What it is: A group game best played late at night, often at sleepovers. Players try to discover the identity of a secret “mafia” amongst the group before they’re all eliminated.

Best for: Teens or older in a group of at least 8.

What you need:

  • Traditionally you play with a deck of cards, though you could accomplish the same thing with some slips of paper and a pen. And that’s it!

How to play: This game is a little involved (though probably not the most complex game I’ve posted), so I’ll do my best to explain it.

First of all, choose one player to be the narrator. This player will volunteer to sit the game out and be the moderator, running the game so everyone else can play.

After you pick a narrator, you start by handing out parts. In this game, each player is given a role to play. Let’s run over the roles real quick.

  • Mafia member: A player who tries to kill all other players and eliminate them from the game before his or her identity is discovered.
  • Detective: A player who has a special skill in guessing who the mafia is and tries to protect the citizens.
  • Citizen: Anyone else; players who just play the game, hope not to die, and try to help discover who the mafia is.

Games with large groups will often have two detectives and two mafia members.

So at the beginning of the game, you’ll have players draw cards to determine who are mafia, who are the detectives, and who are the citizens. You can accomplish this by pulling out cards from your card deck. Assign the different roles to cards: so Kings could be detectives, Jacks would be mafia, and anything else would mark a citizen. If you have a smaller group, put one detective card and one mafia card in your deck. If you have a larger group, try two of each.

Once players have picked their roles, it’s important they keep them a secret. No one should know who had what role. But tell players to hang onto their cards and keep them hidden; eventually during the game, everyone will end up revealing his or her card.

So now that you have your players and you have your roles, the game can start. The narrator starts the game, usually by telling a story, if you’re really into the game like that. The story is about the players and a scenario they’re in and might start out something like this:

“It was a dark and stormy night, and the members of the Jones family were gathered together on a camping trip. That night as everyone gathered around to roast hot dogs and tell ghost stories, the clouds gathered and lighting flashed ahead. Spirits were high around the campfire, though, but no one knew that someone in the party had evil intentions…”

Each round the story is different and it doesn’t really matter; it’s just part of setting the mood for this kind of creepy game. (That’s why it’s good to pick a narrator who can pull off this mood-setting story-telling role.)

So let’s set up a sample game. Say James is the narrator and is starting the game. He starts telling his story, setting the scene, and ends the first segment with the end of a day, saying something like

“…so everyone finished eating their hot dogs and returned to their tents to sleep.”

At that point, all of the players close their eyes and keep them closed until otherwise instructed by James, the narrator.

Then James will say something like:

“But late that night, two members of the mafia woke up with a dark and evil plan. Mafia members only, open your eyes and look at me.”

Then the two players who drew Mafia cards open their eyes and silently nod to James to show who they are. Let’s call the mafia Steve and Marco.

So Steve and Marco open their eyes. James will go on:

“Now the two mafia members will silently agree on one person to kill tonight.”

Then Steve and Marco point, shake their heads, and nod until they agree on one person to “kill.” Let’s call her Lara. After they have, James resumes narrating:

“Now mafia, close your eyes. Detectives only, open your eyes.”

The detectives open their eyes — we’ll call them Katie and Chloe. The detectives then silently point, shake their heads, and nod until they agree on one person to accuse as a member of the mafia. Say they point to Joe. Once they do, the narrator silently shakes his head, indicating that Joe is not a member of the mafia. Katie and Chloe close their eyes and James resumes narrating.

“The next day dawns cool and misty, and everyone wakes up and opens their eyes…”

(everyone opens their eyes)

“…to find that last night, there was a MURDER.” Duh-duh-duh.

Then James can explain that as everyone wakes up, they find that Lara has been murdered in the night. He can go into as much gruesome detail as he wants in describing the murder; it just depends on the narrator and how into the game he or she is. At the least, he needs to announce that Lara died. Lara can also dramatically act out the death if she so chooses.

At this point, all the players get a chance to discuss out loud who they think the mafia members might be. Then they can accuse one player of being a mafia member. If they’re right, that mafia member is eliminated and the citizens and detectives are one step closer to winning the game. If they’re wrong (say if they think Joe is a member of the mafia), Joe is eliminated and the mafia is one step closer.

The discussion period is where the bulk of the game takes place, and where things can get pretty heated. (Also, this often argumentative phase of the game is why I think many people either love or hate this game.)

So how does the discussion phase look? Anyone can talk, anyone can voice an opinion, and everyone must come to an agreement (or at least a majority vote) about who to accuse. The one rule is, no one is allowed to say what their role is. James, the narrator, plays the role of mediator, keeping people focused and reigning in any too-heated discussions.

As for the two mafia members, they’ll want to protect themselves, of course. The trick is, they don’t know who the detectives are, and if the detectives are onto them or not.

After everyone agrees on who to accuse, that person must reveal their card and their role and then exit the game. Then the narrator starts another nighttime phase of the game, where everyone closes his or her eyes, the Mafia gets another chance to kill someone, and the detectives get another guess at who the mafia are.

Say during the next round, the detectives guess that Steve is a member of the mafia. The narrator nods his head yes. Now the detectives are at an advantage: they know a member of the mafia. But during the next discussion round, they have to carefully use this knowledge. They can’t outright say they’re detectives, you see. They can’t state that they know Steve is a mafia member. But they can persuade and lead the discussion, hoping to sway the citizens their way.

If anyone speaks out too vocally against a member of the mafia during one round, the mafia always has the option of killing them during the next night phase of the game, so the detectives will want to be careful. But the mafia members can’t make the murder too obvious or everyone else will be onto them… See how it’s a game of mind tricks, deceptions, and secrets? It often evolves into backstabbing and throwing people under the bus, which is all part of the fun.

One last thing: what happens to the players who die? They become “ghosts” and can stay in the room, watch the game, and even keep their eyes open during the nighttime phase, but they’re not allowed to make a sound. If they don’t have that much will power, kick them out of the room. 😉

The game ends when either the mafia are both killed, or when they’ve killed both the detectives (or is it when they’ve killed everyone? Maybe you could play either way). What a creepy game for your Halloween party this year!

Variations: Along with the murder theme, there’s a murder: winks version game and a hand-squeezing version that are both a lot of fun.


  1. Mafia can be played in classrooms or workplaces on day-to-day basis. So, every morning, someone is dead and during the workday people need to decide who are they going to vote in the upcoming evening lynch.

    This can be done by specifying someone as a moderator or by organizing such games on ExposeMafia.com.

  2. I love this game, I play it whenever I have enough people that want to. We always play with a doctor, who wakes up in the middle of the night and chooses someone to save. If that person is killed by the Mafia, they stay alive and the narrator talks about how that person’s life was spared, but without revealing the doctor’s identity.

  3. I played mafia with a gramma and a lawyer
    Grandma is the villager who can kill anyone who checks her whether it may be detec doc or Mafia
    Lawyer is a Mafia role which can save a mafia or good guys from lynch .

  4. We play this at school, and we have other characters that are either already created or were created by my class. For example, the last stand can kill someone if they die, the Kamikaze can yell ‘Kamikaze!’ randomly and kill someone as well as themselves, and the lawyer, who can say anything regardless of how many people have said what.

  5. I have read dozens of explainations of this game in preparation for an upcoming virtual office party. Your explanation is by far the best! Finally this game makes complete sense to me. There were some missing holes that you filled in. Thank you so much! This is a great game to play virtually.

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