The game host can create a new game with a variety of options. Players join before the game is started. Different settings will raise the minimum amount of players needed. Game roles are assigned randomly once the game has started.
Mafia operates on the basic principle of an informed minority versus (mafia) an uninformed majority (citizens). The mafia conspire to kill target citizens one at a time until they are eliminated. Aiding the citizens' cause are doctors that can save a mafia target and police which can investigate the guilt or innocence of anyone in the game at a rate of 1 per round.
A basic round consists of 4 parts. In the first, the mafia acts. In the second, the doctor and police act. In the third, citizens and mafia both can nominate themselves or others for trial (lynching). Finally, all (alive) players vote on whether to kill or spare the accused.
Hosts can choose from several special options which can drastically change the nature of the game. Here is a small sampling: the 'celebrity' role, also randomly assigned, will protect a player from being killed at night - but it won't save them from being lynched. The 'politician' gets two votes during the voting period. The 'miller', an innocent citizen, appears guilty to the police investigation while the 'godfather', a guilty mafia, appears innocent. The 'lonelydoctor' can't save itself from the mafia and the 'vigilante' kills independently at night, separate from the mafia and able to kill both citizens and mafia.
Additional settings can alter whether or not lynching nominations and votes are anonymous or credited, if special roles are revealed or concealed at the time of players deaths and how easily the mafia is able to communicate with each other. There are more...so many more...the only way to really know is to play and play and play.
One of the best things about mafia has been meeting a lot of new people and having a lot of laughs. Folks have different opinions about etiquette and strategy, but it isn't hard to pick up the game as a novice and usually everyone is pretty decent. Add in the random, nonsensical death messages and it is pretty hard not to giggle at least a little bit.
Mafia is currently still in the testing phase on the test port, and needs additional work before going live. Mastermind-behind-the-mafia-curtain Oladon told Gaardian, 'I'm really excited about Mafia. I think it'll be a fun "social" addition to the MUD. People have been really enthusiastic about it so far, so I'm looking forward to it going live. :)' And, in response to an inquiry about when that could happen, 'It should be pretty soon. Within the year is almost 100% certain, and I'd like to think we'll be ready by the end of summer at the latest. For testers, I'd give the same advice I give for testing anything -- try to think of how to break stuff... because we'd much rather have it break on test port than here. I've survived Lasher's retribution after breaking things before, and it's not fun. ;)'
The test port address is aardmud.net (220.127.116.11) port 6555. You don't have to have the official tester flag to help or to try it out. You can simply log in, poke around and join in. You may even discover other new and exciting business just waiting to be tested before it goes live. If you do decide you want one of those offical tester flags, well, that's above a publisher's paygrade and you'll have to pursue that through another channel.