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Elimination: The TCI game of all games

April 17, 2015

I cannot believe that I have never blogged about this game before. I have a tendency to exaggerate, but I really don't think that I am exaggerating when I say that this is the MOST beneficial, MOST engaging, and MOST awesome game that a Comprehension-based teacher can play. Don't believe me? Haters gonna hate....but I think you'll agree when you give it a try.

The name of the game? Elimination.

Note to the reader: While this popular party game has long been Mafia and so I originally blogged about it as Mafia, I no longer advocate for calling it by that name. Mafia is a term that refers to crime organizations that are often associated with specific countries and cultures; most notably, Italian, Russian, Japanese, and Irish. In the same way that we do not want to glorify so-called drug ‘lords’, we also do not want to glorify organized crime in any culture. For that reason, I have now come to refer to this game (and all of its adaptations, including non-violent adaptations) as 'Elimination'.

Elimination: Probably a party game from your past

It is quite likely that you have played Elimination in days gone by, probably under the name 'Mafia' or 'Werewolf'. And it is quite likely that you, like me, LOVE this game. I don't think I have ever met someone that doesn't love this game. When I lived in Mexico, the other interns and I would play this game for hours at night--sometimes crawling into bed just an hour or two before our alarms started ringing for 4:00am prayer. It was our favorite, favorite, favorite pastime.

If you are among those that are not familiar with this most fabulous game, allow me to illuminate.

As I said, the name of the game is Elimination. It will change your life.


Elimination is a role-play comprehensible input game in which a poor town is being tormented by a group of evil Assassins. The police force is working tirelessly to identify the perpetrators of the heinous crimes being committed while the local doctor does everything in his or her power to save the victims of the Assassins' unconscionable attacks. The local news reporter is the only one safe from the Assassin, and he or she bears the burden of informing the townspeople of the Assassin's (or Assassins') every move.

Click here to play a SUPER SIMPLE version of Elimination, which is ideal for beginning language students because it requires ZERO output!

If you're ready for the big leagues, though--read on: here's how you play traditional Elimination:


You will be using cards to assign roles, and so the first step is determining how many of each role will be needed for your game and putting together your 'game deck'.

Prep your cards

First, get a deck of cards. Set aside the Aces, Kings, and Queens.

Set up the game cards based on number of players. You will want to play with your entire class, even if it's a big class, and it is not very fun to play this game with fewer than 10 students. In a class of up to 12 students (aka: in fairytale land!), you will need 2-Aces, 2-Kings, 1-Q, and enough additional cards for each remaining student to receive 1 (I find it's easiest if you only distribute number cards--not face cards--so that there is less potential for confusion from students). So in a class of 12 students, you would need 7 number cards because you have 5 key role cards (5+7=12 total). For 13-18 students, use 3-Aces, 2-Kings, and 1-Q; in a class of 19-23 students, use 3-Aces, 3-Kings, and 1-Q. For 24+ students, you will need 4-Aces, 4-Kings, and 2-Q.

Determine the roles for the game

On the board, write the role key (or use the poster that I use--it's included in the game pack that you can download here-if you want it in a language other than Spanish, just email me the translations and I'll format it) : Ace = Assassin, King = Police, Queen = Doctor, All other cards = Townspeople. In Spanish, I prefer to use the vocabulary "Asesino", "Policía", "Médico", and "Ciudadano". 

If you are playing the game under a different premise, establish roles that match your premise. You will need a Perpetrator (the Assassin-type role), an Investigator (the Police-type role), a Rescuer (the Doctor-type role), and a General Public role.

What is each character trying to do?

Note to the reader: read to the end of the post to find ideas for different, non-violent premises for playing the same game!

  • Assassin: Kill everyone in the town, and Doctors and Police officers are at the top of their hit list.
  • Police: Identify the Assassin and convince the townspeople to convict them.
  • Doctor: Save the victims of the Assassin's attacks.
  • Townspeople: Convict the Assassin or Assassins.

One role that never changes: the Narrator

No matter what version of the game you play, you will always need a narrator. Determine who will be the narrator, or news reporter. The teacher will almost always play the role of the narrator; in upper level classes, you may choose to allow a student to take on this role. Just remember that if the goal is COMPREHENSIBLE INPUT (which it is!!), you need the narrator to speak accurately and comprehensibly. If you have a native speaker that is skilled in the art of speaking comprehensibly to his or her classmates, this is a great role for that student.

Set up the room

Before playing, arrange chairs in a [giant] circle– you'll need a chair for every student in your class that will be playing (presumably, all of your students).


If you have never played Elimination (Mafia, Werewolf), it can be extremely challenging to figure out. I recommend reading this step-by-step tutorial, then watching some videos online to get the gist! If possible, find a friend or teacher friend that knows how to play, grab a bottle of wine, and schedule a game night! You won't regret it!

First, assign roles.

Shuffle the cards that you've selected to use for your class size.

Distribute the cards to students, FACE DOWN. Remind students that it is essential that no one else know which card they were dealt. It is recommended to sit on top of your card once you've looked at it so that no one sees it in your hand as you hold it.

Simulate the first night

The narrator tells the entire town to go to sleep. You could say this as a command if you want to practice commands; however, in the traditional game, the narrator is really just narrating the entire thing, so he or she says "The town goes to sleep" versus "Go to sleep, town!". So the narrator says, "Los ciudadanos se duermen". You could also say "Everyone goes to sleep" to get in reps of different vocabulary.

The townspeople goes to sleep (all students close their eyes). You will find that students really do close their eyes because the game is much more fun when you're not cheating.

First, the Assassins wake up and do their job

The narrator tells the Assassin(s) to wake up. "¡Los asesinos se despierten!"

The Assassins open their eyes and searches the room to identify the other Assassins by making eye contact with them. Remember, anyone that was given an "Ace" is an Assassin. The narrator makes a mental note of who is an Assassin. This is important!

The narrator tells the Assassins to attack. Use discretion based on your school's policies and personal convictions for violence and role-play!! You might say "The Assassin attacks its victim" or "The Assassin kills someone" or "The Assassin strikes". Or, you could play a non-violent version of the game, like Survivor.

Using eye contact and very, very, VERY subtle gesturing (pointing, nodding, etc.), the Assassins identify a victim. They must come to agreement on the one person in the class to attack; if they have an idea as to the identity of the police officers and/or doctor(s), those people should be their priority. It is essential that the mafia not make any sound so as not to give away their identity.

Once a victim has been identified, the narrator tells the Assassins to go to sleep. "Los asesinos se duermen".

The Assassins close their eyes.

Next, the police officers wake up

The narrator tells the police to wake up.

The police officers open their eyes and use subtle gesturing to identify someone in the class that they think might be an Assassin. The narrator can ask questions during this time to clarify (pointing and asking "him? her?"), but he or she should be careful to not give away any identities or make hints as to how many police officers remain.

Once all police officers have come to an agreement on an accusation, the narrator either confirms or denies their accusation with a nod or a head shake. Only the police officers should know whether an Assassin was correctly identified or not, so it is important that the narrator not respond to the accusation with a verbal "yes" or "no". The police officers remember the information with which the narrator provides them.

The narrator tells the police offers to go to sleep.

The police officers close their eyes.

Finally, the doctor wakes up

The narrator tells the doctor(s) to wake up.

The doctor opens his or her eyes and use subtle gesturing to identify someone to attempt to save. Again, if there are two doctors, they must silently come to an agreement.

If the person that the doctor(s) attempted to save was the same person that the mafia had selected as a victim, the narrator gives the doctor(s) a thumbs up. Hooray! They saved the victim. If the person that the doctor(s) attempted to save was not the same person that the mafia had selected as a victim, the narrator gives the doctor(s) a thumbs down--they were unable to save the victim.

The narrator tells the doctors to go to sleep.

Finally, morning comes

The narrator tells the town to wake up.

Everyone opens their eyes.

The big reveal: who is the victim?

The narrator tells everyone what happened in the night. The narrator begins by making up a story about the mafia's attack. This is a great time to get creative and keep it comprehensible. You can mix in a few new words, but really limit your vocabulary so that the input remains comprehensible. Build suspense by not revealing the name of the victim until you have already described the crime. After you reveal the name of the victim, say whether or not the doctor(s) were able to save the victim--but don't reveal the identity of the doctors!

The deceased victim steps out of the circle. If the victim was saved by the doctor, he or she can remain in the game. All deceased victims are "flies on the wall": they can keep their eyes open at all times, but they must not speak. This is okay because they are still receiving input, and I think you will find that they remain engaged because the game is so fun to watch unfold.

The accusations begin

The narrator tells the town to make an accusation. The narrator might ask, "Who do you think did it?", or "Make an accusation!"...or anything, really!

The town discusses. Students can tell the truth or lie to achieve the objectives for their role that are listed toward the top of this post. The townspeople try to identify the Assassin, the Assassin tries to cast suspicion on others, the police officers may choose to reveal their identity if their accusation was confirmed (although the town might not believe them!), the doctor attempts to remain anonymous. The townspeople mention anything that they heard "in the night" (movements, for example, that would lead them to believe that the person sitting next to them was the mafia), and they share their thoughts and suspicions about their classmates as the game goes on, based on what people say and do. The first few discussions go very quickly, and toward the end of the game the discussions take quite a long time.

Once discussion dwindles, the narrator asks if the town wants to make an accusation. A vote may be needed to determine this.


If the town wants to make an accusation, a vote might first be needed to determine who to accuse (only one official accusation may be made per round). Then, the narrator calls for a conviction vote.

All students (including special roles because they are supposed to be secret!) vote whether or not to convict the accused. If the accused person is convicted, he or she is eliminated from the game yet still keeps their role a secret! That student joins the victims outside the circle as silent observers. If the accused person is not convicted, that student remains in the game; safe for now. The game continues as the town rolls into the next night.

If the town does not want to make an accusation

The town goes to sleep and the process repeats. The Assassin (or assassins) wakes up, attack someone based on what was said in the last town hall meeting, the police try to identify the Assassins, and the doctor attempts to save someone. As the game continues, the people with these roles will die off as they are killed by the mafia or accused by the townspeople.

The game ends when (1) all mafia have been convicted or (2) it becomes impossible for the townspeople to win because there are more Assassins than other living townspeople. The game can take a very, very long time if you have a large class, but don't be afraid to suspend game play until the next time that you have spare time at the end of a class period or Preferred Activity Time (PAT)--just make sure that YOU write down who has which role and who is still alive in the game, and that no one sees the cards as you collect them from students.

Alternative premises

  • Click here to read about Bad Unicorn from Erica Peplinski, an elementary Spanish teacher. She also provided Spanish resources for you to use!
  • Mystery tattoo artist! Folks in the town keep waking up with tattoos. Once they are tattooed, they are observers in the game. Who is the phantom tattooer?
  • Set it up like the TV show “Survivor”. Instead of a town, everyone is a contestant on an island. The “Assassins” are just people in the group that are cheating in order to eliminate/get rid of other contestants, so they do things like steal people’s food, send them floating off into the ocean, etc. The people that they target can no longer participate in the game and have to leave the island. There is a tribunal every day and the remaining participants try to figure out who the cheaters are and kick them off the island.
  • New in 2020 - Imposter! Inspired by the popular game Among Us®, everyone is on a spaceship together and someone is sabotaging the trip. To keep it non-violent, crew members aren't found dead but keep being ejected into space! The remaining crew must work to discover who the impostor is.


Elimination is naturally an input-driven game. I often try to re-work classic games for comprehensible input, but this one needs nothing. With you at the helm as the narrator, you can bring in ANY vocabulary that you want: if you want to target "house" vocabulary, you can describe in which room of the victim's home each murder occurred and which household item was used as the murder weapon. As students accuse and defend, you are the medium by which their claims travel to their classmates: "What? Sarah, you say that you are not the Assassin because you are a nice person? You say that you think that Bobby is the Assassin because he doesn't like pizza? Class, do you think that Bobby is the Assassin because he doesn't like pizza? Bobby, how do you respond to this accusation??"

There is natural repetition of a limited set of vocabulary: goes to sleep, wakes up, makes an accusation, etc. This vocabulary that is repeated in each round can be manipulated by the teacher to match your curriculum objectives, both in the vocabulary that is used and the tense in which you narrate.

Elimination is compelling in the truest sense of the word. Even eliminated students remain engaged--which is often a huge problem when playing game. You will find that even your least participatory students become engaged in this game because they are amused at their hyper-participant classmates' attempts to interpret their every non-action. It is hilarious to watch unfold!

Elimination is FUN. It is SO much fun! Students use their imagination in a way that they are rarely allowed in school. A game can take a very, very long time if you have a large class--and your students will be begging you to play. Think I'm lying? Just give it a shot.

Note to the reader: I have edited this post to remove several suggestions for how to play this game in ways that are connected to content. In the handful of years since I wrote the original post, I have come to know that all of the suggestions that I originally offered (ex: immigration) are harmful because they are taking issues in which humans are suffering and using them for a class' entertainment, and I thank Dorie Conlon Perugini for drawing attention to that section of this blog post. There are indeed many ways to play an Elimination game with culturally or topically connected roles, but the suggestions that I offered in the original version of this post were highly problematic options. As you read this blog, keep in mind that there are over 800 posts, and some are 10 years old. I don't even remember much of the content that is on this blog! When you see a problematic suggestion, leave a comment or reach out to me directly! I'm very grateful for those calls to attention so that we can keep learning and growing together.

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