Mafia | Popular Storytelling Drama Game For Villains and Heroes

Mafia is a drama game that I love, love, LOVE! I’ve played it with groups of different ages and it’s always popular!

It’s important to note that it can take quite some time to play. This game works much better with larger groups.

The first time I played Mafia was with a group of teenagers at a drama camp. After that I tried it with my younger students and found it equally popular with six-year-olds (and their stories even more hilarious).

I then tried it with my ESL students. I found it to be a really motivating way for intermediate and advanced students to practice the past tense and storytelling.

In these strange times, it can also be played while social distancing which is always a bonus! And if you scroll to the bottom of the page, you’ll find tips for playing this game virtually.

Read through the full instructions before playing but make sure you have them on hand the first time you play. It can be a little complicated at first but you’ll get the hang of it while playing.

It does require the students to ‘kill’ each other but if you’re comfortable with the theme, it’s always worth giving it a go for an instant favourite!

Instructions

Setup
  • There are four types of players in the original game: Mafia, police, doctors and civilians (or a variation of that word that will be easier for your class to understand, e.g. townspeople).
  • Decide how many of each character you would like. For a group of 20 students I would suggest 6 Mafia, 3 police, 3 doctors and 8 civilians.
  • The numbers are entirely up to you. If you’re new to this game, read all of the instructions before deciding what the best ratios are for your group.
  • Write the characters out onto a small piece of paper each and mix them together.
  • Have the students sit in a large circle.
  • Hand each student one piece of paper and tell them to look at the paper in secret.
  • Now the story begins, so you’ll need to set the scene. Tell the students about the town you are in. Ask for ideas from them about what the town is like.

Pinterest image for Mafia drama game
Mafia is a great game for storytelling and characterisation
COVID-19 Update!
Have the students remain two metres apart in the circle, or one metre if wearing a mask. If you don’t have enough space, a spiral works fine.
In the night…
  • Once you have told them all about their town, night falls and all students should go to sleep.
  • First, the Mafia wake up. Tell ONLY students who drew a paper with Mafia written on it to open their eyes and raise their hands.
  • Make a note of the students in the Mafia and tell them to look at each other, without making a sound.
  • Silently, these students must then collectively decide who they would like to whack (kill). Once all students are in agreement, write down the name of the murdered student.
  • The Mafia must then go back to sleep and the doctors wake up and raise their hands.
  • Make a note of the doctors and ask them to silently agree upon who they think has been attacked. At this stage in the game, it will be a complete guess. Later on, if their suspicions are correct, it can give clues as to who is in the Mafia.
  • If the doctors have guessed correctly, they have saved the attacked student. If they have guessed incorrectly, you don’t need to worry about writing anything down. DO NOT reveal this information yet.
  • Once they have decided, tell them to go back to sleep and wake up the police.
  • Write down the names of the police and ask them to silently agree on a person to investigate. If the person chosen is in the Mafia, nod yes to signify this. If they are not, shake your head no.
  • The police then go back to sleep. The next step is to wake up the entire town.
The Trial
  • You must then recount the terrible tale of the crime that took place during the night. You can also select a student to tell the story. This is a good way to keep eliminated players active in the game.
  • If the player who was attacked was saved, you should simply explain that the doctors got there in time but not reveal the identity of the attacked player.
  • If the doctors chose the wrong person, you must now reveal who was murdered. This player is eliminated from the game.
  • The victim can use their dying breath to give a piece of information to the group. It may be their suspicions about who killed them or, more crucially, if they are in the police they could give the results of their investigations.
  • The group at large may now raise their hands if they would like to accuse someone of being in the Mafia.
  • It is important to point out that Mafia members can make false accusations. Police and doctors should be careful that the accusations they make do not reveal their identity and make them a target to the Mafia.
  • I recommend limiting the number of accusations that can be made (e.g. 3 people per round). Ask students to only keep their hands up if they are planning to accuse someone new.
  • Players making an accusation must justify why they are accusing the chosen player. I once had a six year old accuse a classmate of being in the Mafia because they had seen them squash a butterfly (no butterflies were harmed in the playing of this game). It was very cute!
  • The accused player may then plead their case and try to convince the group that they are not in the Mafia.
  • Once all accused players have had their chance to defend themselves, the group votes on who they think is guilty.
  • All player must vote and each player can only vote for one of the accused per round.
  • At this time, you may notice some scheming as Mafia members try to deflect blame from their comrades. Police and doctors may take steps to save their colleagues without revealing their identity.
  • The player with the most votes is then ‘lynched’ and eliminated from the game.
  • The eliminated player must then reveal their identity to the group and may use their dying breath to provide a piece of key information. Police may reveal the result of ONE investigation at this time.
  • The players then go back to sleep and the game continues until either; every member of the Mafia has been caught, or the Mafia have killed all other players.

It’s a long game and a little tricky to get to grips with the first time you play it, but it is a guaranteed favourite!

Tips for playing virtually

If you’re teaching virtually and would like to give this game a try, these are my top tips:

If you can use breakout rooms

  • Assign the different groups of players to different breakout rooms. During the night, you can move between rooms to speak to each group.
  • This option offers a new element by allowing members of the Mafia, police and doctors to confer in their rooms and discuss their strategies without fear of being overheard.
  • In this instance, civilians will be able to see each other as opposed to simply staying asleep. This poses minimal problems.
  • When a player is murdered or lynched, have them turn off their cameras and place themselves on mute for the remainder of the game. They can unmute themselves to tell the story of the gruesome murder, but otherwise they should not participate in conversations.
  • Ideally, ask these players not to join their breakout rooms again and to stay in the main room. This ensures they do not continue to plot with their teammates.

If you have access to chat

  • Message each player privately with what group they are in and a number.
  • During the night, ask each player to privately message you with who they would like to kill, save or investigate. E.g. “Mafia one, please send the name of the person you would like to kill”.
  • This adds an extra level of mystery as none of the players know who else is in their team.
  • You have the option of messaging any player who is eliminated from the game with a list of which team each player is in.
  • This takes a bit of extra prep but is well worth the effort!

Need help keeping your students socially distant? Try marking a space using the following:

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Rebecca is the founder and chief executive officer of Silly Fish Learning Ltd. She is a children's playwright with a vast and varied career in education, primarily teaching drama and English.

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