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 TPRS®/CI 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? Mafia.

It is quite likely that you have played this game in days gone by. 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 Mafia. It will change your life.


Mafia is a role-play comprehensible input game in which a poor town is being tormented by the evil Mafia. 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 Mafia’s unconscionable attacks. The local news reporter is the only one safe from the Mafia, and he or she bears the burden of informing the townspeople of the Mafia’s every move.

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

Simplify the class game of Mafia into just three steps to play in language classes at the beginning of the year. Perfect for TPRS/CI classes looking for comprehensible input!

If you’re ready for the big leagues, though–read on: here’s how you play traditional Mafia:


  1. Get a deck of cards. Set aside the Aces, Kings, and Queens.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 = Mafia, King = Police, Queen = Doctor, All other cards = Townspeople. In Spanish, I prefer to use the vocabulary “Mafia”, “Policía”, “Médico”, and “Pueblo”, because 3/4 of those terms are singular even when referring to a group, so it’s easier to be grammatically correct without revealing how many members remain in each group at any given time (more on that later). In the past, I have created my own deck of cards (using index cards and clipart) for special “themed” games: for example, for Semana Santa I made the townspeople “Penitentes”, the Mafia was “El diablo”, the doctor was “El sacerdote”, and the police were still the police. You could change the roles to match a novel that you are reading. For example, if you’re reading “Esperanza“, which is about immigration, you could use coyotes, immigrants, border patrol agents, and case workers. If you’re reading “Vida y muerte en la Mara Salvatrucha“, which is about gangs, you could use “La pandilla” instead of “La mafia” and “Detective” instead of “Policía”. If you play the game often, it is a good idea to change up the vocabulary so that students are learning different sets of vocab throughout the year.
  4. 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 correctly 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.
  5. Arrange chairs in a [giant] circle.


  • Mafia: Kill everyone in the town. Doctors and Police officers are the priority.
  • Police: Identify the mafia and convince the townspeople to convict them.
  • Doctor: Save the victims of the mafia’s attacks.
  • Townspeople: Convict the mafia members.


Click on image to view plans

(The resource pack includes a ‘game flow’ chart to help)

  1. Shuffle the cards that you’ve selected to use for your class size.
  2. 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.
  3. 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, “El pueblo se duerme”. You could also say “Everyone goes to sleep” to get in reps of different vocabulary.
  4. The town 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.
  5. The narrator tells the mafia to wake up. “¡La mafia se despierta!
  6. The mafia opens their eyes and searches the room to identify the other mafia members by making eye contact with them. Remember, anyone that was given an “Ace” is a mafia member. The narrator makes a mental note of who is in the mafia. This is important!
  7. The narrator tells the mafia to attack. Use discretion based on your school’s policies and personal convictions for violence and role-play!! You might say “The mafia attacks its victim” or “The mafia kills someone” or “The mafia strikes”.
  8. Using eye contact and very, very, VERY subtle gesturing (pointing, nodding, etc.), the mafia members 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.
  9. Once a victim has been identified, the narrator tells the mafia to go to sleep. “La mafia se duerme”.
  10. The mafia closes their eyes.
  11. The narrator tells the police to wake up.
  12. The police officers open their eyes and use subtle gesturing to identify someone in the class that they think might be in the mafia. 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.
  13. 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 a mafia member 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.
  14. The narrator tells the police offers to go to sleep.
  15. The police officers close their eyes.
  16. The narrator tells the doctor(s) to wake up.
  17. 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.
  18. 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.
  19. The narrator tells the doctors to go to sleep.
  20. The narrator tells the town to wake up.
  21. Everyone opens their eyes.
  22. 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!
  23. 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 “flys 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.
  24. 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!
  25. 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 mafia, the mafia 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.
  26. Once discussion dwindles, the narrator asks if the town wants to make an accusation. A vote may be needed to determine this.
  27. If the town does not want to make an accusation (common in early rounds), skip to step 30.
  28. 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.
  29. 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 his or her 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.
  30. The town goes to sleep and the process repeats. The mafia wake up, attack someone based on what was said in the last town hall meeting, the police try to identify the mafia, 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.
  31. The game ends when (1) all mafia have been convicted or (2) it becomes impossible for the townspeople to win because there are more mafia 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.


  1. It 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 mafia because you are a nice person? You say that you think that Bobby is the mafia because he is Italian? Class, do you think that Bobby is the mafia because he’s Italian? Bobby, how do you respond to this accusation??”
  2. There is natural repetition of target structures: 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.
  3. It 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!
  4. It 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.

68 replies on “Mafia: The TCI game of all games

    1. Depending on your school level (obviously not for elementary), instead of “Mafia” you could refer them as the name of one of the real-life drug cartels that are making life insufferable in Michoacán.

  1. Is there any chance you have a video of this game in action? I’ve read through the explanation a few times, and just can’t picture how it works!

  2. So excited! We are doing unit 21 right now …. Se duerme, oye algo, se despierta! We are paying this tomorrow!! Can’t wait:-).

  3. I taught this game to my Spanish 3 classes when we read Vida y Muerte, but it was so popular that we ended up playing it all year long. It truly is a class favorite! It’s great game for bringing everyone into it, especially the shy, quiet students because they were always considered to be suspiciously close-mouthed. I just can’t rave enough about how much fun it was and how much communicative Spanish my students learned through it!

  4. I found this over my planning period and then promptly played it with my AP kids (or what was left of left since today was Senior Skip Day). They loved it. Gracias por la idea!

  5. Do you let them learn the rules through experience the first time they play, or do you go over it all with them first?

  6. We play a few times a semester, but we call it Versipellis (werewolf) and have made a couple changes. It’s become a cult activity. There are feuds, cliques, plots, etc., and I’ve literally never had more successful classes than when we play Versipellis.

  7. This sounds great! I just want to make sure I understand the “accusation” and “conviction” part. So, if the town does want to make an accusation, that doesn’t automatically mean that the person accused will be convicted?? I see in the instructions that you may have to vote twice, once for accusing and again for convicting. Why would you vote to accuse someone if you didn’t want to convict them?
    I’m sorry, I just want to make sure I understand everything for when I play and so I can answer any questions my students may have!!!!
    Thank you!!

  8. This sounds great! I am just trying to understand the “accusation” and “conviction” piece. So, if the town actually does want to make an accusation then there is a second step to actually convict that same person? I’m just a little confused as to why would the students bother accusing someone with a vote if they have to convict them right away with another vote? Also, I see that it is not necessary to accuse but is it always necessary to convict??
    Sorry, I just want to be sure I fully understand the instructions before I play!!
    Thank you!!

    1. I played with a class for the first time today (Spanish 1–it went great!), but I did have the same thought.

      I also have a separate question–can the doctor heal himself/herself? The kids wanted to know. I said yes. I don’t see why not! Any thoughts out there?

    2. Accuse – you can accuse multiple people, so anybody can cast an accusation to anybody, even mafias can pretend to be innocent and accuse cops or doctors.
      Convict – after all the accusations are named, only one conviction can be made per round. So say Sarah, John, Ben are accused this round, only Ben is convicted because there are 8 votes for him and 5 and 3 for the other two ppl.

  9. Martina, thanks for sharing this idea. This worked for me in Chinese 1 & 2 (it’s April) with a lot of coaching and going over the process — there was a good bit of new language, but their motivation level was high, which helped a lot. It also helped that many of them have played Mafia in English.

    I made a list of how to play in Chinese that I use as we play. Also a sheet I used so I didn’t forget who got ‘killed’ and ‘rescued’ by the doctor each round. Let me know if you’d like a copy of those. I will probably blog them as well and give credit to you for the idea.

  10. I have now played this game with three of my six classes and can declare it a SUCCESS! They love it, and it is so much fun! I’m going to tweak it for Cinco de Mayo — Los franceses (instead of mafia), los soldados mexicanos (instead of policía)

  11. Does anyone have an example of a story they told their class about the attack in English or Spanish? Does the same story get told each time or do you change the story each round? I’m excited to try this!

    1. The story always changes. As long as it’s comprehensible (and appropriate for your class/school), anything is game. So…”bobby was listening to music in his bedroom when all of a sudden he saw a sound in the bathroom. He went to investigate and when he opened the door he saw a man dressed all in pink and a pistol. That was the last thing that he saw.” You can be as detailed or as concise as you want, and you can add details that really no one could know except for the deceased person. If they were saved, you finish the story of the murder attempt and then say that they were rushed to the hospital or fought back or whatever and survived.

    2. I really like Martina’s story example! I have also tried to be silly, like, “A man entered in the victim’s house and attacked him/her with a giant fish…and s/he was allergic to fish, so s/he died.”

  12. Awesome game.

    There is also a special way of playing it. In a classroom or in a workplace, a group of people can play it in a very subtle way. As the days go by in real life, so do the days in the game. Each morning you come to class and check who got killed. During your day, you get to talk or not talk about the game at your own pace, nobody is forcing you.

    I created a site on which such games can be played: http://ExposeMafia.Com

    This way, there is no need for a human moderator to keep track of the game.

    It does not include a forum or a chat lobby because it is not intended to be played with random people over the Internet. You can do that too, but specify a link, for example, to a Facebook discussion group in the game description.

    1. Hi there!
      This post is from a few years back but hopefully you’ll still get the notification abt my comment… First, thank you so very much for creating an online version of the game! When I click on the link you posted, I am redirected to a fillable coordinate system chart for eulen angles… Am I missing something?

  13. Really want to play in class but I am totally struggling to see how this would work in class and would love to see a video!!!!!

  14. When the townspeople discuss, do they do this in the target language? You say that as the teacher, I would be the medium by which their claims travel to their classmates. As such, I’m assuming that means that the students may not be using the TL.

    1. Yes, they are discussing in the TL. However, their output might not be entirely comprehensible and/or accurate, and so that’s where ‘teacher translation’ (recasting) comes in.

  15. CAn this game be played as a review game, so we just finished Internado 1×05, as the narrator can I add teachers with student cards as townpeople and say things like Jacinta dies because Maria doesn’t inform anyone of the hospital calling for the heart transplant and the Mafia doesn’t want her to have a heart attack?

  16. I think I will try playing this with my students who just studied health problems… instead of the “mafia,” I will make the person “el virus” (but this ultra virus can cause many different symptoms, including spontaneously breaking bones, sore eyelashes (a favorite phrase in this class is “me duelen las pestañas,” jajaja…you know they understand when they purposely say things that don’t make sense and laugh!) This will allow me to tell lots of stories and also use a lot of past tense, which we are about to study. Any other suggestions? 🙂

  17. Any video of the game being played in original version? I’m trying to comprehend it all.. and loving it.. but I’m not sure I have all the pieces put together in my mind.

    1. Can you clarify–did you mean that you want a Spanish version to play with your Spanish students? Or you want an English version to play with your Spanish-speaking students?

  18. So glad I found this! We played it a couple weeks ago. Let me just say that you know you are doing something right when the bell rings to signify the end of the class period just as you revealed that the person they accused is truly innocent and the class in unison yells NOOOOOOOO!!!! at the sound of the bell! We finished the round the next day and they have been begging to play again. Gonna do it tomorrow!

    1. LOVE!! Isn’t it great to find something that you can do and not feel guilty about ditching all other plans and rolling with it?

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