Werewolf/Mafia, 13, and Egyptian

So last Wednesday our class had our first game lab, where we play games and analyze them.  The first game was Werewolf, also known as Mafia, and next two games that were played were popular card games 13 and Egyptian (War, Ratscrew, whatever).

Mafia is played with a large group of people and moderator who oversees the games rules.  It is a cooperative game of hidden information, with two teams, the werewolves and the villagers, attempt to find and kill each other.  The teams are selected at random using a randomized deck of player cards, and team affiliations are unknown until players die.  The game is played in rounds, which have a day phase and a night phase.  In the day phase, everyone votes to execute one person, taking them out of the game and conversation, in an attempt to defeat the elusive werewolves.  During the night, the werewolves quietly decide who to kill.  Seers, who are on the villager’s team, quietly decide who to protect for the night.  When the night phase ends, the moderator announces the decisions.  The fun of the game is during the day phase, where everyone decides who to execute.  There are no clear rules, and anyone who wants to speak can, unless they are drowned out by another person.  It’s the game of social prowess and influencing the group that makes the game interesting.  

In the session that I played, I was a villager.  Having played the game before, I knew that being a werewolf is much more fun than being a villager, so when people looked at their cards, I gauged their reactions.  I also refrained from looking at my card until the last moment, just in case anyone else was running the same strategy.  Both are common techniques in poker to read your opponents and hide your own feelings.  Looking around, I identified two players that had nervous or excited responses to their cards.  Seeing the common villager card is a disappointment, and being a werewolf is exciting, as it’s practically just you against the world.  So, in the first day phase I made it known to everyone which two players I thought had “sneaky looks” when they looked at their cards.  Nobody had anything else to go by yet, so I assumed that anything small would be enough for everyone to just start voting a person off.  However, they didn’t believe me, and some other guy spoke up and asked “who here has played before” and he suggested that we kill them first.  What led him to the conclusion that killing off good players would be advantageous is beyond me, but it backfired, and a few people, mostly the inexperienced players, assumed that the first people to suggest execution were likely to be the werewolves, which is another false assumption.  It’s way more likely that werewolves will stay quiet and not draw any attention themselves, as that is much easier to execute than lying.  In fact, streaming a thought process and developing some reasoning out loud is extremely difficult to fake.  I assumed everyone knew that in games with voting off, like in Survivior-style reality T.V., you don’t want to draw any attention to yourself.  The werewolf team is at a far greater risk if they speak up because they have less players.  Of course, knowing this, I then knew that it didn’t matter if drawing attention to myself by pointing others out got me killed, as the ones I pointed out would eventually die too, due to the attention I drew to them.  It would’ve been nice to play on and continue in case I was wrong, but, alas, the expected happened.  I was the next to go, and in the next three rounds or so, the two I accused were voted off.  One of them was a werewolf.  One for two (or three if you count myself) is pretty good when there are two werewolves and thirteen villagers, I think.  Eventually, the villagers won with about six people left.

All in all, it was a fun game.  My main criticisms for the variants of Mafia is that there usually isn’t enough bad guys, which is evident when you play a lot and see just how rarely they actually win.  Also, some moderation of the voting phase would be nice.  It was a bit frustrating to play with that group, as half of the players didn’t want to cast their vote at all, or say anything.


The next game was 13, which is a turn-based 3+ player card game with the win condition being getting rid of all your cards, like Crazy 8s, and Uno that seems to have unintuitive card values on purpose.  In this game, 2 is the highest valued card, and the suit priority is completely jumbled from what I thought was the standard spades, hearts, diamonds, clubs order.  A quick google and apparently there is no standard, but there are common conventions, and 13 doesn’t follow any of them.  Spades are usually have the highest priority, and in this game it’s hearts, for no good reason that I can see.  Anyway, the game begins with the player with the lowest value card, 3c, and each player takes turns placing a higher valued card or combo until nobody wants to play a higher card or combo.  Then, the player who played the last card gets to lead with another card, and this cycle continues until everyone is out of cards.

The strategy for almost every game like this is to memorize what your opponents have played so you can predict what their other cards are.  In 13, to play more cards than others you have to chain together as many rounds as you can where you have the highest cards as possible, so players have to make difficult decisions as to when they should play their high cards and low cards.  They must choose when to take control by playing their strongest combo, but they first have to give up control by getting rid of their low cards. At the same time, they have to gauge the strength of their opponent’s remaining hand so their final chain of high cards isn’t interrupted.  Challenging any player’s attempt for control makes you vulnerable to other players who still have their power plays.  So, the game has a good amount of strategic depth, even though it’ll be largely influenced by the luck of the initial draw.  We only played one game, and I came in third out of four.

Last was Egyptian, also known as other names with “Egyptian” in them.  Egyptian, like classic War, is out of the players’ hands as far as the cards aspect of the game is concerned.  The whole deck is divided to each player, and players must take turns playing their cards blind.  When someone plays a face-card, the next player gets a few chances to play another face card or else the original face-card player wins the hand, and this situation plays out recursively until someone fails to produce a face card. The goal is to get all the cards. But blind luck isn’t the fun part of the game, it’s the slapping rules.  As players play cards, if they play the same numbered card as the last one or the one before it, anyone can touch the pile with their hands and win it.  The result is a reaction-time based slapfest with the only strategies being related to optimizing your reaction time.  I’m fairly good at reacting, (despite my actual reaction time being below average) and I could write a whole article about it, so I’m pretty good at this game.  The only other aspect is memorizing card sequences after you’ve  been playing long enough that you start to see sequences of cards that were picked up in piles earlier in the game.  Unfortunately, we ran out of time and I wasn’t able to finish off the final remaining opponent.

Surprisingly, I got good mix of skill tests that day.  Werewolf tests social skills, 13 tests strategy, and Egyptian tests reflexes.  Three great ways to make things fun and interesting, and (not) shockingly, they required no hidden meanings, messages, narrative, or high-res graphics to be effective.


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