That’s Exactly What A Spy Would Say: The Game

Mafia is a terrible game. If you haven’t had the misfortune to play it, here’s how it works: find four or more (possibly a lot more) people you wish to inflict this game upon, and a deck of cards. Pick out the same number of cards as you have people, and make around a third of them black cards, two thirds red. Shuffle them and deal them out, one to each player. Everyone secretly looks at their own card. Players who received a black card are members of the Mafia—their goal is to eliminate all the non-Mafia players from the game. Players who received a red card are innocent, their goal is to eliminate all the Mafia players. Everyone closes their eyes, then the Mafia open their eyes and acknowledge each other, so they all know who all the Mafia are, then everyone opens their eyes again. The game then proceeds in rounds. Each round is composed of a day and a night. During the day, everyone votes to lynch a player they suspect of being Mafia (after much deliberation). During the night, the Mafia covertly choose an innocent to murder (they point while everyone’s eyes are closed). Play continues until morale improves.

There are two reasons I don’t like Mafia. The first is its elimination rule: once you’re lynched by the mob or murdered by the Mafia, you’re out of the game and have nothing to do. This is a game design anti-pattern. The second is that there is almost no information available to the non-Mafia during the game. In the first round, actually zero information. All you learn is whom the Mafia chose to kill. As a result, the decision of whom to lynch is essentially random.

A much better version of this game is sold as The Resistance, aka, “You’re A Spy, I’m Not A Spy!, That’s Exactly What A Spy Would Say: The Game”. The rules are very similar to Mafia: some portion of the players are Resistance members, aiming to overthrow the tyrannical government, and a few are government spies, trying to thwart the Resistance. Each round, the Leader elects some number of players to go on a Mission, and the whole group votes on whether or not they think that group should go. Once a team is chosen, players on the team secretly choose either the “Success” or the “Failure” card, and if there’s one Failure card in the pile then the mission fails and the spies get a point. If all the cards are Success, then the mission goes off without a hitch and the Resistance gets a point. First to three wins.

The Resistance has no elimination, all players play until the end of the game. Though one can be definitively outed as a spy, one is still in the game and can attempt to sow confusion and doubt, and anyway that usually doesn’t happen until later in the game if at all. And there is much more information available. You can see how people voted on mission teams and make inferences from that. You know who went on which mission and whether it succeeded. It’s not a lot of information, but it’s just enough to do something with. The first round still kind of sucks, though.

The Resistance is thoroughly enjoyable, and I recommend it.

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