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The Original Mafia Rules

Game Core

Welcome to Mafia, a rite-playing game in which players become characters suspected in having Mafia connections. Two teams: the Honest and the Mafia will compete against each other. For the Honest team players, the task is to stop Mafia before it eliminates them. Mafia members have to hide their identity and pose as Honest players in order to manipulate the other team players towards self-destruction. It is in each player's best interest to prove his or her innocence (or if you are a Mafia member, to hide your guilt) by accusing and interrogating their fellow suspects, until all members of the opposing team are eliminated from the game.

Pre-Game Instructions

Prepare a deck of cards, paper, pencils and at least six players. When all players have assembled, count how many people are in. From the deck, take as many cards as there are players according to the following list:

  • 6-7 players = 2 black cards + others red
  • 8-10 players = 3 black cards + others red
  • 11-13 players = 4 black cards + others red
  • 14-16 players = 5 black cards + others red

Inform the players of the number of the black cards included.

Game Schedule

Sunrise Phase

First step is to divide the players into two teams. Each player gets one card from the prepared and shuffled deck, secretly looks at the card's color and returns the card to the deck. Then everybody closes their eyes and lowers their heads. Someone starts counting aloud (usually the person who dealt the cards). After number 5, s/he continues to count silently until 15, then s/he resumes counting aloud until 20. During the silent period, the players who got black cards, should open their eyes, raise their heads, and look at each other, then close their eyes and lower their heads again. On count 20, everybody should open their eyes. Now, all players are divided into two teams. Mafia are the players who saw each other and therefore know each other. Honest people are the players who saw nothing, don't know each other, and don't know who the Mafia members are. This is the only advantage of Mafia: they know each other. Honest players have to suspect everybody, but they have an advantage of being the majority. The main struggle during the next phase will be between the informed minority and the uniformed majority.

Day Phase

Talk... At any moment, any player may put another player in the "suspected to be the Mafia" position. S/he should (better) provide grounds for the suggestion. Everyone (including the accused) has a right to argue. But when the accuser asks to vote, everyone should vote by raising their hands. If the majority of the players (not counting the accused) votes for "Guilty as member of the Mafia", the suspected player is "sentenced to death" and s/he is out of the game until the end of the round. If the accuser fails to get the majority on her/his side, the game continues with the same number of players. Accusations may happen any number of times during the discussion. Players who are eliminated from the game do not reveal their identity until the end of the game and should not try to help others who are still in the game. There is no way to know the team identity of the "dead" unless you have the next phase.

Night Phase

This is the only phase when you can find out if all Mafia members have been eliminated. So, once in a while, someone should propose to have a "Mafia Night". If the majority of the players who are still in the game agrees, the Night begins. Everyone takes a pencil and a piece of paper, and secretly writes on them. Honest people must write "honest" on the note, while members of the Mafia must write the name of the person, whom they want to eliminate from the game. After that, everybody puts their notes in the middle and someone reads them. The number of the notes with the names will reflect the number of survived Mafia members, so the players will know if they have "killed" an Honest person or a Mafia member during the day. If the same name appears on all Mafia notes, the named person is "murdered" and is out of the game until the end of the round. In any other case, the named players survive the Mafia attack and the game continues with the same number of players.

For example, if three members of the Mafia are in the game, there should be three notes with names on them. Only if all three notes have the same name, that person is "murdered". If only one member of Mafia is still in the game, her/his single shot will be enough to eliminate somebody.

The game ends when there are no shots during Mafia Night or all Honest people have been eliminated. Start again.

Pointers for the beginners

  1. Players are free to introduce new procedures during the game, but no one has to follow them unless she/he finds their usage at that moment reasonable.
  2. Accidental or purposeful peeking by red card holders during the Sunrise Phase should be discouraged, however it will not give any advantage during the game. Trick of the game is always to persuade others to accept your knowledge and never to have the knowledge per se. By the way, this is the reason for my reservations of including different knowledge bearing characters (inspector, angel, seer). The only knowledge in the game is Mafia connections, everything else is artificial.
  3. Paper and pencils should be the same for everybody. Otherwise, it will be easy to find who have written what during the Mafia Night.
  4. For a new group, unless a clear leader emerges, the first round may be a little slow. In the second round people who were unjustly eliminated have enough drive to prevent it from happening again. The third game is great without any reservations. If a group has someone who played before, s/he should provide initial leadership from the beginning.


If Mafia wins, each surviving Mafia player receives a number of points equal to the initial number of the Honest players. If Honest wins, every Honest player receives a number of points equal to the number of surviving Honest players.

Web database for Comparative Scoring is currently under construction.


Dimma Davidoff is the inventor of the original Mafia game. The game was created in 1986 in Moscow, Russia and quickly spread all over the world. Players made many additional modifications of the game rules, but the basic principle (informed minority vs. uninformed majority) is still intact. Here you could find the original rules of Mafia, which, on creator's opinion, are the most simple, effective, and fun. If you have any questions or comments, please email to Dimma Davidoff.

© Copyright 1987, 1992, 1998, by D. Davidoff.

Origin: Internet Archive: Wayback Machine


Irina Samonova
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