Introduction: How to Play Mafia (with and Without Cards)

About: I'm am a recent College graduate that studied English with a concentration in Language and Digital Technology. The goal of me writing Instructables is to share what I enjoy with this community: social games. T…

This is how to play mafia, a fun and energetic party game. The guide on How to Play Mafia (currently the only Mafia guide on Instructables besides this one) is actually a more physical variation of the game. This guide will show you:

2 different setups (With and Without Cards)



Certain circumstances and

Skulls (things that either give an advantage or disadvantage to the game)

Edit (August 3, 2022):

Hello everybody! I want to thank everybody for using this guide as a foundation for their mafia games. The last time I updated this guide was in 2018, but I unfortunately have been busy with school and work. This meant that it was difficult for me to reply to comments and questions. I thank the community for filling that role for me. I recently graduated college, and have actually found a job in teaching. I am aware that the grammar and instructions could have been more precise, so I might plan to rewrite this guide. Hopefully it is easier to follow and readable. See y'all in the future.

Edit (April 26th, 2023):

Hello again everyone! It's been a crazy year, but I have taken the time to rewrite this guide. My focus was on grammar, clarity, and conciseness since there was a lot of information. I plan to release the rewritten guide by the end of Summer 2023 once I'm done with the school year. Thanks again for all your support, especially those who have been responding to comments on my behalf. See y'all soon!

Step 1: Setup

Before we get to the rules, things will be easier to explain through the setup. There are two setups, which are really whether or not you have cards.

To begin setup, follow the below instructions:
You need at least 4 people to play, although it is more fun with 8 or more.
1 person, not included in the 4 of the minimum group will be the mayor, who directs the game as it goes, and has control over the powers in the group.
For every 4 people, there is one mafia. Example: if there are 8 people in your game, there are now two mafia
In a round there are also doctors and sheriffs, which we will later discuss under circumstances, but for now we'll have one of each.

For this tutorial, we'll be playing with a group of 8, including 2 mafia, 1 doctor and 1 sheriff, meaning that 4 will be civilians

Setup #1:
This is with a deck of cards.
Aces are your Mafia
Queens are your doctors and
Kings are your Sheriffs
All other cards (2 thru J) are civilians
In our case, prepare two aces, 1 Q, 1 K and 4 other cards besides the listed.
The mayor will hand each player a card face down to each player. These cards will not be revealed to other players during the game.

Setup #2:
This is without cards.
Instead, we'll be using taps, so it is up to the mayor to remember how many people he picked and which character he assigned.
Everybody will close their eyes and the mayor will walk around to assign roles.
If the mayor taps you once, you are mafia.
Twice is doctor
Three times is sheriff
And if you don't get tapped you're a civilian
(More simple setup; the mayor should make sure not to choose extra characters or mistakenly bump into other players)

There are certain skulls/circumstances that change how the game is played. Read on!

Step 2: Rules

Now that we have the setup out of our way, it is now time to explain the rules.

Roles (basic and later explained through gameplay):
Mayor- is not an actual player in the game but rather the narrator; he has complete power over the group except the power to veto votes. He/she will assign the roles, tell when each role to wake up and sleep, create a story and sanction votes. It's this person's job to keep the game grounded and to keep the players reasonable. The mayor must remain unbiased throughout the game.
Mafia-Will kill other players and try to convince other players who the mafia is without revealing themselves
Doctor-can save himself (look under "Circumstances") and can save others
Sheriff-points at any other player and the mayor can either nod or shake their head of the person is mafia or not; uses his or her power to sway public opinion
Civilian- the most basic role, who votes and tries to figure out the mafias and vote them off

Obviously you don't want to reveal your roles of you have an important one but rather convince others you are a civilian.

Mayor has the right to silence the group or restart the game completely.
Mafia can only choose one target per round (2 mafia vote on 1 target)
Revealing your card (if you are playing with cards) is cheating.
Opening your eyes when it is not permitted is cheating.

IMPORTANT: In real life, the dead can not speak. Common saying of course. So in the game, the dead are not allowed to influence the town through speech or physical gestures. It is cheating. (They can talk, but any hinting at a mafia should get them kicked from the next round or game.)

Step 3: Gameplay

After setup, follow this sequence to play the game:

1: The mayor tells every one to close their eyes

2: The mayor tells mafia to wake up and choose their target, then to go back to sleep.

3: The mayor tells the doctor to wake up and choose someone to save, then to go back to sleep.

4: The mayor tells the sheriff to wake up and investigate someone.

5: The mayor tells the sheriff if he is right or wrong and tells him to go back to sleep

6: The mayor tells everyone to wake up and prepares the story

7: At this point, the mayor will summarize what happened during that round.

Example: Mayor says "last night, the mafia was angry at somebody who was stealing his money, so he killed person (A), the doctor saved the wrong person." OR "last night... Mafia killed person (A) but doctor saved him."
(A certain aspect to the game will change with skulls later explained)

8: The mayor: if a person has died at the hand of the Mafia, take their card without showing anyone (If you are playing cards. Note: Anybody killed by the mafia will most likely be a civilian, but you take their card regardless. They are not allowed to reveal their role.)

9: The mayor allows the towns people to discuss who the mafia might be (Allow 3 to 5 minutes).The mayor then calls for a vote (here any civilian or player can make a claim against any suspicious person.) Only two people can be nominated for prosecution (Allow 2 minutes for nominations). The mayor then allows the prosecuted to defend themselves, then a vote happens (Allow another 2 minutes for votes).

10: After a player has received majority vote against him, he receives the death penalty. (Check "skulls" for variable).

11: Then, the cycle starts again.

How to win the game!:

Mafia Win= Killing off everyone until you can't play anymore. Example: There were 8 people in the game with 2 mafia, and the mafia kills 4 people, so there are 2 mafia and 2 other players. The two other players maybe able to vote off one of the mafia, but in the next round, one of the normal players will be killed, meaning the last 2 players are 1 mafia and 1 normal person, so you can't win a 1v1 against mafia.

Civilian/Doctor/Sheriff Win= When all mafia are killed off, self explanatory.

Step 4: Circumstances

What I mean by circumstances is when things either get out of hand or you can't figure out where to go from your last move. Here are some of the main circumstances I've ran into:

The doctor: This class seems overpowered, no? Why not save yourself every round so you can figure out the mafia yourself? Those are the motives that most doctors will have, and they will barely make good doctors. The circumstance here is allowing for the doctor to save himself, every other round, so that his role doesn't not become unbalanced. Not necessarily a rule.

Circumstance 1: Somebody woke up when they weren't suppose to? Simple fix: You either restart the round, or kill the person who wasn't suppose to be awake. Example: A Doctor wakes up when the mayor requests the Mafia to wake up. The mayor has a choice to immediately end the life of the doctor or reset the game.

Circumstance 2: If you are the mayor, and you forget what happened in the round you've just completed, you can start the round again. Example: Say Mafia decide to kill person A, but you forgot who person A is. Simply get the mafia to get back up when everyone is asleep and ask them who they wanted to kill.

There aren't too many circumstances, but if you run into some, don't be afraid to message me :3

Step 5: SKULLS!!!

The definition of skulls based off a game/video game, is a customization that makes a game easier/harder/weirder. Here are some skulls you can use in Mafia!

You were it? skull: Allows the mayor to ask if "someone was mafia or not". It makes the game easier so you can find out how many more mafia are left.

You only live twice skull: Get the James Bond reference? This skull is specific to the doctor. With this skull activated, the doctor has to follow the once every other round rule, which states he can only save himself every other round. Example: If I was doctor and saved myself first round, I could only save myself on the third, fifth, seventh and so on rounds.

Reveal Yourself! Skull: The only time the mayor asks if somebody "if they are mafia or not" is when that person is voted off, not killed by mafia. Activating this skull allows for the other roles to reveal themselves when they normally couldn't. Example: When the doctor gets voted off, he/she can now say they were the doctor. (This skull cannot be activated at the same time as the Nobody Knows skull.)

Nobody Knows skull: Activating this skull means that when a person is voted off, they will not state whether or not they were mafia, so it's more difficult to find out if there is still more than one mafia out there.

You Saved Me! skull: Activating this allows for a doctor not to be targeted by the mafia for 3 rounds if they successfully save a victim, including themselves. Example: If you were doctor, and saved person A, and the next round mafia tries to kill you, the mayor will announce in the recap that you were a victim, but the doctor saved you, even though you may have not saved yourself. (This skull only works once per game)

Wait, the sheriff has a gun? Skull: This is the weirdest skull ever. The sheriff has a gun with 2 bullets. He has a choice whether or not to use it at the beginning of the first two rounds, but he will be unable to check people's innocence, and if he checks for people's innocence first, he will be unable to use the gun. Example: Round 1, the mayor asks the sheriff who he wants to check, but if the sheriff shapes his finger into a gun and points at someone, then the mayor will nod. In the recap, that person dies, but their role cannot be revealed. Round 2, the mayor asks the sheriff who he wants to check, and if the sheriff does check, then his gun is rendered useless. The same could be said when you check someone in round 1, and try to use the gun in round 2: it won't work unless it's the first two rounds.

Step 6: Tips!

Since Mafia has been around since I was 11, I've learned a lot about this game, so here are a few tips on how to play like a pro!

-Mafia is a psychological game. Although you trust/distrust someone in real life, the game completely changes those factors. People will always try to get inside your head, and get them on your side. You should try to do the same, but be careful about who you ally with.

-Some people can't help smiling if you ask them if they are a civilian or mafia, so don't just go on the assumption they are lying to you. I had a friend who had a suspicious smile all the time, even though he was just a civilian.

-Don't stay silent too much, because when you finally do go after someone, they will use that against you, saying that you've suddenly started talking just to get rid of them.

-Don't underestimate your opponents. In a game of 12 people, we had 3 mafia, a doctor and sheriff, and seven civilians. By round 3, 2 mafia had died along with two civilians, and one civilian was saved. The one mafia left was me, so I pulled my trump card: my psychological attacks. I turned everybody against each other, and acted as their moderator. By the last round, it was two civilians and me, meaning that if either of them died, I won. I finally used my "I helped you clause" which entails "Don't you remember that he tried to vote you off two rounds ago, and I helped saved you? Why would I have reason to kill you now?" That always gets them. In the end, I single handedly defeated 7 other players, whose reactions were: Dear God, who is this kid? But really, don't underestimate the younger people of your group, or the silent, or the over talkative.

-As a sheriff, understand that you don't check a target twice. If person A is innocent, why choose him again? I had somebody do this during a round, and he wasted 4 guesses on the same person.

-Another thing as sheriff, you need to learn how to defend others. If you know who the innocents are, try to keep them alive. If you are playing against 2 mafia, and 1 has already died, then use your authority against them. "Okay everybody, there's only one mafia left, and it's person C. I know because I'm the sheriff. If he doesn't end up being the mafia, you could kill me, but then we would have already won the round." That is a very aggressive sheriff play.

-On a very rare occasion, sometimes more than one doctor/sheriff is played. In that case, you need to support each other as the mafia would in keeping each other alive. The chances of two doctors is very slim though...

-Mafia need to know how to wage a war, even if it means sacrificing one of your own. Say it's a normal 8 person game, with two mafia. You've already killed 3 people, and both mafia are alive, so secure your chance by making it to the end. Nobody ever suspects that mafia would kill mafia, so when the mayor asks to vote somebody off, and your buddy is screwed, go for it. People will think that since you went after mafia (after he's proven of course) you probably aren't mafia. Use that as your argument too. "You remember Mafia B? I helped you guys get rid of him, and we've made it this far, there's no way I could be mafia, because that would be too high of a risk."

-Mafia need to act like civilians, so do a "ruse" between you and your mafia to make it look like you're accusing each other, to displace the balance of mafia. It will confuse the citizens so much.

Step 7: Update at the End of 2018!

Hey y’all! This is Vincent in 2018 just feeling really grateful for this community and all the views this one guide got. Mafia is not only a game to me, but part of my culture. There’s a lot a learned from this game, as well as meeting wonderful people. I just wanted to write this thank you note to the Instructable community, as well as present below some new roles I find interesting! Enjoy and thank you once again.

New Roles:
Sniper: I went to youth group retreat, and this role was presented to me as the main Mayor of the group. The sniper is given their role at the same time as everyone else. When they are told to wake up at night, they can choose a target to prepare to kill. However, they can only give a signal to the mayor during the day to kill their target. The sniper has a set amount of kills, which I decided should be 1 bullet for every 5 people including the sniper.
Saboteur: I experimented with this role as an example of the veteran from Werewolf. The concept is if someone visits the veteran’s house at night, they get shot, regardless of their role. The concept of the Saboteur is that they receive their role like everyone else. When they are asked to wake up, they will choose a target to sabotage. If the mafia choose the target first, one of the mafia is randomly chosen to die. If the mafia skip over the target, and the doctor saves the target, they will die. If the sheriff checks the target, they will die. You get the gist.