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"Icebreaker—straight ahead!"

Icebreakers are a great way to, well, break the ice during your meetings and energize everyone. Here’s a fun icebreaker to play with your club or with your family during the holidays.


Have you heard of Mafia? If you’ve never played it before, Mafia’s a game of mystery and strategy. Get ready to solve the puzzle—or keep others from figuring it out!


Participants: 9+  
Time: 30+ minutes
Props: Deck of cards
Fun level: Off the charts 

A once peaceful town has been invaded by the dark forces of corruption: the Mafia. The concerned citizens need to find out who the mafia members are in order to run them out of town, but they’re sneaky and elusive. The citizens host daily town meetings, hoping to discover who the members are. But time is ticking for each wrong guess: Every night, the mafia secretly meets and picks a townsperson to kill. Each morning, there’s the chance that one of the townspeople has become a casualty. But wait—there’s also the chance that the mafia’s target is found and saved by the town’s doctor! With the help of the citizens’ smarts—and an undercover cop—there might be hope for the townspeople. So, will the townspeople be victorious? It’s up to you to find out!


Take a deck of ordinary cards and pull out the two queens, a king and a jack. Add to this as many non-face cards as you need to make the total number of cards equal to the number of people playing the game. Shuffle the cards. Let each player choose a card. Remind player to be very careful that no one sees what anyone else gets. If someone sees, collect the cards, reshuffle and redeal; it's important that everyone’s cards are secret.

The players with the queens are the mafia, the player with the king is the cop and the player with the jack is the doctor. Everyone who picks a non-face card is a townsperson. Be sure to explain this to everyone several times so no one’s confused. (You don’t want your mafia members to ask, “What does the queen mean again?")

General rules

It's important that people don’t reveal their cards until they have either become casualties or been run out of town. These players are allowed to open their eyes at “night” (see below) but must not participate in the game in any other way. (They will know who the mafia are and could easily ruin the game). 

First night 

Now that everyone has their identities, it's time for the mafia members to meet each other. First, ask everyone must close their eyes. (Make sure no one peeks!) Then, according to the script below, tell the mafia members to open their eyes and reveal themselves to each other. The two mafia players (the people with the queens) will open their eyes and look at each other. When they've had enough time to do this, tell them to close their eyes and have everyone open their eyes. That's the first night.

Town meeting days

During the first day, and all days after it, the townspeople (including the mafia members, because no one knows who they are) have a meeting. The goal of the meeting is to run a mafia member out of town. At this point, there’s probably very little information to base decisions on, but that’s OK.


First, anyone can nominate someone to be run out of town. People nominating another group member should give a reason why. It could be based on something real (“Mary laughed when someone mentioned the mafia!”) or be something made up ("I nominate Sally because she didn’t come to the meeting last week.").

The defense

Each nominee can have up to three people stating reasons why he or she should be run out of town. Once all nominations are done, each nominee (in the order of being nominated) has an opportunity to explain why they shouldn’t be kicked out. Defense statements should be only one or two sentences.

Examples of valid defense statements:
"I'm innocent!"
 "Katrina is the guilty one!"
 "I heard Steve make a noise last night..."
"I was mafia last game!"

Remember to be courteous. Everyone should listen respectfully and not make rude comments during the defense statements. But also remember that the mafia members will try to manipulate the townspeople into getting rid of other townspeople, so watch out!

The vote

In the order that they were nominated, the townspeople vote for who they want to run out of town. First, someone says, "All in favor of getting rid of [insert name here], raise your hand."  Count the votes and move on to the next person. Everyone who is still alive should vote for someone; no one may vote twice. In the case of a two-way tie, take a second vote just for those two people. In the case of three-way tie (or a two-way tie when you've already removed the third person), just keep voting until someone gets picked. Getting people to agree is all part of the game.

Note: Some people might refuse to vote. There is no rule against this, but townspeople might question their motives during the next town meeting.

Secret deeds during the night

The game isn’t over for the person who’s run out of town. He or she becomes the moderator of the game. Note that only the moderator may talk during the night, or else the mafia and cop will be revealed. He or she must be careful not to talk directly to anyone. It's obvious when the moderator is talking directly to someone, even if you have your eyes closed.

The mafia’s next move

The moderator asks everyone to close their eyes (see script below), then asks the mafia members to open their eyes and choose someone for their first casualty. Then he or she asks the mafia members to close their eyes.

The cop’s accusation

Once everyone’s eyes close again, the moderator then lets the cop open his or her eyes and “make an accusation” by choosing someone he or she thinks is a mafia member. If the cop is correct, the moderator silently nods his or her head. If not, the moderator silently shakes his or her head. The cop can later use this information during the town meeting to help persuade townspeople to make the right decision, but he or she must be careful not to draw suspicion.

Note: In a few cases, the cop may be killed before he or she makes an accusation. If so, the cop won’t be able to accuse anyone.

The moderator then asks the cop to close his or her eyes. 

The doctor saves 

The moderator then asks the doctor to open his or her eyes and choose someone to save. The doctor is always allowed to save him or herself if there’s suspicion that he or she is the mafia’s target. After the doctor closes his or her eyes, the moderator asks everyone to open their eyes. The moderator announces who was killed or miraculously saved during the night.

Suggested script for the moderator

"Everyone, close your eyes." (Check that everyone's eyes are closed.)
"Mafia, open your eyes." (Identify the mafia members and verify that there are two of them.)
"Mafia, make your kill." (Watch as mafia members identify the victim and silently point to him or her. Get it confirmed with a nod.) If the two mafia members don't agree, this isn’t your problem. Just wait until they decide. (Watching a silent argument can be quite entertaining!)
"Mafia, close your eyes." (Verify that they have closed their eyes.)
"Cop, open your eyes." (Find the cop.)
"Cop, make your accusation." (Verify who the cop is accusing and then indicate whether he or she is right.)
"Cop, close your eyes." (Verify that he or she has complied.)
“Doctor, open your eyes.” (Find the doctor.)
“Doctor, choose one person to save.” (Verify who the doctor is choosing to save.) “Doctor, close your eyes.” (Verify that he or she has complied.)
"Everyone, open your eyes." Announce to the townspeople who died or was saved during the night. Feel free to make up an elaborate story! 

End-of-game showdown

Every day and every night, another person falls victim to the mafia (unless he or she is saved by the doctor). If both mafia members are caught, then the townspeople win! Otherwise, if one mafia member is still alive, a showdown occurs when only two townspeople are left. In the showdown, one person must shake hands with one of the other two. If the two people who shook hands are both townspeople, the town wins and the mafia loses! If, however, the mafia member shakes hands with a townsperson, then the mafia wins. 


A moderator can be chosen at the beginning of the game instead of after the first mafia suspect is thrown out of town.

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