the actual number on his card is. Telling the actual number on your card is considered illegal, because it would be simple then to go around and ask everyone their card-- members of the Mafia would have to lie in a very specific manner. To circumvent this problem, you may use a specially-designed set of cards. Generally, it is our policy that a suicide flips his card and is dead, and then the game proceeds as normal. See the variant on Legal Suicides.
    • Moderator gives incorrect information. If the moderator gives incorrect information to the angel, or kills the wrong person at daybreak, we usually ignore it and continue play. If the moderator has forgotten at daybreak who was killed, he should put everyone back to sleep and ask again. A laser-pointer is very useful during the night for being more certain about exactly who is indicated.

    Graduate Mafia Brotherhood of Princeton University