SynCaine mentions a significant problem in Town of Salem, which I presume is common to all implementations of Mafia: dying the first night. You died before you could do anything, so you do not get to play this round. In a normal game, that happens to about 10% of the players. Sometimes N1 provides actionable information, but if not, another 10% dies the second night before anyone has enough information to work with. In a typical game, 10-20% of the players die without being able to make any meaningful decisions or contribute in any way. That’s bad.
The Town has two roles that interact with the dead. The retributionist (rezzer) is not present in most games. Most games have at least one medium, who speaks with the dead, but people who died on N1 or N2 usually have little to no information to pass along. This hits a vicious circle when people quit after dying, leaving no one for the medium to talk to, or when the medium quits in anticipation of this. Do you know how frustrating it is being a rezzer when an important role quits rather than waiting a minute to see if the rez is there?
N1 can matter, but that is random rather than as a result of informed decisions. An escort, consort, or jailor can meet a serial killer, which reveals the SK; one of those roles can fail to write a will, failing to pass along intel; a serial killer might randomly attack one of those roles, so the will suggests the wrong suspect. A bodyguard or veteran might kill a villain, or an investigative role might find something significant. I had one game that ended when the entire Mafia visited a veteran on N1: all dead, no SK, Town wins; if two townies had not quit on day 1, we would all have gotten the “win with no town deaths” achievement, and they would have gotten rewards instead of a loss.
But most of that is random chance. Occasionally the brief discussion during day 1 affects night 1 actions, but you have no reliable information about who is baiting, bluffing, or being obnoxious. The game rarely becomes interesting before a few nights in, and by then you will probably have killed about a quarter of the population, plus quitters, and may have already decided the game.
I tend to tolerate these difficulties well due to the brevity of the rounds and the highs when the game is good. If you can mine rocks for hours in EVE, you can alt-tab for minutes in Mafia. Some rounds are over quickly, some go well, and you only have a real problem with long games where you die meaninglessly and early and/or the game is effectively decided early (but takes a while to play out). And despite my kvetching, over the course of many games you see interesting results like a four-person Town winning, a six-person Mafia losing, or that one time I almost pulled it out as a one-person Mafia against a twelve-person Town with no neutral killing roles. But I have few examples like that from about 200 games, and more with most of the population dead by the dawn of day three due to Mafia, serial killers, werewolves, veterans, suicides, and more.
Is this a solved problem in other implementations of Mafia? One Night Ultimate Werewolf condenses the whole game to that first night, a more extreme version of Love Letter’s quick rounds. Are there other solutions you have found and enjoyed?
This is one of the great virtues of Eurogames over Monopoly or Risk: keep everyone in the game and viable. Waiting a long time for the game to be over is no fun, whether that is due to early elimination or an early factor that 80-90% decides the game.