Danny Schwartz – Mafia.gg critical play

Mafia.gg is a free-to-play browser game based on a text chat system. It appears to be the passion project of a few developers funded by Patreon. I think the target audience is fairly wide, but the game is likely mostly geared toward the kinds of players who like to socialize with strangers on the internet. The existence of a community discord server for Mafia.gg supports this although community discord servers are quite common for modern games.

Mafia.gg is based on the party game ‘Mafia’, so there are numerous player roles, day and night phases, and voting. Some roles may do a secret action during a night phase, like kill another player or investigate their role. During the day, which appears to last 5 minutes by default, players chat to come to a majority consensus about who to eliminate in the hopes of eliminating all players with mafia roles before they cease to be a minority of living players (thereby winning the game and causing the village-aligned players to lose). The majority of gameplay in Mafia is trying to deduce other players secret roles or trying to deceive other players, both done through conversation. Conversations are almost entirely unconstrained, so players may (and sometimes do) comment about unrelated things like being hungry in real life.

The number of roles is quite large and there’s an extensive variety of interesting ones like the sheriff, who can, once per game, reveal a gun during the day and instantly eliminate a player of their choice. Lobbies can vary in size. I played with a lobby of 15 players and it was fairly chaotic. The chaos leads to feeling like vote choices are arbitrary since there is so much information (or rather, so much text, plenty of which is uninformative) which can lead to boredom. I think having more players makes the possibility space of the game more interesting but in my opinion it isn’t worth the dramatic hit to the informative quality of the text chat, the player’s main resource.

Compared to other games in the genre, I think the use of text chat instead of voice chat contributes to the chaos of a large lobby, though I do believe text chat can be a fun, viable option for a game like this. In my experience, players usually allow one speaker to talk uninterrupted, which helps with the pace of the discussion. Reading interleaved messages that are part of separate concurrent conversations can make it difficult for players to understand the ongoing discussion.

Can you tell what’s motivating the players’ votes from this chat snippet?

I think the game was fun, but only after a significant number of players were eliminated, which pared down the chaos of the daytime text chat. About 10 years ago, I played a version of Mafia implemented in the custom map editor for Warcraft 3. The pacing was significantly better due to some features like a witness stand for an accused player during the day where only that player could speak. The The Godfather music that would play at night also helped a lot with aesthetic theming, creating a sense of intrigue and really giving surprising moments a sense of euphoric silliness. I think Mafia.gg lacks that game’s charm while keeping most of its core mechanics.

In the game I played, nothing extremely surprising happened. I can certainly see the potential for explosive, memorable moments, but they definitely don’t happen every game.

I think I would add more UI elements like a claim table to minimize the need to express most things in the text chat and the need to remember who claimed what role. I also think a text cooldown system would help minimize spam and text chat chaos.

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