A Mind Game
also called "Mafia"
Werewolf is a simple game for a large group of people (seven or more.)
It requires no equipment besides some bits of paper; you can play it
just sitting in a circle. I'd call it a party game, except that it's a
game of accusations, lying, bluffing, second-guessing, assassination,
and mob hysteria.
I really like it. But then I go to some strange parties.
Assemble a group of players. An odd number is best, although not
absolutely mandatory. There should be at least seven players; nine or
eleven is better.
Make up a set of cards, one for each player, with a role written on each
Shuffle the cards and hand them out, face down. Each player should look
at his card, but must keep it secret. Only the moderator
reveals his card and shows himself to be the moderator.
- One "Moderator"
- Two "Werewolf"
- One "Villager (Seer)"
- All the rest "Villager"
(Alternatively, the group can choose a moderator in advance; the
moderator then takes the "Moderator" card, shuffles the rest, and hands
them out face-down.)
Two players are now secretly werewolves. They are trying to slaughter
everyone in the village. Everyone else is an innocent human villager;
but one of the villagers secretly has the Second Sight, and can detect
the taint of lycanthropy.
The game proceeds in alternating night and day phases. We begin with
At Night, the moderator tells all the players "Close
your eyes." Everyone should.
The moderator says "Werewolves, open your eyes." The two werewolves do
so, and look around to recognize each other. The moderator should also
note who the werewolves are.
The moderator says "Werewolves, pick someone to kill." The two
werewolves silently agree on one villager to tear limb from limb. (It is
critical that they remain silent. The other players are sitting there
with their eyes closed, and the werewolves don't want to give themselves
away. Sign language is appropriate, or just pointing, nodding, raising
eyebrows, and so on.)
When the werewolves have agreed on a victim, and the moderator
understands who they picked, the moderator says "Werewolves, close your
The moderator says "Seer, open your eyes. Seer, pick someone to ask
about." The seer opens his eyes and silently points at another player.
(Again, it is critical that this be entirely silent -- because the seer
doesn't want to reveal his identity to the werewolves.)
The moderator silently signs thumbs-up if the seer pointed at a
werewolf, and thumbs-down if the seer pointed at an innocent villager.
The moderator then says "Seer, close your eyes."
The moderator says "Everybody open your eyes; it's daytime. And
you have been torn apart by werewolves." He indicates the
person that the werewolves chose. That person is immediately dead and
out of the game. He reveals his card, showing what he was, and leaves it
Now it is Day. Daytime is very simple; all the living
players gather in the village and lynch somebody. The mob wants bloody
As soon as a majority of players vote for a particular player to die,
the moderator says "Ok, you're dead." That player then reveals his card,
and the rest of the players find out whether they've lynched a human, a
werewolf, or (oops!) the seer.
There are no restrictions on speech. Any living player can say
anything he wants -- truth, misdirection, nonsense, or bareface lie.
Contrariwise, dead players may not speak at all. As soon as the
sun comes up and the moderator indicates that someone is dead, he may
not speak for the rest of the game. No dying soliloquies allowed.
Similarly, as soon as a majority vote indicates that a player has been
lynched, he is dead. If he wants to protest his innocence or reveal some
information (like the seer's visions), he has to do it before
the vote goes through.
No player may reveal his card, to anyone, except when he is killed. All
you can do is talk.
Once a player is lynched, night falls and the cycle repeats. Everyone
closes their eyes, the werewolves (or werewolf) secretly select someone
to kill, the seer (if alive) secretly learns another player's status;
then the sun rises, one player is found dead, and the remaining players
begin to discuss another lynching. Repeat until one side wins.
The humans win if they kill both werewolves.
The werewolves win if they kill enough villagers so that the numbers are
even. (Two werewolves and two humans, or one werewolf and one human.) At
that point they can rise up and slaughter the villagers openly.
The villagers are trying to figure out who's a werewolf; the werewolves
are pretending to be villagers, and trying to throw suspicion on real
The seer is trying to throw suspicion on any werewolves he discovers,
but without revealing himself to be the seer (because if he does, the
werewolves will almost certainly kill him that night, since he's the
greatest threat to werewolf national security.) Of course the seer
can reveal himself at any time, if he thinks it's worthwhile to
tell the other players what he's learned. Also of course, a werewolf can
claim to be the seer and "reveal" anything he wants.
The only information the villagers have is what other players say -- and
who dies. Accusing someone of being a werewolf is suspicious. Not
accusing anyone is also suspicious. Agreeing with another player a lot
is suspicious, and therefore so is pretending not to agree with another
player. Never voting to kill a particular player is very suspicious for
both of them -- unless it's the seer who knows that player is innocent.
When everyone closes their eyes at night, it is best for people to also
start humming, tapping the table, rocking back and forth, or some such
noise. This will cover up any accidental sounds that are made by the
werewolves, the seer, or the moderator.
The moderator should stick to the script to avoid mistakes or clues. If
he says "Open your eyes, werewolves" instead of "Werewolves, open your
eyes," a player may misconstrue the command before the last word.
The moderator should be careful to always talk towards the center of the
group. If (for example) he turns to face the seer when he says "Seer,
select someone," the werewolves may detect the change in acoustics.
It is really important that dead players not speak, and the moderator
not speak outside his official capacity -- even to correct a blatant
misstatement about a matter of record. (I've seen a game where one
player -- a werewolf -- recited the history of the game up to that
point: "X was murdered, then we lynched Y, then Z was murdered..." And
he swapped two names, a night-murder and a day-lynching, to confuse
matters. It would be unfair for a dead player to say "Hey, that's not
right, I was lynched!")
There are several reasons to have an odd number of players (including
the moderator): There will be an odd number of living players during
each day, which prevents tie votes on lynchings; and the game will
always end with a lynching. If there are an even number of players, you
can get ties, and the game will end with a nighttime murder -- which is
anticlimactic, because everyone knows when the sun goes down that the
game will end at dawn. (Because the werewolves are certain to kill a
human and win.)
But more importantly, the humans' chances are significantly weaker when
there are an even number of players (including the moderator.)
This is probably because an even game always ends with a nighttime
murder, and an extra murder is always to the advantage of the wolves;
whereas an extra daytime lynching could help either side.
This game can produce a lot of shouting (during the day) and a lot of
humming (at night.) Don't play where the neighbors will complain.
("Don't mind us, we're just deciding who to kill!")
My cards are cheesy cartoons (smiley faces, smiley faces with fangs, and
a smiley face with a third eye.) Some of my friends have made decks out
of selected Magic cards, X-Files cards, and other card games with neat
Danny Novo has contributed a
PDF file of Werewolf cards,
after my cheesy cartoon idea.
I have done some
of the game, mostly to figure out when to add a third werewolf.
(Seventeen players looks right.)
I did not invent this game; Dimitry Davidoff did, in 1986. I learned it
much later, at the 1997
National Puzzlers' League
convention, under the name "Mafia." (Two
Mafia gangsters, one Knight Commandant, and everyone else innocent
citizens.) I think werewolves are niftier, so I changed it.
- When the seer secretly points to a player at night, the moderator
says out loud "Yes, that's a werewolf" or "No, that's not a
werewolf." (Avoid "he" and "she"!) The other players still don't know
who was pointing or who was pointed at, but they do know what the answer
was. If it was "yes", the werewolves know the pressure is on...
- Don't use a "Moderator" card; instead, put in one more "Villager"
card. Then have an extra Day phase at the beginning, where the lynched
player becomes the moderator. Advantage: Everyone gets to introduce
themselves and start casting suspicion around, based on no
information whatsoever. (Since it's before the first night, not even the
werewolves know who each other are!) Disadvantage: It's possible for the
moderator to be a werewolf or seer, which starts one side off with a
- Instead of passing out cards randomly, choose a moderator first, and
then let the moderator decide who will be what. The moderator passes out
cards as he pleases. (This might be fun if the group has played a lot of
games together (not necessarily Werewolf) and know what it's like for
different people to team up. If the group is new to Werewolf, I wouldn't
recommend this variation.)
- Instead of everyone making noise at night, everyone is as quiet as
possible, and they listen for the sounds of pointing. (I feel this
pollutes the pure brain-ness of the game. You should cast suspicion on
each others' arguments, not on whether they can sign silently. But some
people do play this way.)
- If there are a whole lot of players -- say, seventeen -- it might be
better to add a third werewolf. I have not experimented with this, so I
don't know. Of course at that point it's also possible to split into two
- If the number of players is even, you can give the villagers
an advantage by granting the seer a free inquiry, letting the werewolves
recognize each other, and then starting
with a day-phase. (Or, equivalently, start with a night but don't let
the werewolves attack that first night.) This keeps the parity normal.
It's hard to quantify the advantage of a free inquiry, since it's
entirely psychological, but at least you don't have an entirely
information-free first day.
- If the number of players is small, or even, perhaps improve the
villagers' chances by giving one of them wolfsbane? The villager with
wolfsbane cannot be killed by wolves; if he is picked, the moderator
announces "It's dawn... nobody was killed last night." Of course, the
herb is no protection from lynching. Disadvantage: this screws up the
parity, so some games won't end with a lynching. (This is a very
speculative variant, and needs a lot of playtesting before it can be
- A variant from Princeton: one villager has wolfsbane, but he
chooses which doorstep to sprinkle every night. (He can
If he picks the same person the wolves pick, that person doesn't die.
If he picks a wolf, nothing happens.
Disadvantages: again, this screws up the parity. Also, if the last
two players are a wolf and the wolfsbane-owner, the game is a stalemate.
(Hm -- that's the result that was described to me, but it doesn't
necessarily follow. You could say that since the wolf-team has equal
numbers, they win by daytime massacre, and the herb doesn't help.)
- "Dark City": At night, the werewolves get to swap two villager
cards (thus possibly changing the identity of the seer). Ideally, when
a villager dies, it should not be revealed whether or not he was the
- "Cupid": One villager is also the Cupid. At the start of the
game, he secretly indicates two others players. These players are now a
pair of Lovers. (The moderator taps the Lovers on the shoulder, and has
them open their eyes and see each other. So the Lovers know who each other
are, and the Cupid knows who they are -- but none of them know
(initially) whether the Lovers are human, wolves, or one of each.)
Now: if one Lover dies (day or night), the other dies immediately of a
broken heart. Furthermore: if the Lovers are the only two people left
alive, even if one is a human and one is a wolf, they both
("Ours is a forbidden love." -- Willow)
- Adam Cadre came up with a version that avoids the closed eyes, the
humming and tapping, etc; the only hidden behavior is writing. All
players write on a notecard at night. The moderator collects
the cards and works out the results.
Villagers write "sleep".
The wolves can write a list of
names of people to kill, in order of preference; if there is no consensus,
one particular wolf (the alpha wolf) gets his wish. The moderator
writes seer results on the seer's card before returning the cards.
This scheme eliminates wolf conferring, but it may work better for
some groups -- it eliminates the risk (and temptation) of peeking.
- A friend has reported another name for the game: "Seduction",
where two seducers try to deflower all the virgins before they're
caught, with a gossip peeking. Every day the virgins go out
and... arrange a tryst with one of their number? Send someone to a
brothel? Ok, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense.
- Jake Eakle describes a live-action version. Everyone has a sheet
of paper on his dorm-room door; wolves choose their targets by
drawing a red X on the door at night. (Actual night!) Other symbols
get used for seer probes, etc.
- A version called "Thing" (as in, "who goes there?"). In this, the
villagers don't lynch -- they choose someone to test, and
the subject is only killed if he is a genuine wolf. And after a successful
detection, the villagers get another go; the day only ends after
a test comes up innocent. (The first one's free, so there at least two
tests per day.) What's the catch? At night, the werewolves pick a
villager to convert. Their victim starts playing for the wolf
team immediately, although he won't find out who infected him until
"werewolves, open your eyes" the next night. I am told that the play
dynamics are wildly different, since you're looking for changes
in behavior, not hidden conspiracies.
- I am told that a children's psychiatric facility has gotten its kids
playing a "fox/henhouse" variant of the game. They use a one-shot vigilante
role (on the villager team, can kill a werewolf at night once per game).
- Other variants are noted below, with links to groups that play that
Dimitry Davidoff had a
up on which he describes the origin of the game.
The site is no longer available, but
a copy can be found on archive.org.
His rules are well off the current average, though.
may lynch any number of people during the day, and lynched players do not
reveal their identity. The villagers can only find out if they've won
by ending the day and seeing if there are any killers left.
There's no communicating at night, and there is no moderator or Seer.
More about the origin of the game, from its creator:
i was studying at psychology department of moscow university. i was
doing two years at once (roughly junior and senior years - yep, was a crazy
time =) and teaching ap psychology class for high schoolers (translating it
to american realities). my course paper was about time as the primary
psychological (human) construct. so in my class, i was playing with
different notions of time - why we want spent time as we spend it? is there
a time we spent we rather wouldn't (this would be a definition of a
psychological symptom incedentally). anyway, i was trying to find an
activity for students - so it would produce a biggest time spending with the
smallest input (and i wouldn't have to prepare for classes that much =). i
was trying to find something that would structure time not by means of
outside organization (being in class) or preparation (for example, previous
common knowledge as a topic). first i was asking couple of students to make
a secret agreement in a hall (about topic they want to discuss), then return
to the classroom for others to guess it. and while watching this discussion,
i suddenly realised (eureka kinda moment) - that WHO is in agreement is the
biggest secret of all.
Kristofers Sevcenko reports:
"The Latvian national TV used to run a (IIRC) weekly TV show called 'The
Parliament vs. The Mafia' ca.1990-95, which went by basically the same rules
as described on your page. Please note, that I was around 12 at that time,
so I don't really remember all the details very clearly, but here's how I
remember it. It was played by celebrities and intellectuals and was rather
popular. I think there were 12 players. Not sure how many gangsters were
there, but one of them was a Godfather, who was the one who actually made
the decision of whom to kill off during nightime. The 'Seer/Knight
Commandant' was called an Investigator. Not very sure, but there might have
been two Investigators. Also, the persons whom the players decide to 'lynch'
during the day, got a minute to say their last words and try to convince the
other players to let them live, after which all the players actually voted,
with an equal vote meaning the person would be spared (I think)."
my students become the first players. then of course student parties in my
dormitory - biggest one in moscow - housing thousands of students from
different departments. it quickly spread to other departments and
dormitories - likely over next summer, through student summer camps. i
[have] tried to keep a track of mafia since then - treating
it as a natural experiment of a meme spreading. i guess due to its nature
(no real prerequists to the game besides being a human - that was the idea
of course), the game was spreading pretty fast in russia. in all possible
discourses, from bandits and prisons (i have a firsthand accounts) to
goverment meetings. and students of course were providing the main drive. i
went to a few meetings with students in the us (mit media lab was one of the
venues, btw) - and its the same pattern everywhere.
anyway, few things extra from the top of my head:
1. the whole approach (there are few other games i've created at that time)
is grown out of lev vygotskiy (founder of the soviet psychological school in
'20s) and alan turing's test.
2. the 'moral' aspect of the game is/was important too - errors of first and
second type are unintuitive concept in psychology. to force players in
accepting errors was one of my primary concerns. there were some
psychological disputes on that topic, i was trying to solve
3. in '89-'90 i was teaching psychology 101 for international students
(mostly from socialist countries then), some of them probably become first
seeds in spreading mafia outside russia.
4. i am still finding new things about mafia all the time, it is
-- Dimitry Davidoff (from email, September 2005)
Steven Clays reports: "We (= a Belgian group of 2500 ecologists between
8-25) learned the game from Slovenian people in July '96." Hm.
If you have any more information about the early history of the game,
please send me a note. That's
Several have popped up.
(I'm not even trying to list commercial editions called "Mafia", or
other themes, of which there must be many -- there's a Do You
Worship Cthulhu? for example.)
by Christian Zoli.
by Ted Alspach.
de Thiercelieux -- a French publication
by Philippes des Pallières
and Hervé Marly
of Lui-Même Games.
Has a number of additional
character cards, including the "Cupid" described above.
Published in English as "The Werewolves of Millers Hollow".
Also has a bunch of character cards. (That page has rule translations
into a bunch of languages, including Esperanto...)
Da Vinci has since come out with an extended Werewolf game called
You A Werewolf?
-- published by
Just werewolf, villager, seer, and moderator cards; rules basically
as described on this page. (Looney Labs events tend to degenerate into
Werewolf late at night. Friday night at Origins 2002, we had four games
running with 52 people total...)
And I might as well give my opinion about this sort of thing:
I did not invent this game, so I have no right to permit or forbid people
from publishing commercial versions of it, or otherwise making money off of
it. As far as I'm concerned, it's folk culture, as much as hopscotch or
chess. (Even if it was invented in 1986 (see below). Folk work fast. The
word gets around.)
On the other hand -- if you publish a version which is called "Werewolf",
as opposed to "Mafia" or some other theme, it would be cool if you noted
my name. I don't insist. I'm just asking. Because I am the sole
inventor of the idea of having this game be about werewolves... and
while that gives me no rights of ownership, it does mean that the chain
of causality flows back through me.
It's kind of a weird feeling, actually. I am your memetic lycanthropic Eve!
Volity game network has an online,
multiplayer version of Werewolf. And I get to mention it first, because
I wrote it!
site, in which he talks about inventing the game in 1986. History
in the retelling!
(dead link, see
which credits Davidoff.
article on Werewolf in Wired UK.
(Written by Margaret Robertson, who interviewed Davidoff as well as
PDF Werewolf Rules,
adapted from this page by Pierre Lemoine.
Graduate Mafia Brotherhood
of Princeton University. This page lists a broad range of variants
and rule suggestions, including the out-of-control "Mafia meets
See also their detailed
description of an IRC version
page by "Soonger". In this version, there's a single, roll-call vote
to lynch; whoever gets the most lynch votes is strung up.
like the same game...
But it's in Russian. I think. (The server doesn't seem to
specify a charset header, either.)
(dead link, sorry)
by "Beer". In this version, the person being lynched has the opportunity
for a short speech in defense of himself; this is followed by a second,
confirming vote to kill.
And finally, although this isn't a link: My latest web search has
turned up the highest quota of Mafia mentions from...
wait for it... the event lists of Christian youth camps.
No, I don't know what this means.
Ok, one such link: In
ideas" for youth camps. Standard rules.
(dead link, sorry)
SIG of Mensa HungarIQa,
a Hungarian group.
Interesting variant: the Mafia cannot communicate at night, not even to know
who the other Mafia are trying to murder. They must somehow agree on their
target during the day, in the course of the normal discussion.
If they don't all attack the same target, nobody dies that night.
In this version, the identity of people killed at night is
kept secret; so the Mafia can kill the Knight Commandant and never know it.
Worse, the Mafia can kill one of their own, or even both, and laugh at the
resulting confusion. Also, the Knight Commandant is given the
identity of one Mafia member per night, instead of having to ask. (The
ratio of Mafia to citizens is higher, to counter this increased power.)
A description of Mafia at the
Convention, which is where I learned about it myself. Written by
"Qaqaq". (NPL names are funky.)
site, standard rules but with no Seer/Knight Commander.
Photos from an action-packed game session!
(dead link, sorry)
site, including some variations and statistical models.
A play-by-email server
which includes a
Romanian Mafia Club.
from this page, translated into Finnish by Marja Ruuska.
The Grey Labyrinth
has ongoing games of web-forum Mafia -- mostly, it appears, with
specific settings and themes. Players post in-character; it's role-playing
with Werewolf mechanics. Cool.
Brunchma's Bouncy Cling Shrimp
forum has more of that.
MafiaScum is a wiki-based site with
a great deal of
The movie Cry Wolf appears to have a Mafia-type game as a plot
gimmick. (Yikes, as they say.) They and AOL are therefore running an
of the game as a movie promo. It's wolves and sheep. (Which rather
fails to capture the antinomy, since sheep don't lynch sheep -- they
just "drive them off". Ah well.) Rules are standard, except that there
is no seer per se; random sheep get randomly-generated, probabilistic
clues about who is a wolf.
which mentions a Mafia club running in Beijing, which has
six thousand members.
news article -- Chinese)
Last updated February 14, 2010.
page in Spanish
(translation thanks to Daniel Gómez)