Mafia Mania

When writing about Supergirl I mentioned that some of my girlfriend’s friends came over to my place recently for a party. It wasn’t much of a party, really… more just friends getting together to snack, chat, play cards, and play mah jongg. Very Chinese-style recreation. (This was mostly the same group as the one I played Eat Poop You Cat with.)

I really don’t like the card game that they always play, so I just kind of hung out and watched. And even though my girlfriend taught my whole family how to play mah jongg over the summer, I kind of forgot, and was a little embarrassed to play with people that really knew how. Yeah, a pretty sad attitude for someone who’s lived in China as long as I have, but what can I say? I just didn’t feel like playing those games.


For dinner we ordered pizza and Chinese food. After dinner things got more interesting. Someone suggested we all play Mafia.

I was happy about that, because I knew mafia is a good game. I figured we could all have a good time with it. What I never imagined was how long we would all end up playing it.

We started at about 8pm with 9 people. There were two mafia every round. A few people had never played before (my girlfriend included), so it took a little while to get going. The guardian angels were especially bad at first, but when the guardian angels started doing a better job, everyone else started relying heavily on them to deduce who the mafia were. Some people got really serious about the game. Some rounds took 30 minutes or more (with only 9 people total!). There was no alcohol involved at all.

I had a good time, but by about 3am I was pretty tired and ready to quit. Yet no one was leaving! So I had to be a good host and keep playing. The game didn’t end until 5am. 5am! These were not college students… they were all young professionals in their mid- to late twenties or older. I never expected them to stay so late.

Like I said, I had a good time (it’s a great game), but I never imagined I would ever play 9 straight hours of Mafia. Damn.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. Mafia is popular here ;P
    But i don’t even know there should be a GA?! What if the GA be killed at the beginning? Does that mean if the GA declare who’s a Mafia he/she will probably be murdered the next turn?

  2. Da Xiangchang Says: September 1, 2005 at 11:16 am

    I’ve never played Mafia, but it does sound intriguing. I’ll give it a try once I get invited to someone’s house with a lot of people–which means I’ll report back in about a year or so. Haha.

  3. Should have just kicked them out. And no alcohol? You can’t even think about playing social games like this with no alcohol. Jeez.

  4. have you noticed the game in Chinese is called Sha Ren (kill people)? often hear the girl sitting next to me in the office on the phone with her friends,”…ok, let’s sing karaok first, then go eat, then go kill people…”…such freaky conversation always makes me chuckle.

  5. Kastner,

    If the Guardian Angel is killed early, it just makes the good guys’ job harder. The guardian Angel is not always very helpful anyway, though. They can be downright misleading.

  6. I remember teaching Mafia to my Nanjing classmates a couple of years ago. After a couple of rounds, it got downright scary how good a lot of them were. It was like I was sitting in on some sort of Cultural Revoution criticism session. Whenever I got picked to be an assassin, I never lasted more than a couple of rounds.

  7. John,
    thought you might enjoy this site. The Princeton Mafia Mega Site. At the end are more Mafia variations than you can handle. I used to go to this site to spice my Mafia up when things dragged in Class.


  8. Jamie,

    Thanks! There are some cool variations over there. Now next time maybe I won’t get bored with it after a mere 9 hours.

  9. Plus I can link stuff in your comment section…after the tongue lashing I received last time.

  10. ohhhhh you’re not the first to play 9 straight hours of mafia!
    It’s a truly phenominal game, when you play with the right people.
    I like to immagine law students playing it for many hours, or that people like Plato and Socrates and Martin Luther and Sigmund Freud and Shakespeare would have enjoyed it, especially together…
    (Plato: Thus, Martin, if we have established that you are accusing Sigmund of being the mafia due to the challenging nature of his remarks about the dispute over the voting of Socrates, then we may also assume that you have nothing to lose by Sigmund being executed…
    Shakespeare: Would I could and were and was a angel I woud do well to say that Plato ’tis the man!)

    anyway, we played it so much my sophomore year that the largest group we ever got was 23, the smallest, 3.

    yes, I played mafia with just 2 other people (we were the most engrossed of any mafia players and people would stay just to watch the 3 of us play together) and we called this variation ‘Extreme Mafia’

    the 3 people sit in a circle, and draw 3 cards. 2 of them are number cards, but one is the king or the ace, and whoever draws that card is the mafia. then the cards are returned to the middle and the istrument of death is issued (it could be any object, doesn’t matter what it is) to the center of the circle. All close their eyes. the mafia silently opens their eyes and places the instrument of death before the one they wish to kill. then the eyes open and one is dead. for the next 10 minutes to an hour or more, the 2 living people try only to convince the 3rd and dead person who their killer was. it is delightful
    more and more evidence is brought to light with each word and expression! it’s mafia under a microscope, and it really builds the rhetoric of a person

  11. Hoo.. I didn’t know this game was called Mafia ?!? I allways hear them call it sha ren (杀人) and I really don’t know why they can play that game the whole night and get so excited at that. And I allways fint it distracting to see text like “Where to kill tonigh ?” (今晚在哪儿杀人) on some local chinese forums.

  12. When I was in grad school there was a guy that would come over to hang out & watch my TV set; he didn’t have one. I finally got to where I would just say “I’m going to bed, Ben. Turn off the TV & lock the door when you leave.” Sort of a variation of my uncle’s “We better go to bed; these people want to go home.”

  13. Da Xiangchang Says: September 3, 2005 at 8:09 am

    Dude, John, you got to have more cojones as host. I remembe reading Kirk Douglas’s autobiography and how he liked going to bed early, like 10 or so, and when people hung out after that, he would start flipping the lights. He even did that once when his guest was Henry Kissinger! Of course, Tim P.’s approach is a lot more tactful.

  14. […] not sure how many versions are played nowadays (it’s been a while since I’ve played), but the Baidu Baike page has an extremely lengthy “version […]

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