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Using Rationality in Mafia

by dpandey1 min read5th Oct 20216 comments

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Gaming (videogames/tabletop)Rationality
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I'm an avid player of the game of Mafia, played over weeks/months on forums.

I'm wondering how the skills and tools of rationality (most saliently Bayesian reasoning, but potentially a wide range of others) could be best used to accurately identify people aligned with the Mafia/convince people to think you're aligned with the Town.

What are your ideas?

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In my experience, trying to apply rationality to hidden-role games such as Mafia tends to break them pretty quickly - not in the sense of making rationalist players extremely powerful, just in the much less fun sense of making the game basically unrecognizable and a lot less fun. I played a hidden role game called Secret Hitler with a group of friends, a few of whom were familiar with some Sequences content, and the meta very quickly shifted towards a boring fixed point.

The problem is that rationality is all about being asymmetric towards truth, which is great for playing town but terrible for playing mafia. After a couple games, people will start to know when you're town and when you're mafia, because you can't really use rationalist stuff when you're mafia. So then in the interest of preserving your ability to play mafia, you can't play transparently as town. Behavioral signal fades, optimal strategies start becoming widely known, choices go away, game gets less interesting.

There can definitely be room for twists and turns (we've had some really clever players dance perfectly around the meta), but it basically becomes a game of trying to guess everyone's Simulacrum Level. Personally, I find the shouting and wild accusations more fun ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I played mafia on the xkcd forums for a while (and it's restarting on the new xkcd forums: https://ramenchef.net/nxf/viewforum.php?f=6 ) and I quickly came to realise that I wanted to have fun, and attempting to do everything optimally to have the best chance of winning wasn't necessarily the most fun (because it has a huge cost in reading pages and pages of game content). 

I enjoy the logic puzzle aspect (how to best use powers/resources, what can contradict each other, etc) but not the social deduction. Same with other games I play, like SH or The Resistence. 

So in the end, I don't take it too seriously. I have fun, I play my way, because of the vibe on the xkcd forums the people there accept my attitude (or are frustrated by it, but in a friendly way?), and it's a kind of win-win situation. When logic puzzle stuff becomes possible I hook in on that and try to work things out.

Mostly I find I enjoy moderating (running) games, and am currently modding one which is having a really good reception.

So yeah, my advice is to think about what you find fun and do more of that. Mafia isn't meant to be a chore. If you find a particular type of analysis fun, do it.

I would recommend forum mafia as a pasttime to people, it's chill and there's a great sense of community/comeraderie. 

I don't know what setups you play, but in case of randomly generated setups where the generation process is public knowledge, understanding probability tends to be useful.

In the non-mechanical aspect of the game, me experience has been that understanding what constitutes evidence is still quite relevant, but imE, play-styles vary so widely across communities that I would be hesitant to make generalizations.

Never played mafiascum, is it active? Does it have a lot of players? 

Never played Mafia myself but I was one of the strongest players a few seasons back in Town of Salem. The best skill is the ability to quickly assess which are the players that can be easily manipulated. That is the most OP skill but it is conditional with playing with people of variable level, if you play with skilled people only, then strategic killing/hanging becomes vital and you can easily smell the fakes as Town 'cos their actions are poorly aligned with their words. 

As a Mafia the most useful tactic is to waste time or push really hard for some random Townie, since Town usually has a small margin of 1/2 days so an early advantage can snowball very easily.

It's somewhat active, but games take a week or so to begin after signups. Player level is definitely variable.

How do you end up assessing which players are easily manipulated, and how do you "pocket" them without other skilled players catching on to what you're doing?

1Leafcraft2moSkilled players catching on to you is irrelevant. That was exactly my problem after I got a bit of experience: I could easily catch evil but no one would believe me. On the other hand if you can "capture" an enemy player you can pretty much brute force the result regardless of other people's actions (unless there are other good manipulators). Also consider that you'll often have to pocket an allied player just to get them to play "correctly", it's not something you necessarily have to do to an enemy. Assessing players becomes relatively easy after some practice, they basically fall into a handful of categories: * Blanks are troll/AFKers, nothing you can do about them * Noobs either will do nothing or play randomly, ignore them early in the game if you're evil (and don't kill them), if you're Town tell them what to do ONCE then ignore them if they won't follow you (if they ignore you the first time you will never convince them anyway) * Logicals are good at understanding what's going on, if they are on your team they will easily cooperate, if you're an enemy they will believe any lie you tell them as long as the lie is compatible with the info they have (and they will act accordingly). * Socials are good at controlling the stage, they are "loud" and successfully demand attention/action, though they are usually bad at deduction. If they are aligned with you talk to them in whispers only and let them control the public (they are usually "arrogant" and won't share control of the public stage); if they aren't on your team it gets diffcult: try pointing a finger at someone and see if they take the bait, bussing can also work in these cases * Quiets are people that lie low, basically pretending to be Blanks/Noobs. They are the most difficult to control, some of them are really really good. When picking someone to control these should be your last choice.