Critical Play: Mafia

Game: Mafia (we only had 2 players, so we played a version called Confrontation Mafia, which is an entirely different but I assert counts as mafia since its a variant of the original).

Platform: played over text message, using a random generation website to assign roles

Target Audience: Hobbyist social game players mostly, as the variant was shared on a gaming forum.

Rules are essentially: You are both mafia members who come across each other on the street at night. You are both assigned a random mafia family, and can either shoot your opponent, or hold and not shoot them. If they are in your mafia family, you get points for not shooting, and if they aren’t, then you get points for killing them. So, both players talk and try to figure out if they are in the same family without giving away what family they are (since then they would get shot for sure if their opponent wasn’t in that family).

I really liked this game, though I don’t think I we really figured out how to play it well in the short time we had with it. It’s essentially a single prisoners dilemma, except whether or not you are even able to cooperate at all is hidden. Rounds are totally untimed: you can choose to shoot immediately, or wait and deliberate as long as you’d like. I sort of liked this, both because how it mirrored real life in a way, and just because you could keep talking for exactly as long as it was fun.

The simplicity is really nice- there are no resources, no gameplay loop besides talking, and the only time the rules are applied is in the setup and at the end. Between then its all psychology. It’s pretty different from other social deduction games mostly because its extremely hard to make a 2 player social deduction game. Most games in this genre rely on not knowing the secret roles of the other players, but if theres only one other player, you would usually know for sure that they are whatever role you aren’t. Confrontation Mafia solves this in a really clever way (players could be on the same team but dont know), and sets up incentives so that theres a real tension between revealing information and trying to keep your identity hidden.

Theres a sort of fellowship created despite the fact that you are in direct opposition, because you are both trying to do the exact same thing, and are sort of both hoping that you will be able to work together and both survive, even if you might not be able to. The competition aspect is also satisfying: the feeling of being confident that you can tell someone else is lying, and then immediately shooting them for it, definitely works well.

If I would change anything, I might try to add some structure to the conversation, since we were often very cagey with each other, just didn’t talk much at all in order to not give ourselves a disadvantage, and it was a struggle to get the conversation going to make it fun.

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