Article #11: Effective Wolf Hunting
- written by Klopp
Mafia has always been a game of discussion. How else are you going to catch the bad guys, right? You need to first talk some, then compare the player's game to his previous ones (the so-called meta) and voila! You've got your wolf on a silver platter. But is it always that easy? What if you're playing someone for the first time? Is discussion alone going to be enough to effectively hunt down all the wolves? I will do my best to answers these and other questions in this article.
First we're going to touch on fundamentals - getting to know your opponent and making your reads logical and therefore more solid. Then we're going to discuss more advanced ideas of wolf hunting so no matter if you're a complete newbie or a very strong, experienced player you should still be able to find this article somewhat interesting and instructive.
Level of the game, assessment of players' potential
When playing mafia, you are going to encounter a wide spectrum of players. A quick assessment of their current level and potential is vital to making an effective read on them.
First thing to know is that you can't assess everyone in the same way. So how to evaluate the potential of a player you haven't played before? Best way is to observe their in-thread charisma. If I see a cunning, clever player with a cutting sense of humour, I'm going to be more careful when making a read on that person. And that's what you should always do before going any further because knowing who you're up against is key to making correct decisions later. I divided players you might encounter in mafia into three categories for simplification:
Level 1: Rookie player, doesn't grasp the concept of vanilla setups, relies heavily on power roles.
This kind of player is fairly easy to read because it basically all comes down to volume and spotting healthy aggression. If a player of this caliber is giving polarizing reads and is voting people (even for what might seem like silly reasons!) with confidence, he is in almost all cases a villager! It doesn't matter if his reads are right or wrong (they are most probably wrong as he doesn't have the experience and knowledge to attack players for the right reasons so for him it usually comes down to luck).
A rookie mafia player will in most cases assume the role of a quiet, reasonable individual with very toned-down reads and pushes. You can often spot a wolf player like him when he's constantly making double-edged sword statements like "Action X might indicate player Y is a wolf but on the other hand it might also mean he's a misguided villager".
Look for players who shy away from taking strong stances in discussion and always remember there is a much higher chance of high volume players being villagers, especially at this level.
Level 2: Solid player, played some vanilla games, knows the basics of wolf hunting
This player has to be evaluated based on couple of factors. In my opinion, you still shouldn't focus on the accuracy of his reads. What's more important is the manner in which the player pushes his wolf reads. You will usually come across two types of wolves at this level:
First one is an enhanced version of the level 1 player - a calm player avoiding responsibility. However he tries to improve his game by pushing one or two players all game because he feels the need to attack someone to look like he's actually here to wolf hunt.
If you spot a player with a very narrow look at the game, be wary of him.
Second one is an aggressor - wolves have difficulty faking emotions so they often use the trick of being very aggressive in their pushes, thereby focusing on one emotion. They can tunnel the hell out of a single player and level villagers into thinking that a wolf wouldn't play so recklessly.
Although tunneling itself is NOT a wolfy trait, always be careful of players who are overly aggressive in their pushes because it might be part of a wolfy agenda.
Small tip: If there's a player in your game who doesn't solve and doesn't care to look good, he might just be a slanking villager. Always remember wolves are much more self-aware and feel an internal pressure to do something, anything! It's much less likely for a wolf to be playing the "I don't give a damn about this game" card.
Level 3: Elite player, played lots of games, has lots of experience
An elite player will have great tone and will be strong at fabricating reads. What to do in a situation like this when you have no meta? Well, one answer would be find enough villagers and just keep this player in your PoE. But we're here to look for wolves! And the highest chance for strong wolves to make mistakes is:
- During the opening pages.
- During EoDs when a wolf has to push the mafia agenda and risk his position (More on these first two points in MORE ADVANCED CONCEPTS).
- By constantly making incorrect reads. The moment you gain the ability of finding villagers it will be easier for you to assess an elite player. If he insists on ignoring signs of towniness of players he's pushing, it should set off alarm bells. But remember, even the best players get reads wrong sometimes, especially early game. That's why it's important to stay reasonable and resist panicking to be a successful wolf hunter.
MORE ADVANCED CONCEPTS
Macro Reads vs Micro Reads
Both types of reads are useful if applied correctly. Macro reading is looking at the player's overall game and judging his alignment based on that. That's probably the most popular tool in my and many other players' wolf hunting arsenal. Usually I read players villagery or wolfy after reading their ISO and making a judgment call based on tone and quality of their posts.
There are also micro reads. The idea is that you see that player X wrote a very villagery or a very wolfy post and based on just that you guess their alignment. These reads are sometimes treated too seriously and overshadow the macro reads, which I believe, in general, they shouldn't.
If an overall villagery looking player writes a wolfy post, does that make them a wolf? I don't believe so. VIllagers are prone to writing silly things and it happens quite often because they don't know other players' alignment. They have plenty of thoughts running through their heads and some of those thoughts are bound to be wrong, weird and/or silly. It all comes down to a question: Do villagers write wolfy posts? My answer is yes, they do. That's why I would advise thinking twice before coming to the conclusion that wolfy behaviour equals a wolf.
However if a null-ish player writes a very villagery post, I believe there is a good reason to call that person a villager. Why? Because it's not easy for a wolf to write a truly villagery post. Actually, it's very difficult if not almost impossible. There are just some thought processes you won't be able to fabricate as a wolf. That's why micro reads come in handy when you're simply not sure about a person and one or two posts of his let you take that leap of faith and clear them.
I have had some classic confrontations of micro-macro reads on Mafia Universe.
In the game Sharing is Caring a player called Sorian was playing a very villagery game. However, on d1 EOD he made a wrong judgement call and was hard defending wolf!Mantichora. I had to make a decision which read to trust. In that game I trusted my macro read and was right to do so.
Another time, in the Wildcard Game of Season 3 I was reading Beck as a villager. After he did everything he could to stop people from lynching wolf!Royal Ape on d1 EOD I again had to decide. I once again went with my macro read and sticked to thinking that Beck is a villager. That time I was wrong. Later thinking about it I came to the conclusion I underestimated Beck's potential and that had lead me to believe he wouldn't be able to pull off such a gutsy play.
Look at the HOW, not the WHAT
Villagers are wrong all the time. Yes, it's true. Go back to your finished games and note how many times you voted for a villager or villa read a wolf. That's why, if you ever want to be an effective wolf hunter, you have to let go of the thought that being wrong makes people wolfy. It's completely normal for villagers to be wrong. Always look at HOW something is done, not WHAT is done. If a player pushed a mislynch or did something that hurt the town, ask yourself these questions:
1. Was there progression and did it make sense?
If there isn't any progression, my first instinct would actually be to say the player you're suspecting is... a villager. Acting in a way that makes no sense is usually not a wolf trait. I repeat, wolves are much more self-aware than villagers, they always think about their next move and mostly try to avoid looking suspicious. These kind of plays are mainly in range of elite mafia players who are ready to play the leveling game with townies.
Example: Player X starts attacking player Y completely out of nowhere. Best way to deal with this is to just wait and see where the player is going with his line of thought. Try not to interrupt his efforts too soon. Also don't do the defending for players you consider to be villagery before it's actually necessary. You might learn much more by just letting things unfold without your intervention.
2. Was there a wolf motivation behind the action?
This is vital. If there wasn't any motivation, the player is probably not a wolf. Again, wolves are self-aware. The most important objective for a wolf is to stay alive. Therefore in approximately 95% of the cases he won't do the crazy thing simply because of the fear of getting caught.
3. Does the player's overall game look villagery and is it probable he/she is just a villager who made a mistake?
This is important to keep in mind. Too often I see a situation where a fairly villagery player is a suspect because, lets say, he made a terribly looking play at eod. Taken out of context, it made him a wolf. But if our macro read on that player is that he's a villager, I would be inclined to defend him. Villagers do stupid things because of paranoia, doubt, wrong judgement, frustration etc. Lynching them for these mistakes without taking our macro read into account is usually a bad idea.
Example: Early game, player X who hasn't been suspected and has had a solid position within the town block is not around during EoD. Yet in the last 20 seconds of the day phase he suddenly appears and puts down a vote that lynches a villager.
It looks terrible at first glance but you should always ask yourself: Would a wolf do such a thing? Usually the answer is no. It's too early in the game and a play like this focuses all the attention on that player. In this situation I'm inclined to say that player's X action is "too wolfy to be wolf". Especially if he has been fairly villagery 'till that point.
Posting Under Pressure & The Power of Reaction Tests
This is personally my favourite and most enjoyable way of wolf hunting (though I'll admit it's not the fastest or most effective).
After playing mafia for some time I came to the conclusion that chaos is good for the village.
In my opinion there is nothing else wolves would like to do more the whole game than to be involved in a long, peaceful discussion with other players. This is the easiest way for them to hide simply because any competent wolf is going to be able to fabricate solid reads, answer questions and ask some good ones himself. What causes good wolves to make mistakes is pressure and emotions. There is very little emotion in a debate that lasts for 20 hours.
I'll use my only wolf game on MU as an example of what I mean: I entered the thread a few pages in and started in a very unimpressive way. Players didn't respond well to my opening and I was suspected. 2-3 players voted me and... that was it. They didn't follow it up with anything. I was free to just post reads and interact and after some time I managed to post myself out of that bad position. I believe village made a mistake of not putting enough pressure on me. They didn't make me suffer enough for my bad opening and let me off the hook too easily. If enough pressure was applied on me, it would've probably ended my participation in that game very quickly.
A very effective way of learning someone's alignment is placing a player in a position they weren't expecting to be in and which they were not ready for. Wolves can crumble under pressure and that mostly happens during two stages of the game, openings and EODs.
Wolf mindset: "I have to start strong, I need to start in a funny, witty way to get some early town reads". Usually it's just good enough to start with a default "hi". But the awareness of being a wolf tends to get to the player and force him to make some mistakes when he opens.
Common behaviours include (with a few examples from Mafia Universe games in which I played/which I spectated):
Giving a very early town read in a formal manner:
theknightsofneeee aka Madame Red, Clue Mafia Game:
GeneralHankerchief, Wildcard Reunion Game:
Wolves often feel like they have to contribute and prove themselves, that's why they tend to spell out reads very early on.
Trying hard to come across as funny and relaxed/being very helpful (and focusing your early activity exclusively on one of those things):
Royal Ape, Wildcard Game:
NOTE: These behaviours are NOT something that only wolves do! But it's something interesting to keep your eye on, to later push the player and see if your suspicions are correct.
Wolf mindset: "I have to make sure my partner doesn't die / I have to make sure I bus in a convincing way / I have to make sure I don't die".
EODs are the place to go when you have information about the flips and are trying to make sense of things. Again, never underestimate the mistakes wolves can make when under pressure. They might completely freeze, they might make a very obvious power wolf play or simply bus.
Once, after learning the EOD had v/v wagons I decided to come back to it and look for clues. I noticed that one player was not actively taking part in the lynch. Instead he was having a side discussion about something completely unrelated with just a few minutes to the end of the day phase and tied v/v wagons. He seemed unconcerned with what was happening. This was not a villagery attitude and mindset. The wolf was content with the situation and thus made the mistake of not pretending to care.
EODs are one of the most valuable moments of any game if you learn how to read them and know what to look for. Never underestimate them, study them closely and always look deeper into things than "he voted a villager, therefore he is a wolf".
Opening, EOD - OK, but what about the rest of the day? During the day it's time to discuss. Discussion can be very fruitful. However, I also believe in mixing things up a little bit. Inducing some emotional reactions can be very useful as well and can generate interesting interactions. For example, I often like to put on an act in the thread and pretend I'm super sure of my reads. That's because if I'm right and hit a wolf, this will make him very frustrated and might force out some very poor reactions.
Reaction tests are a powerful tool - even if you don't catch a wolf, you will provoke interesting, often very villagery responses from the player you were testing that will later help you read them villa.
I'll leave you with this - try to think outside the box and never be afraid to push people's buttons. Fish for reactions whenever you feel there is a chance to do so. Because if there is a thing that's difficult to fake in a game of mafia, it's definitely emotions.
- Know your opponent. Don't make the mistake of assuming too quickly that a player wouldn't be capable of doing something as a wolf.
- Look at the big picture. Don't read too much into a person's specific wolfy posts if they contradict their general in-thread appearance.
- Make sure you can see a wolf motivation behind a player's given action before wolf reading them for it.
- Study the opening pages and EODs very carefully, that's often where the wolves show their true face.
- Don't be afraid to mix things up and push some buttons. Wolves feel most uncomfortable in scenarios they don't expect to be in.