Photo Credit: Lachlan Hardy
Mafia (Russian: Ма́фия, also known as Werewolf, Assassin, Witch Hunt, Palermo Nights or Pirates) is a party game created in the USSR by Dimitry Davidoff in 1986, modelling a battle between an informed minority (the mafia) and an uninformed majority (the townspeople). Players are secretly assigned roles: either mafia, who know each other; or townspeople, who know only the number of mafia amongst them. In the game's night phase the mafia covertly "murder" a townsperson. During the day phase, all of the surviving players debate the identities of the mafia and vote to eliminate a suspect. Play continues until all of the mafia have been eliminated, or until the mafia outnumber the townspeople. A typical game starts with seven townspeople and two Mafiosi.
Dimma Davidoff (Russian: Дми́трий Давы́дов, Dmitriy Davydov) is generally acknowledged as the game's creator. He dates the first game to spring 1986 at the Psychology Department of Moscow State University, spreading to classrooms, dorms, and summer camps of Moscow University. Wired attributes the creation to Davidoff but dates the first game to 1987, with 1986 being the year in which Davidoff was starting the work which would produce Mafia. He developed the game to combine psychology research with his duties teaching high school students. The game became popular in other Soviet colleges and schools and in the 1990s it began to be played in Europe and then the United States. By the mid nineties a version of the game became a Latvian television series (with a parliamentary setting, and played by Latvian celebrities).
Andrew Plotkin gave the rules a werewolf theme in 1997, arguing that the mafia aren't that big a cultural reference, and that the werewolf concept fit the idea of a hidden enemy who looked normal during the daytime. Although the game can be played with a deck of poker cards or slips of paper, Looney Labs successfully marketed a commercial version of the game as Are You a Werewolf?, which was later followed by Asmodee Editions under the title Werewolves of Millers Hollow, Mayfair Games as Lupus in Tabula and Bezier Games as Ted Alspach's Ultimate Werewolf: Ultimate Edition. A Cthulhu Mythos variant (Do You Worship Cthulhu) was published in 2006.
Mafia and a variant called Thing have been played at science fiction writers' workshops since 1998, and have become an integral part of the annual Clarion and Viable Paradise workshops. The Werewolf variant of Mafia became widespread at major tech events, including the Game Developers Conference, ETech, Foo Camps, and South By Southwest.