Mafia (also known as Werewolf and a dozen other variations) is a piece of gaming literature, for which I knew the rules but never got around to playing. This weekend I tried out an online variant under the name Town of Salem and proceeded to play 17 games in a row.
Mafia is a PvP game of social deduction. You have a town of people, a few of whom are secretly the Mafia. The Mafia kills someone every night in their plan to seize power. Every day, the townspeople (including the hidden Mafia) can vote to lynch someone. Night follows day until one side is eliminated.
The town has numerical advantage. They will definitely have some losses, but when there are three Mafia members out of 10-15 in the town, having more bodies means not only more longevity but also more people watching for suspicious behavior. The Mafia has a coordination advantage, because the Mafia members know who is in the Mafia.
Variations include changing team composition, whether notes are allowed, and giving players special abilities. Online games allow more options for secret communication or abilities that might be awkward in physical games. Town of Salem gives every player a role with a special ability and includes neutral roles, such as the Jester who wants to by lynched. I am torn between enjoying the additional flavor and wondering whether it spoils the purity of the original game. The default game only uses about half the roles, with limited variation, but other options can use them all.
As my 17-game binge suggests, it is immediately engrossing and addicting. I can see why some conventions have continuously running games that successfully sell “all you can play” passes.