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Sources of inspiration for Mafia-like games

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While I, like most of the other people playing mafia, love a good, basic mafia game as much as every evil mastermind loves a game of chess, I feel that what forges a truly epic mafia-like game is where the Game Host manages to combine all the elements of standard mafia games (balancing teams, interesting writeups on time, etc.) with a certain theme or inspiration. Recent examples on this forum (that I have participated in) includes CaptainBlackadder's Blackadder Mafia and Yaseikhaan's Netherworld II among others.

What, in my opinion (which is what you're going to get from reading a blog written by me, surprise surprise), qualifies a theme or inspiration to improve a game and raise it to that extra point beyond the 'standard' awesomeness of a well done, regular mafia game, can be shortened into three axioms:

1st Axiom: The theme or inspiration must be something that the Host is genuinely interested in (and, perhaps therefore, has a somewhat extensive knowledge of). Only then can the Game Host maintain interest in keeping the theme despite the extra work it might mean to himself, and only then will the Game Host have a knowledge of and interest in the universe of the game that urges him to do the selected universe justice and to design the game roles around the figures of the chosen universe. Which brings us to...

2nd Axiom: The loyalty towards the universe must not be too rigid; it should be possible for all sides to win, and the Game Host should do his very best to not blindly follow the plotline of the selected universe. It is important that even players who have the same (or even better) knowledge of the universe that the game is set in will still not be able to determine the different character roles by first glance. If we look at the two games I mentioned earlier (and which both heed the 1st Axiom), they differentiate substantially on this point; while Netherworld II had roles that only the players who played them knew (such as my own role as Yama, the Hindu god of death), the Blackadder Mafia contained solely roles picked from the series. This made it a lot harder to invent potential cover-roles (had the host not provided the mafia teams with those) - especially since there was a role for everyone.

While it is not normally bad that the storyline identity of the main villains are known (in fact, they seem to be in most of these games, which gives the town some kind of clue to navigate from), it shouldn't be so tight-tailored that there is no elbowroom for twists of the original theme or inspiration (in defense of Captain Blackadder, who did a very good job at hosting, his game wasn't at all too locked down - some of the roles were just very, very easy to discern from game role (such as "roleblocker") to universe role (such as "Bob")).

The 3rd and last Axiom: The universe from where the Game Host draws his inspiration must be able to wear these conditions where game balance and mechanics go ahead of absolute loyalty towards the original universe; in other words, the theme or inspiration must be adaptable into a mafia game. This means that it must have a conflict (luckily almost every story has this) and often has a clear definition of "good" and "evil"; It can be done as simple as Yaseikhaan's "Good gods on bad gods", but some other games will be more abmigious as to the morals of the different parties (YLC's That Creeping Darkness comes to mind, having several different Eldricht cults rivalling an arguably scrupleless mafia faction led by Andres).

It also means that there cannot be any "super figures"; if you are thinking of hosting a game taking place in one of your favourite game or movie universes and find yourself wondering whether you're able to balance the favourite figure's team, perhaps you should be finding another inspiration to your game. A prime example of a figure that is hard to fit into any kind of standard, balanced mafia game is Kira from Death Note; most of the people who've actually seen the entire series/read the manga agree that Kira is simply 'crazy awesome'.

Which is exactly why he shouldn't be the main baddie. What happens if Kira is random-lynched on day 2? Or is WoGGed for inactivity? Wouldn't that be a huge turnoff for you as host? Would you really like to continue the game? That'd be almost like playing chess without the king; it's just not the same. Not to mentioned that Kira's method of killing makes it extremely hard to implement in a reasonable way.

In closing; Most of the things I've talked about here obviously apply mostly to the larger mafia games, where you as Game Host have the time and playercount to develop a colourful scenery that would be a waste of time to put over a 7-man game. I'll be talking more about hosting smaller games in the next entry - aren't you excited already?

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  1. Beefy187's Avatar
    Kira smells. L is the best.
    I agree with most parts (except for Kira being awesome). It does suck when a main baddy dies early.
    I know this happened in the Inishmore game hosted by pevergreen. Pardraic, the main mafia died early.
    As I've seen the play with pever, I know how awesome Pardraic was and I wanted to see more of him.

    I love these analysis stuff. I would love to hear more.
  2. GeneralHankerchief's Avatar
    One thing I've noticed is that host-created universes from scratch are infinitely more flexible (and fun) for me than universes where the host has borrowed characters from. I feel as if pre-created universes limit roleplaying possibilities. Basically, pre-created universes are pre-ordained to go in a certain direction and you feel helpless to do anything but follow. Conversely, in host-created universes, you shape that universe's history and outcome.

    Most of my games are vanilla, but in the few themed games I've done, it's always for this reason why I've tried to create my own universe and characters. Most notable is Pirate Ship Mafia.
  3. Diamondeye's Avatar
    In response to GeneralHankerchief: I partially agree with you. As you might know, I'm from CFC, a Civilizations forum. There, we have a more story-based series of mafia games (often with several rivalling mafia factions and lots and lots of special characters, items, etc - I'll talk about it in depth in another entry, I promise) usually based on a huge fantasy mod of the game ("Fall From Heaven II"), and that works out really well because you have a set-up universe as framework for games, but there are plenty of possibilities to present interesting situations. Like the game, it has a more "open ending" feel, while establishing a common reference.

    As an example, Renata (who is also on this forum) hosted a game that centered on the wars between the woodelves (Ljosalfar) and the darkelves (Svartalfar); the setting was a peace conference located in a far-away, neutral terrain. Told short, the plotline was that the mafia (who were against peace) were part of both factions (and I belive also the neutral observer faction), but split into two parties unaware of each others. Making contact would ally them into a single, brutal force.

    But there were also other baddies; Winston Hughes (also a regular here, now) played a solo agent of the Dark Queen Os-Gabella, trying to keep the elves locked in war because, well, she wants the world to end. And then there were two (rather un-canonical, therefore unexpected) Dragon Cult Worshippers, who were trying to call forth a dragon (they needed to prepare a ritual that took a long time and then bring a willing sacrifice - I would've been this sacrifice hadn't the mafia won the day before. And I wasn't even aware of that).

    On this forum I am guessing that most people would have at least some kind of reference to the Total War game series and it would be great fun to host a game in such a setting, but it has to provide these openings in terms of possible game roles and outcomes. Shogun would be quite the blast for the various clans to go havoc on each other... I might even host one of these, eventually.

    That said, yes, I do agree that universes that are invented for the game [by the Game Host] can be great fun, but it requires a bit more from the players, especially the basic townspeople who have little to no reference in form of their roles. Using a universe known by most of the players in advance can be beneficial - if done right!
    Updated 03-16-2010 at 12:16 by Diamondeye
  4. Subotan's Avatar
    It's nice to see that my game certainly satisfies points 1 and 3. The ability of 2 to manifest itself depends on the willingess of the mafia to research modern Chinese history to find identities they can hide behind.

    I'm also attempting to stop it from being pre-ordained through the "incident" system, which will force the players to have an impact on the write ups and circumstances of the game.

    And yes, mafia theory discussions are great :D
  5. Beskar's Avatar
    You forgot to mention that I had Kira in my game and he wasn't the main bad-guy.
  6. Diamondeye's Avatar
    Beskar: I thought of mentioning that Kira had been used in a game, but decided against it. Props for making it work although the game was very role-driven.
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