The Thing is an ideal mafia variant for lower player numbers. Should the moderator and players be in favour of role playing a little,
the flavour is
shamlessly stolen stolen lovingly borrowed from the John Carpenter film. The evil players are called Things,
the good players are called scientists.
The Things win if they number 50% or more of the remaining living players. The Scientists win if all of the Things have been eliminated.
This game works for lower player numbers because player elimination is much slower than a regular werewolf game because:
Game setup is pretty quick, arrange your players in a circle and secretly assign one person to the starting Thing.
You can do this by dealing out a set of cards with one (probably the Ace of Spades) representing the Thing player. Just ensure that players do not reveal these cards to each other, as a precaution, it's best to collect them from players once everyone has seen their own.
Equally, as the moderator you can tap a random player on the back of the hand to wake them up during the first night phase as the initial thing. This runs the risk of potentially having people meta-gaming and second guessing your choice, so if you opt for this method consider downloading a random number generator for your phone, or roll a D20 in secret.
All Things wake up, select a single player to infect, that player is secretly informed that they’ve been turned but they are not shown who is on their team yet. They only get to see the rest of their team members when (or if!) they wake up the following night.
During the day phase, the scientists (and Things) discuss who they wish to test for thinginess. This is decided by a majority vote. If the player tested is indeed a Thing, that player is mercilessly executed, removed from the game and the day phase continues with another test for the scientists. There is no upper limit to the number of eliminations the good players can make in a single day phase, it’s possible to be in a 5v4 situation and eliminate all four things in one round.
In our games, we normally give the scientists a “free test” each round. If they test a player and discover they’re still a human scientist, they can test another player as described above. Potentially finding all the Things and winning the game. However, if a Thing is found with their first test, they will not be able to test again if they go on to find at some point that round. Some players can find the ‘free test’ rule somewhat confusing the first time around, but if you’ve ever played pool, it can be compared to the “2 shots, no carry” rule for fouls.
As the moderator, you may wish to make the free test available or not depending on how each side has been fairing, or how many players are left in the game.
In our monthly Manchester Werewolf meetup we sometimes open with a game of the Thing as people are arriving, because anyone can be turned as the game progresses, it’s possible for people to join in later as long as they haven’t seen a night phase take place.
Because there’s only two roles, it’s also a great game for players new to the genre to take part in to start to get a feel for the dynamics of day time discussion and voting. I always say that games like the Thing or Mafia are more confusing to explain than they are to play.
Although we normally play the Thing when we don’t have that many people, I do recall one occasion where many more people started showing up to the meetup than expected, on the fly, I decided to add in an additional faction of Things, and differentiated between the two evil groups as “pink things” and “purple things”.
The two groups of the Things were playing against each other as well as the scientists for ultimate majority, if a Purple Thing tried to infect a Pink Thing (or vice versa) during the night, then that player would explode.