Thoughts on Mafia Game Design

Discussion in 'Game Corner' started by ImmunityBow, Mar 15, 2013.

  1. ImmunityBow

    ImmunityBow Newbie

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    So I posted up some thoughts on playing mafia a while ago. And I thought... I spend a fair amount of time in actual mafia games talking about what mafia hosts should or should do. Well... I don't want to give a definitive ruleset on what to do and what not to do, but I decided to put some thoughts out there for discussion. As a mafia game host, I think it'd be beneficial to at least read these since I think these elements deserve some thought to them before just putting them in your game. Even if you don't agree, it'd be good if you made the conscious decision to disagree or to disregard with my reasoning.

    I'll start with some thoughts on the basic ruleset: clues/no clues, night order and roleclaiming. I won't talk about specific roles and actions until Kitsu's mafia is finished. Feel free to discuss or ask questions, or ask about certain elements of games you particularly want answers for!


    On Clued and Unclued:
    There are arguments for why you'd want clued or unclued mafia. I'm inherently biased towards unclued due to what I look from my mafia games but it's your choice and your responsibility to balance catering to your audience (if they prefer clued) and your own personal preferences. Here are some reasons why you might want to do either:

    Clued: Some people don't play mafia for the logical argumentation, partial information and suspicion. This is especially true in newer players, who aren't as experienced with either the game or the playgroup and don't know people as well to make those awesome adrenaline rush plays of catching someone's slip and running them down into a lynch vote. Clued mafia gives town something to talk about from day one, not having to wait for other people to speak and having to try to discern the subtle hints of how people play. Some people also just enjoy solving word association games and that's what they want to do in a game of mafia, and you can't fault people for that. There's a rush to getting a particularly difficult clue as well.

    Unclued: On the other hand, making up difficult but not frustratingly misleading or impossible to understand clues is really, really tough. Often, you get into situations where your clue actually better refers to someone you didn't intend, since you were trying to make your clue so obscure. Other times, you frustrate players like Scizordoom and Dragonfire who have some, ahem, clear associations often exploited by clue makers. Personally, I believe clues are incredibly distracting to town, since it gives something for bad players and mafia to rag on about over and over, ignoring the actual evidence they could be looking for out there. It also feels terrible as a host when your clue is basically discovered within two posts and then the mafia just dies, just like that, through no fault of their own. Oops, I guess that great clue I spent three days coming up with isn't as good as I thought.

    Semi-clued: Honestly, I'm kind of amused at how this took off among some hosts. Basically, your clues refer to the player's roles rather than their actual person. The reason I began this in the first place was to appease people that wanted clues, while not giving them clues. However, over time I've come to realize that it has a few merits. Just be aware that these are the merits, rather than the idea that they're actually helpful towards finding mafia. Basically semi-clues can tell town a couple of things: if there is a Serial Killer, a possible Vigilante, more than one mafia faction. This is compounded with mafias with a very closed cast and predictable characters, so with those town can quickly figure that out. I think that's a good thing, being able to account for those creates opportunities from within town and mafia. But if you don't have any of those, maybe it's not really as useful except as maybe flavour. But don't trick your town into thinking that semi-clues mean more than they are. They basically mean nothing as to finding mafia unless paired with a flavour cop (an investigator who finds the target's weapon, or some specific identifying element).

    On Night Order:
    If at all possible, I think it's best if night actions were not completed immediately, but were rather gathered in a "Nighttime Document" by the host, who then completes all the actions at the end of the night. Obviously this does not work for temporary night talking or other things that are very time dependent. The best idea I think would just be to avoid those roles and try to recreate something similar but without the timing requirement. There are situations you can break this rule though. The Olan role from FFT mafia stopped the day or night and just moved the game on the next period. That wouldn't be as big a deal since it ends the night anyway. But there are maybe some other issues with the role. The other option is to just have timing roles that don't interact with each other. Usually that means you'll want no roleblocker. Or just have them happen in the order that they come in. That can be a little random though since people log in at different times. But it's your choice.

    On Roleclaiming:
    Roleclaiming can feel incredibly unfair. If everyone is a part of a clear cast in a themed mafia game, I agree. Basically you can confirm everyone's role with wikipedia and lynch those who don't claim. There are some huge benefits to roleclaiming too, however. As a tool to keep the power of mafia in check, it's invaluable. Basically you can turn pressure into roleclaims, so that mafia have future targets, but you've given a player an opportunity to convincingly explain why he or she shouldn't be lynched. Especially in games with no clear cast (like Mega Magic Mafia) roleclaiming would be totally fine. Mafia are allowed to lie. In fact, in a lot of games, the host will give each mafia a "fakeclaim," which is a role that the host thinks is plausible and may have put it in the game but didn't so the mafia can use it to bluff their way through a forced roleclaim. It also gives the cop a way to "cash in" so to speak on their investigations. However, on OI we've been getting pretty good at getting around not being allowed to roleclaim by just claiming having done this or that or having had this information. It's basically roleclaiming without naming the role. So I guess that's good as well.
     
  2. Inevitable

    Inevitable The Resident Espeon Solo-er

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    Didn't see this until now since I'm basically lurking until I see another sign-up thread.

    Glad you wrote it, I was wondering how I might tell people this sort of thing without annoying hosts.

    I agree with a lot of what you said. I really wish more games on here had roleclaiming. During the day players need something to discuss. That can be clues, or it can be roles. I feel that taking roleclaiming out of an unclued game can make it too boring.

    I dispute your point about clues being distorted to mean other players. That's really the point of them. The mafia twist everything to their purpose (this is also why highlighting all the clues and/or writing short, non-descriptive, posts is a bad design decision imo. I like a narrative). Both clues and roleclaiming are simply methods of making a game more interesting. They aren't beneficial to any particular faction. It's all about how the information is used, or misused.
     
  3. ImmunityBow

    ImmunityBow Newbie

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    The problem with clues though is that it's not just about mafia skill. It's almost entirely on the host to make them good. Most of the time when I host clued mafia and when I see a lot of hosts doing clued mafia I or they just make the clues pretty much impossible to guess, unless town is losing badly, in which case we're kind of directly manipulating the game. Clues have never, ever worked out like I wanted them to, which is the whole town plays the guessing game for a while, someone has an epiphany and uses that and possibly some mafia suspicious play together to pin a mafia. No, it's pretty much either always the town either just never gets the clue or someone figures it out within the first two posts and there goes the whole day.

    Another thought:

    On the number of mafia in a town:
    To be honest, my view of this is very very skewed because of the insane number of real life mafia games I've hosted. So I'm tempering it with lessons learned from Fullmetal Alchemist Mafia, where I clearly had too many mafia and the game suffered for it. In real life mafia you never want games to last too long. It's just too much time spent with dead people sitting around wanting to speak but not being able to. So, as a rule of thumb there I like to have 33% of the players be mafia. And this works to an extent in small online games as well. The set ups I enjoy the most are
    2 mafia out of 7 players
    3 mafia out of 8 players
    3 mafia out of 9 players
    As you get to larger online games however, you need to take into account the fact that your mafia are all working together, ie they're greater than the sum of their parts simply due to how much information they have. They can nighttalk (which they can't really in real life mafia, which limits their power somewhat), so each head will be working together to determine each course of action. So that makes every extra mafia a lot stronger than normal.
    I think a good place to start off with would be to make 25% of the players be mafia, erring on the side of less. So if you have 20 people, 5 mafia. You probably shouldn't be moving to 6 until you have 22 or so, probably more unless you follow some of the things below.
    There are factors in the game that can give you the freedom to change the numbers up a bit. If you have no town-side or neutral-side kills, lower the mafia count. Mafia will have control of 50% of the kills for the whole game, often more since everyone seems to like to no lynch first day or later by going inactive. I'll list some things and how they influence the balance of the game, it won't be an exhaustive list but carry some common ideas:
    - A cop in the game (given no other power role) shifts the balance of the game from heavily in the mafia favour to more or less even. However, don't add another mafia unless you have a doctor at the very least. All information roles work the same way.
    - A doctor is very powerful in conjunction with a cop, you might be able to err in the side of having an extra mafia if you have both of them.
    - A serial killer grants you non-mafia night kills, allowing your mafia to be stronger than it normally would be. This can also backfire however, and the SK could just kill 4 townies and then get lynched himself. That would put the mafia in a very good position. Some of the best plays ever in the history of mafia have been SK wins though, so it's probably worth it.
    - Two mafia factions allows you to up the mafia to town ratio. I don't know by how much. The math on this actually kind of blows my mind. Try it out and post here.
    - Townie lovers are a town liability usually more than an asset. Millers (guilty when inspected) too. Cults as well. Lower the mafia count.
    - Traitors in the mafia gut the mafia's strength. Increase the mafia count.
    In the end you'd have to judge each role for yourself, but that's pretty important! And remember, the more roles you have and the more powers they have, the more and more uncertain your game will get. Try to make sure you have a good idea of the power level of each role especially in conjunction with one another (as the doctor/cop example above) to determine how many mafia are right for your game.
     
  4. Inevitable

    Inevitable The Resident Espeon Solo-er

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    Mafia traitors are a really terrible addition. I've not seen them done well. Cults, similarly, often end up running out of control. Consequently I feel that a good host should include ways to directly counter a cult, such as undoing conversions and backup mafia abilities.
     
  5. ImmunityBow

    ImmunityBow Newbie

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    I actually have more written up on cults, I'm just waiting for Kitsu's game to end first. Mafia traitors can end being fun for the traitor, but yeah it really sucks for mafia. They should never win with town, that's way way too strong. Otherwise, with their own win condition, they could be just a way to make a strong serial killer at the expense of the mafia. Such was my Delita role in the Final Fantasy Tactics mafia, which I ran twice, once on OI and once elsewhere. Both times the Delita role ended up really close to winning, and those were two best games I have ever hosted. If Scizordoom had just caught Pojo's post stating that he had two votes, Scizordoom could have won as an SK basically...
     
  6. ImmunityBow

    ImmunityBow Newbie

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    Alright, Kitsu's game is over, so I'll be putting these up. There'll be more, eventually, especially on "agency of the player" and "alternate win conditions," both of which I think are really important but I hadn't thought of until recently. So here's what I have for now:


    Specific Roles:

    On Forced Speech Roles:
    As we've seen in the past couple of mafias, what forced speech can do is basically just confirm townies or restrict mafia's game presence (since the more they speak the easier they'll be found out). The benefits of forced speech are that it gives someone a more plausible claim and it gets people talking. It is also tempting because the host wants their roles to suit their characters. But there is a time and a place for forced speech. Forced speech is better in small doses. When everyone has a forced speech role, then no one can fake a forced speech role. Faking it is one of the more fun elements of forced speech so negating that is bad. Too many forced speech roles in a game with a clear theme and characters can create a lot of confirmed townies and unbalance the game. This is especially true when the characters are instantly recognizable from their forced speech (due to a verbal tic... which I realize is super tempting because it's sooo like the character but does end up being too obvious). And sometimes it can have unintended consequences. My first use of forced speech was the Wailmer role from Pokémon Mafia, where Wailer had to end every sentence with an ! or use ALLCAPS. Now that doesn't really point towards Wailmer, but that game the exclamation marks made everyone think the guy was panicking and he was promptly lynched. Whoops. We've been having loads and loads of forced speech lately so I want to advise moderation for it.

    On No Speech Roles:
    Sorry SS this will seem a little directed towards you but I think you figured it out anyway with your own game so may as well just put it in here. In game design, it is generally thought of as poor to put people into situations where they can basically not play the game. When someone isn't allowed to talk... then they lose the primary draw of mafia in the first place: the game where people discuss who to lynch. From what I understand in real life mafia games this can work out better since then you can still communicate, maybe with a lynch, maybe with facial expressions and body language. But online, when you don't have those luxuries, the verdict on no speech roles is just not to do them.

    On Recruiting Roles:
    Recruiting roles are fun. However, there are a couple of design things to keep them fun, and also to keep them from being drastically overpowered. And don't get me wrong, recruiting roles are pretty much the most powerful role in the game. So use sparingly. Although they're fun.
    Let's start with the original recruiter, the Cult Leader: The cult leader recruits someone into his or her cult every night, making them one his or her lackeys. So, what is needed to make this role work?
    1. The win conditions of the cult initiates needs to change to win with the cult leader. Otherwise, as we've seen before, the Badniks... I mean cult initiates can just choose to win with their original group. That makes the cult leader pretty much useless.
    2. The change must be permanent, except in exceptional circumstances (so if you really really really want to you can have a super-empathy-lover who can change them back... if it's balanced. But don't make them change back automatically/easily). When a non-townie faction member has a changed win condition, things can go very very frustatingly wrong. Take a look at a mafia traitor. (Especially Delita from FFT Mafia). Although that ended up being a great game, and he was not mafia from the start, it was incredibly frustrating for mafia who did not understand why their teammate had turned against them. As part of a team, your teammates will share lots of information with you. Changing the win condition of someone with that much information can only lead to disaster.
    3. Permanent win condition change though makes Cult Leader insanely overpowered though. So what can we do to balance it? The best way IMO is to either limit the number of recruitments (2 at the max, 1 if the recruiter is mafia) or to make Cult Leader die if he or she tries to recruit a mafia member or serial killer (which gets around part of the win-condition change thing as well), but still wins with the cult if they end up winning.

    On Killing Roles:
    This is something I came up with since my last mafia game (since then it hasn't been so bad, so I guess this is mostly for myself), but I think there should be a limit to how many deaths can happen on average per night. 1.5 on average, 2 for games of 18 or more is what I'm thinking. Too many kill roles spread out among loads of people makes the game incredibly swingy. You want some swing (which is why I'm a fan of SK or Vigilante. Maybe not both) but you don't want mafia or town to lose out of nowhere after having played super well all game. It's a balance.
     
  7. SilentSentinel

    SilentSentinel "Best Admin" - Gamma, July 5th 2017 Administrator

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    Everything you said is pretty justified. I had a tough time with Pandamonium's role (Kishuna). I really liked both the character and the role, but it basically ended up being a choice between no speech or something like just having "..." and a lynch vote in posts. The second option would have been much better in hindsight.

    I'm not a fan of the mafia traitor roles. Having played as one, it's really kind of unfair to the mafia, even with some pretty significant restrictions. Plus you can get one extra mafia member noticed if you suicide yourself by hard roleclaiming and then lynching said person.

    Similar thoughts on killing roles. I tried to run scenarios for my mafia (with percentages for the SK and town's lynch) on how many days it would take for the mafia to win assuming random lynches by the town with one no lynch. I was going to have a vigilante but decided against it as it would have ended up being a mafia victory in like 5 days.

    Running and playing more games has been very educational. Eventually I'd like to host a very simple game with very few roles and no forced speech just to see how it ends up.
     
  8. Inevitable

    Inevitable The Resident Espeon Solo-er

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    On the topic of simple games, I was wondering what your idea of a simple game might be IB.

    To me, the basics of mafia are:

    Mafian + Godfather
    Inspector/Detective/Cop
    Bodyguard/Doctor (I know Bodyguard is often used to refer to something else, but I've always known the protection role as the Bodyguard.)
    Vigilante
    Loads of civilians.

    I've not seen a game like this played on OI, which is a shame. The many roles can make it more interesting to host, but I think there's a certain charm to vanilla mafia.

    Which also brings me to another tangent:

    The Godfather.

    Some hosts don't include the Godfather role, and I know there isn't one in the IRL version of the game. I however think that for online games a Godfather in indispensable, and if he dies, the leadership aspect should pass on to another mafian. The Godfather is essentially an organisational role. By having one player responsible for deciding who to kill, and PMing the host that choice it's much easier for the mafia to be active and decisive. There are no long arguments as players argue through different timezones.
     
  9. ImmunityBow

    ImmunityBow Newbie

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    Most games lately have had a godfather I think. There was Father in FMA mafia, there was Ultimecia in FFVIII, Nergal in FE, Chaos Shadow in Mega Magic. So that hasn't actually been an issue lately.

    I think a simple game is any game with more vanilla townies than power roles, as well as no power roles with more than one ability. The one I'd recommend the most for anyone who hasn't played it yet is Doctor + Cop + rest vanilla townies. It's awesome for a 7 person game, but scales up well too. Eventually however, people will catch on to the optimal plays for that setup and then you need to move on, but it's an excellent, excellent way for a community to get good at mafia, fast.

    Other roles I like for simple mafia are Hunter (allowed one kill on death), Lovers, Watcher, Tracker, Roleblocker, maybe Serial Killer. I'm actually leaning more and more towards not having Vigilante for simple games, especially with newer players. It's a very difficult role to play. Imagine if each day instead of there being one lynch there was two, except yours was the only vote for the second one. Vigilante is like that. I often put one in a game expecting it'll be good for town and am basically always wrong because an inactive/inexperienced player gets the role and misuses it horribly.

    And yes, I fiercely, fiercely love the vanilla townie role. It's my favourite role to play as, in fact. And I like to watch vanillas when I'm hosting, like that time jeremyng won a mafia game as one of the sole survivors in a mafia where he was the only vanilla in the entire game. Vanillas get just as many epic moments as others do!

    I feel like Agency of the Player, though important, is less pressing than Alternate Win Conditions, so I'll do the latter first:

    On Alternate Win Conditions:
    There are several ways to go about doing alternate win conditions. The first thing to advise, as always, is moderation. Too many and you get a crapshoot. It also makes town a lot weaker than it looks. There are different properties to alternate win conditions, most of which you'll have to keep in mind when designing the role. Let's go through the list, we'll see if it's comprehensive when I'm done:
    1. Different factions. This I wouldn't count as an alternate win condition. It's basically "You win when all other factions are eliminated or none can prevent the same." So lovers, SK, cults, yeah this is totally fine. The point is that it doesn't cut the game short and it's not particularly easy, and you play the game basically the same way. Go nuts.
    2. Alternate win conditions that just end the game. I would seriously advise against these. An example of this would be a Jester who wins when he gets lynched. This can cheat the rest of the players out of a good game. If the Jester gets lynched day one? There goes your whole game. At the very least, do it in an open setup (roles revealed) so that people can play around it. Allowing the game to continue with the Jester removed having "won" the game is better, but what's the point, really? They didn't really win. Whoever wins after really wins, since they actually played the game.
    3. Survivalist-style win conditions basically allow the Survivalist to win with either faction as long as they are not lynched or night killed before endgame. This is a pretty crappy role in my opinion. The optimal play pattern is to do as little as possible to attract the least attention. That is no fun at all. Unless you can add some extra things to this role to make it more interesting, I'd advise staying away
    4. "Find" roles. Basically every night this role targets someone until they find their special one, and then win. I feel like this suffers from the same problems as the Jester. You can have rewards for finding the target that are more conducive to gameplay. Such as making them both one-time-bulletproof thereafter.

    Alright, I think that's it... so basically I guess the answer is to stick to independents who win when everyone else is dead? I would recommend that at least to first time hosts. Once you have some games under your belt, and you feel like you need an independent for your game who doesn't kill, probably the safest bet is to make some variation of the Survivalist incentivizing playing as Town. Incentivizing, not forcing, otherwise it feels more like a chore than play.
     
  10. ImmunityBow

    ImmunityBow Newbie

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    On Agency of the Player: (warning, very ramble-y!)

    Agency is the effect the player has on the game. By this I mean that the choices that the player makes have a tangible effect on the outcome of the game. Most roles are intended to give players agency during the night time, which ostensibly makes the game more fun because the player is doing things at night as well as in the day, and gets to do things in secret as well as in public. It also increases the swing of the game as well as the possibility for skill input to outcome. However, it is also possible to give players negative agency, or valueless agency. It's important to know when you're doing that, because it will affect the player's experience in a very real way.

    Information is one of the most wonderful forms of agency in mafia. When you know something someone else doesn't, or when you can eliminate possibilities within the host of players, you can act much more freely and with much more confidence. Basically people who know something are drawn to interact within the daytime to make their information useful. However, the limiting factor of this is that information is also very powerful. Too much information flying around is very harmful to the mafia, and tips the balance of the game. One of the things I like to do is to split the regular investigator role into several sub-roles: gunsmith (who can find out who can kill), watcher (who finds out who visited a target at night), forensic scientist (who one-time can find out all the people who ever interacted with a dead person). All of these are not as powerful as a straight out cop, and so three people can enjoy the benefits of extra information, the town isn't cut off from night information by one person's death, and you have less chance for lucky streaks of the cop straight out just finding like 3 mafia members in a row.

    Protection is another form of agency. When someone is immune to nightkills they can speak much more freely. When a cop knows he or she is protected they can be more bold. When a doctor in a simple game sees that someone didn't die they know the person they protected isn't mafia.

    I guess I should just go through ability types since that's what I'm doing anyway:

    Vigilante: Very very high skill-to-outcome ratio. Basically think of it as someone who has a day phase all to his or her-self. So if he or she is always right, then town basically always wins. Of course that's never the case, and there's the opposite too - in the hands of an inexperienced player, this one is often the downfall of the town.

    Masons/Talking/Lovers: Interestingly, alone I found that masons generally don't even talk that much. Basically this role multiplies the power of the roles that can talk together. An investigator mason is hugely powerful. A doctor mason is fairly good. The more powers you get together the more you have to worry.

    Roleblocker: Very little agency unless mafia. For mafia the roleblocker is pretty healthy actually because you can roleblock a claimed cop and then look for a doctor. As town... probably more likely to hurt town than otherwise, in which case, the correct course of action is to not use your role throughout the game. That's the opposite of agency so now that I think about it, it's probably better to stick to mafia roleblockers.

    You can do things, but I won't tell you what they do: The most famous of which is the Dreaming God role. Basically you say: Here! Have some choices! But you may as well not have them, because you are just doing the work of RNG for me! These roles give the player no agency whatsoever: they are a glorified RNG.

    Invigorators: These people allow players to use their night abilities an additional time whether to give them back a one-shot or to double up on something. They tend to do a lot less than you'd expect, and by that I mean virtually nil. They just kind of pick someone they trust and hope that they can use it. In a more complicated game, giving this to a mafia member to allow them to choose whether to double up on a mafia investigation or mafia roleblock or some other useful thing is interesting and sounds much better. This also solves the logistics issue where you have to wait for the invigorator to tell you who they're targetting, then you have to mention it to the player, and then they have to submit another night action.

    Random-targeting roles: don't do them. Unless the point of the game is to screw with people, there is no correct way to play these roles. If you force people to do them, then you may as well just do it for them as a host. Otherwise there is no agency, the influence on the game is really just luck and the player doesn't feel good about what they did, which is what you gave them a role for in the first place. Abilities that have a chance of working on the intended targetting (don't do 50% protection 50% death or something that can do the opposite of what someone wants to do) can help balance them but generally feel worse. But those are more acceptable I think.

    Things that reduce agency are also pretty obvious: forced speech, forced random kills and forced voting. The worst possible thing you can do is to remove the basic powers of a player: his or her speech and vote. This essentially eliminates the agency of the player and forces them to interact with you rather than with the town, since presumably you've given them other powers to compensate. Mafia is fundamentally a social game so don't do this. Lesser versions such as forced speech and forced voting must be either limited (forced speech for a day, a role who can impose forced votes a limited number of times) or thought about really carefully before put in. Forced random kills are also fairly bad because really the best way to use them is when no other option is available. And then it feels bad when it doesn't work.

    Well I've think I've done it... This is probably the most ramble-y of all my posts yet. I guess it's because the subject is very common sensed based. If you read through all that, thanks.
     
  11. SilentSentinel

    SilentSentinel "Best Admin" - Gamma, July 5th 2017 Administrator

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    Stickying this thread. It is an excellent resource for anyone who wants to host a mafia game. Should be required reading really.
     
  12. Gamma

    Gamma Simply Walks Into Mordor

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    I personally think Kitsu's FF8 game actually got a lot of the Mafia gists correctly, even though XenForo kind of more or less screwed my ability to binge-read all of it.

    Other Mafia games aren't really borne of any mechanical issues. Granted, the thoughts presented here have been read a bunch of times and understood. Heck, I agree with most of everything else. Granted, I would like to point out I would personally love less luck-based scenarios during the Mafia's Night Stages and find random-target things to take away from skill thresholds in Mafia.

    Anyhoo, props to ImmunityBow I guess.
     

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