We Were Playing it Wrong: Mafia de Cuba

Mafia de Cuba, by Phillipe Des Pallieres and Loic Lamy, 2015, 6-12 Players

The Basics: Mafia de Cuba is designed by Phillipe des Pallières and Loic Lamy. Pallières is a veteran designer with credits stretching back to the 90s. He also designed a little game you may have heard of called Werewolves of Miller’s Hollow. Mafia de Cuba is in many ways a follow-up to Werewolves, which is rightfully considered a classic and is one of the primary originators of the hidden-role bluffing type of game that have been so popular for the past few years.

Mafia starts off with a cool little twist: the game box is a component used during gameplay. This is because the game box represents the Mafia Don’s cigar box, from which he gives his favorites one after-dinner cigar. This cigar box also happens to hold the Mafia Don’s collection of diamonds (the Don is not very smart). The Don passes the cigar box to his consigliere and then, although this doesn’t appear to be strictly stated in the rules, should probably just leave the room. The other players then take turns taking stuff out of the box. A player may either take a poker chip that has role printed on it which establishes a victory condition applicable to the player taking it only, or can instead take one or more diamonds. Then after everyone has taken something, the Don comes back and, incensed that his treasure is gone, begins asking questions and demanding his henchmen turn out their pockets. His goal: get all his loot back. The thieves, such as they are, want to not only get away, but to get away with the most stolen diamonds. For this reason being a gangster is tricky: If you think someone has stolen more than you, you probably want to rat them out. On the other hand, they might retaliate…

What we did wrong: Games like Mafia require some variance in order to avoid becoming too routine. In Ultimate One Night Werewolf not every role is given to every player. In The Resistance players don’t know who is on which team. In Mafia de Cuba, the first player to pull stuff out of the cigar box is the Consigliere. The Consigliere may, in addition to taking a role or diamonds, put a role in a special black bag. That role is completely out of the game. When I played Consigliere, I thought a player could also put diamonds in the black bag, but it turns out that it’s just roles. Further, the player who gets to examine the cigar box last doesn’t need to steal anything. Everyone else must take something, either a role or one or more diamonds.

Conclusion: Mafia de Cuba is a fun, quick game. One of the things I like about this game in particular is that it de-emphasizes the semi-cooperative team play in favor of an every-man-for-himself style of play. In the genre of hidden-role bluffing games, that can be very tricky to pull off. And Mafia de Cuba does pull it off, at least in the short term. The chains of information in Mafia are not clean, and sometimes the game can feel a little chaotic. Also, this game is probably best enjoyed in a larger space that can accommodate everyone rifling through a cigar box in relative privacy. Whether or not the game becomes a classic on the same level as The Resistance or One Night Ultimate Werewolf is something that only time can tell, but fans of those games should certainly give this a try.

UPDATE 02/16/2016: Subsequent research on this fine game makes it seem pretty clear that Sr. Lamy was the lead designer of this game, even though my review seems to indicate otherwise. I regret the misunderstanding and want to make sure credit goes where it is due.

We Were Playing it Wrong: Mafia de Cuba