Photo by AP
I'm going to tell you about a parlor game that sounds like the corniest Christian-camp-organized fun you could imagine but that you will instantly become addicted to, guaranteed (unless you're Janeane Garofalo). The game is called Mafia and a Russian psychologist developed it in the early 70s, so there. Here's the deal: you get a minimum of 12 players (you can play with up to 18) and you sit in a circle. I know, I know, sitting in a circle is already pushing up the queer quotient, but bear with me.
Everyone in the circle is part of the Village. One person acts as the Mayor, who basically runs the show using a long stick or broom handle. I suggest making a male the Mayor as men are smarter at this kind of thing and there's no danger of getting menstrual blood all over everything. The Mayor then has the Village "go to sleep," which entails everyone closing their eyes and putting their heads down. The Mayor will then walk around the circle and, without making a sound, tap three people on the head with his thing. These people are now the Mafia. The Mayor will ask the Mafia to QUIETLY open their eyes and acknowledge each other.* When this is done, the Mayor (again, it's important to have a man do this because a woman will start to silently think about everyone's shoes and get distracted) will have the Mafia close their eyes again and will then walk around the room, this time tapping one person, announcing, "You are Detective #1." Then the Mayor will walk around some more and tap one last person, announcing, "You are Detective #2." The Detectives do not have to open their eyes, as, for reasons I will explain later, they do not want to reveal themselves. Also, it's important that the Mayor move his head around a lot so people can't hear who he's talking to when he points out Detectives. Some Mayors have even been known to talk at the ceiling.
OK, now the hijinks begin. Basically, the goal is simply this: The Village needs to kill off the Mafia before the Mafia kills off the Village. There are two rounds, consisting of "day" and "night." At nighttime the Mayor (after announcing "It's nighttime, Village go to sleep") will have everyone close their eyes, then the Mayor (I can't stress how serious I am about making the Mayor a guy because at this point a woman will start to bitch about something she read in Us Weekly and take everyone out of the game) will have JUST the Mafia wake up and ask them to SILENTLY choose one member of the Village to kill. The Mafia quietly does this by motioning with their eyes and, once the victim is confirmed by the Mayor, going back to sleep. Now the Mayor will ask Detective #1 to wake up. The Detective is allowed to pick one person and ask the Mayor (again in silence) if he or she is in the Mafia. The Mayor either shakes or nods his head, tells the Detective to close his eyes again, and then wakes the other Detective. This part takes place each round until the Detectives are killed off.** More on this later.
The Mayor will now say, "Village wake up, it's morning" and everyone opens their eyes and lifts their head. Those new to the game that have been picked to be in the Mafia usually make a big show of "waking up." It's a pretty good sign of guilt, trust me. Now for the fun part. After a brief pause the Mayor continues, "Village wake up, it's morning… Brian, you're dead." Oh shit!! Now Brian (and all "dead" people) may not say a fucking word. They have to get up and out of the circle. It is the Mayor's job to strictly enforce this rule because some stupid people inadvertently give shit away as they're leaving. Brian will now stand outside of the circle and observe the mechanics of your friends lying to your face. This becomes, second to none, the best part once the game is moving along and the paranoia starts seeping into the room like so much Zyklon B. Now things start to kick in as the Village all talk among themselves trying to suss out who's in the Mafia. They now have more incentive to figure it out because they just saw an innocent friend die.
STOPPING THE MAFIA
Accusations are flung far and wide. Sometimes with some expertise and sometimes it's just a bunch of "I don't know, you just seem suspicious the way you're sitting there all unsuspicious-like" bullshit. The Mayor lets the Village prod and discuss for a few minutes, and then, based on the Mayor's discretion, will call the Village to order. Now it's time for people to make formal accusations as to who they think is in the Mafia. If someone seconds someone's accusation then the accusers explain why the accusation has been made. Then the accused are allowed to defend themselves. Usually there are two to four people accused per round. Then, when everyone is satisfied that they've had their say, a vote is taken. You only get to vote once each round and you can't change your vote unless there is a revote. This is the trickiest part of the game because the people with smart theories about why someone is guilty can easily get drowned out by loudmouths that want attention. Did Brian accuse anyone of being in the mob before he was killed? Well, then that person is probably in the mob. If you've got a good theory, make sure it is heard.
The person (let's call him Jaleel) with the most votes is killed. Again, they have to leave immediately and can't say ANYTHING! They can't do that half-mumbly "This is bullshit, I know Amy's in the Mafia, I'm telling you. You guys fucked up." The Mayor will then turn to the Village and say, "Jaleel was… NOT in the Mafia (or WAS if that's the case). Also, if Jaleel was a Detective, the Mayor will note this as well. Now the shit starts to get weird. The Mayor should immediately have the Village go back to sleep. Sometimes you have to yell at the top of your lungs, "Village, it's nighttime! Go to sleep. Go to fucking sleep for Christ's sake! Judy this means you. Judy, shut the fuck up!" Then, after a few seconds, "Now, Mafia, open your eyes and choose somebody to kill."
Well, this goes on and on until either the Mafia kills off the entire Village or the Village kills off the Mafia. As you can imagine, it gets really intense toward the end, especially if out of five or four players left, two or three Mafia remain among them. You get to see people pleading their innocence as if they were hostages. Husbands and wives will turn on each other and lie to each other's faces with an earnestness and stoicism worthy of Patrick Henry.
The real beauty of the game comes when you're playing your third or fourth consecutive game (each game lasts anywhere from half an hour to 45 minutes or so, give or take) and you've had an opportunity (from the sidelines) to watch how slick or unslick your friends who are secretly in the Mafia are. You pick up patterns after a while. For example, it seems like every time someone is innocent they get so indignant about being accused their defense is usually something like, "You know what, go ahead and kill me, you fucking idiots. Then you can see how stupid you are." Whereas guilty people usually have really long and detailed explanations like, "Why would I have voted Glazer out if I was in the Mafia?" Which brings up another scary thing about the game. It's not unheard of for mobsters to vote off their own people just to look innocent. It kind of makes you shudder when you see it and grudges from that kind of betrayal can continue game after game.
Truly the best moment in the game (outside of being alive and on the winning team at the end) is, after you've been killed and have taken your place outside the circle, and your anger has subsided and you've gone to the kitchen with the other dead people milling about pleading your case and you've guessed incorrectly as to who's in the Mafia and then the Mayor says, "It's nighttime, Village, go to sleep… Mafia, wake up and pick somebody to kill." And you watch as the people you weren't even close to guessing slowly and quietly raise their heads and pick off one more Villager. "I can't believe it's Tonya and Patrick and Leslie?! Those fucking assholes! Can you believe that line of shit she was feeding everybody about being too tired to be in the Mafia? FUCK!........ I can't wait to play again!"
* Now it's extremely important that the Mafia do this quietly because when the game starts there's usually some hyper pain-in-the-ass who immediately starts saying shit about how "I heard movement over there! I heard breathing. It's Brian! Brian's in the Mafia!"
**The cool thing about the Detectives is that no one knows who they are and they kind of have to keep it that way. If a Mafia member suspects someone of being a Detective then the Mafia will kill them, but the Detective does need to have enough sway so as to help the innocent or lay suspicion on the guilty. They have the hard evidence in hand. They have to try and subtly lead the Village to the truth. For instance, if they know that Jamiroquai (an awesome player) is innocent, but the Village, getting desperate, is singling him out to kill, they have to somehow steer the focus elsewhere without being too obvious lest the Mafia smell a rat and kill them in the next round. "I don't know, I gotta say, I'm not sure Jamiroquai is in the Mafia. He hasn't been farting and usually he farts when he's nervous. I think it might be Toniqua." Oh, I just remembered something. One time a Detective was about to be killed as a Mafia guy and he said, "You guys, please don't kill me. I'm a detective and I've been trying to tell you that Albert is in the Mafia this whole game." Everyone believed him and he was telling the truth but it inspired mobsters to start using it as a last-ditch lie.