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Mafia Nomic

Mafia Nomic

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Mafia Nomic
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Designer: Kevan Davis
Players: 6+
Stuff required: Variable. Minimally: some cards to assign Mafia, and somewhere to write down rule changes.
Crew required: One narrator.
Preparation: Five minutes.
Time required: Variable.
Place required: Anywhere, preferably with seats.
Activities: Bluffing, deduction.
Discuss this game
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This is an untested game. Its rules are written, but it hasn't been tested out yet.
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This game is made available under an Attribution-Noncommercial Creative Commons licence. (What does this mean?)

A hybrid of Mafia/Werewolf and Nomic, where instead of just proposing to lynch suspicious players, you can propose to do anything...

Background

Mafia Nomic is a hybrid of Mafia (a secret-identity game also known as Werewolf) and Nomic (a game where players can vote to change the rules during play). Basically, it's normal Mafia except that instead of just voting on one lynch per day, players may put forward anything for voting, with successful proposals changing the mechanics of the game. If the players want a prison, or guns, or wiretaps, or bombs, or a cure for lycanthropy, they just have to define how that would work, and vote on it.

It's probably not that original an idea, but this ruleset draws from a themed round of the online Nomic game of BlogNomic in 2007, which started with a bare-bones Werewolf ruleset, and expanded to include professions, firearms, silver bullets, gaol cells, herbal poisons, written wills and ghostly hauntings. It's written up here. Given that it was a slow online game, there was a lot of emphasis on getting the rules worded exactly right - in a real-life conversational game, the narrator can make snap judgments and clarifications.

Although it's not been tested in a face-to-face environment, it seems like a good way to play a themed game of Mafia without worrying in advance about balance, and to give everyone a chance to be creative. If you want to run a zombie or pirate or cylon variant, you can just get it started with a blank ruleset and encourage players to come up with ideas, making up the special roles as you go along.

Narrator instructions

As narrator, it's your job to keep the game going, to make a note of all rule additions and alterations, to veto any proposals that would be too unfair to the mafia (since they can't speak up themselves), and to make snap judgments when a newly added rule turns out to be ambiguous.

At the very start of the game, you and the other players should pick a theme. A theme should consist of a clear setting (eg. "a pirate ship"), a role which the "mafia" players would take (some sort of identity which could feasibly be kept secret, eg. "spy for the British Navy"), and a thematic way in which the mafia can kill people anonymously ("using given information, the Navy intercept the ship at a port, and take a prisoner"). If it fits the theme, you can also rename the "day" and "night" phases (eg. "at sea" and "shore leave"). For the purposes of explaining the rules, we'll use the term "mafia" to refer to the players who have a secret role.

After announcing the theme, you should secretly assign the mafia role to a quarter of the players, rounding up, and telling players how many mafia there will be. Hand out pre-written cards, or poker cards with one suit representing mafia, or just use slips of paper.

The game will proceed through a number of day and night phases, starting with day.

Day phase

During the day phase, the players are free to put forward proposals. A proposal should either change the rules of the game, change the current state of the game, or do both. (So a normal-Mafia lynch proposal is essentially a simple gamestate proposal of "I propose that Bob becomes dead".)

Proposals can either add new rules, or change the existing ones. Some examples might be:-

"I propose that we have a chair in the corner as the "brig", which we can send a single player to instead of killing them. We have to do that by a proposal. They're dead for all intents and purposes while they're there, but we can make another proposal to bring them back out again if we want."
"One randomly selected player will become the Psychic. They'll be tapped on the shoulder by the narrator, tonight, so we won't know who it is. During each day, the Psychic can choose to ask up to three yes-or-no questions to dead players."
"Cylons can't target specific humans, only the areas that they live and work in. At night, the cylons point to a chair. At the end of the day, that chair explodes, killing whoever is sitting there. Players can move around during the day, but must end the day sitting on a chair."
"There's a gun prop; we'll vote on who gets to start with it. During the day, the player with the gun can shoot any player by simply pointing at them and shouting 'bang!'. It kills them instantly. The gun only has two bullets."
"Dead players become zombies. They don't close their eyes at night, and must stand behind their chair. They can't talk. Each night, they may step one chair left or right around the circle. Anybody who wakes up with three or more zombies behind them is killed."

When somebody makes a proposal, wait to see if the other players have any questions about how it works ("So does that mean if we put the last Navy spy in the brig, the game ends?") - the player making the proposal can clarify the wording if they need to. Once that's done, take a quick raised-hand vote to see who's in favour of the proposal, and who's against it. (Dead players can't vote!) If there are more players in favour than against, then the proposal is enacted: if it's a change to the gamestate, then that change is made; if it's a new rule, that rule is now immediately in force, and the narrator writes it down.

The narrator may put forward small proposals on the mafia's behalf, if an obvious mafia mechanic is suggesting itself.

Players are allowed three successful proposals per day (they can have any number of failed ones, and narrator proposals don't count towards the limit). The Night Phase begins after three proposals have been accepted, or when the players have agreed that nobody has any more proposal ideas for that day.

Night phase

This is the same as normal Mafia. Start the night phase by telling the players that it is now night, and that everyone must sleep (or go into stasis, or attend evening prayer, or whatever fits your theme). Everyone must close their eyes. Then tell the mafia players to open their eyes, silently pick a target, and close their eyes again.

Night ends, everyone is told to open their eyes, and the selected mafia target is killed. A new day begins.

Game end

The game ends, as for normal Mafia, when the mafia players equal or outnumber the non-mafia players (making a mafia victory), or when the mafia have all been killed (making it a townsperson victory).

Of course, alternate victory conditions may be proposed during the game.

Balancing

Need to playtest this to see how it goes, but the game almost certainly needs something to balance the fact that the Mafia players can't ever openly criticise an anti-Mafia proposal, or a rule that is turning out to be unfair. They can vote against a proposal, but if they feel that a rule is overpowered (and if the Narrator hasn't spotted it), it could be hard to raise that point. Possible solutions:-

  • At night, the Mafia can silently agree to veto any of the previous day's rules instead of making a kill (the Narrator asks if they're vetoing each rule in turn, and if they aren't vetoing any, they get to choose a kill). Sets up an obvious stalemate where the townspeople can make sure to propose something overpowered every day, though (and without the kill cost the Mafia could just veto everything).
  • The Narrator can veto any proposal which seems unfair.
  • An explicit "Godfather" character is openly on the Mafia side - the Godfather can make proposals, veto them and negotiate exceptions ("you can have your hospital, but only if patients are also immune to lynches"), and can communicate with the Mafia at night, but cannot be killed (and need not be killed for a civilian victory). This sort of role could be taken by the narrator, but it feels important for the narrator to be impartial, and it might feel cheap if the mafia lost because the narrator let a bad rule through.

Useful mechanics

Items: If your players end up proposing rules that create items which players can hold, it's good to have some default behaviours for those items. We'd suggest: an item can only be held by one person, and that person can hand it on to anybody they like, at any time during the day phase. If a person holding an item is killed by the Mafia, the Mafia can agree that one of their number will take it; if they choose not to (or if a player dies for any other reason) the item is placed on the floor, and the players must make a proposal to assign it back to someone.

Props: If you know what your theme's going to be, bring along a few physical props and dump them in the middle of the room, to see if anyone has any ideas for them. Or ask everyone to bring along one prop, and see what theme it suggests. (If you're not using props, just write words on cards to keep track of who's holding the Cylon Detector or the Key to the Dungeon.)

Transferable roles: You might like to decide that publicly-known roles (like "President" or "Postman") are transferable between players; such players can choose to retire and pass their role on to someone else, during the day phase, and are automatically reassigned by popular vote if the role-carrier dies, without using up a proposal slot.