A while back I hosted an anonymous invitational (called Orangevitational, a name Chloe came up with) that ran one of my all-time favorite setups - Starship Epiphron. SE is a 12p flipless smalltown setup, which would break new ground for the Mafia Championships in a number of ways.
First off, we have never run a smalltown setup in champs before, which is a huge missed opportunity. By separating role and alignment such that any role can be good or evil, and then making what role everybody has public at the start of the game, we allow more complex role interactions without making "who has what role" a distraction from the social nature of a Mafia game, avoiding the setup becoming a bit of a mess like Mad17 often was.
Secondarily, it would include a "third party" player for the first time. While I am normally iffy on third party roles in general, the Sympathizer alignment in Starship Epiphron acts more like a lost wolf/traitor, ensuring the player who rands it is engaged with the game instead of disconnected, the usual issue with third parties in competitive environments.
Thirdly, running Starship Epiphron for Champs would also be the first time we have run a game without a dedicated Mafia chat. While this is certainly unusual in a FM environment (such as those I expect many reading this forum post will come from), many of our participating communities are centered around video or irl Mafia where communication, even at night, is either strictly limited or outright impossible, and will be quick to tell you that you don't need full chat access to be an effective wolf team. Starship Epiphron caters to this style of Mafia gameplay in a way no prior champs setup has.
Finally, Starship Epiphron forgoes the usual day/night cycle in favor of a time bank mechanic. While this has many benefits I will touch on later, this unique mechanic will enable the players in each game to determine how they wish to allocate their time rather than being forced into a specific EoD time. This makes the concept of getting a majority on board with any vote significantly more important than prior champs setups that operated by plurality (again, something many non-MU communities are accustomed to), and also allows the players to set the tone of their game in ways simply not possible with set day lengths. Of course, this also allows the Mafia to attempt to manipulate the town's time management to their benefit - Orangevitational, for example, was won in no small part because the Mafia helped push the town into using up very little of their allotted time for the first few days, resulting in several mislynches that may have been avoided with slower play.
So what exactly is this setup?
12p Flipless Smalltown
9 Crew Members (Town)
2 Aliens (Mafia)
1 Sympathizer (3p Traitor)
Role Name Description Officer Doublevoter Cryogenics Alien (Roleblocker + Rolestopper) Scientist Parity Cop (1 target per night) Security 1-Shot Vigilante Coroner Is notified whether a dead player was an alien or not Teleporter 2-Shot Bus Driver Surveillance Watcher Eavesdropper Is informed of who was targeted by Security/Cryo/Trapper/Facilitator/Teleporter Communications Each day chooses a player to chat with for the next night phase Student Can act at night to take on the role of a dead player (inheriting uses) Trapsetter 2-Shot PGO-izer Facilitator 2-Shot Empowerer (makes target go first and be immune to death)
- Everyone's roles are public, but not their alignments
- Feedback is very minimal - for example, the Transporter is silent to everybody but the Eavesdropper
- Players do not flip alignment upon death (only Coroner gets that)
- Aliens cannot communicate passively at any time
- Each alien can kill non-consecutively, one begins the game on cooldown
- The Sympathizer must survive to see Aliens win and appears as non-Alien to the Coroner/Scientist
- Majority vote ends day, otherwise day continues
- Instead of standardized day lengths, there is a 200-hour limit on total day time
- If time runs out the Aliens win
If any of this is still unclear, feel free to read the rules and roles in full at the Orangevitational link above.
In addition to touching on a bunch of elements of communities that have yet to be properly represented in previous years championship setups, there are a number of other reasons I think Starship Epiphron would make a great champs setup.
One of the best things about this setup is it is inherently friendlier to less active communities than any of the past few years' setups have been. A 12p game is going to be less crowded than a 15p or larger game, which will result in reduced post volumes overall. This is further bolstered by what is in my opinion the best part of considering this setup for Champs, and that is the 200-hour time limit. See, that number works really well for a community like FoL, but it does not have to be exactly 200 hours for this setup to work! Instead of the multitude of questions asking about what phase lengths people enjoy and what deadline they like, we can simply ask people how active they want their game to be. A simple sliding postcap (limited in terms of posts per prior 24 hours instead of posts per in-game day) could be applied inversely with shortening or lengthening of the countdown timer - you could run a shorter game while allowing players more posts per irl day, or even a much longer game while restricting players to fewer posts per irl day. This can, if executed right, both greatly simplify scheduling and give players the option to play in longer and slower-paced qualifiers than previously possible.
Starship Epiphron is also much more dynamic than any other champs setup, which will cause each game to be fresh and unique to players and spectators alike. Unlike the oft-maligned bucket strategy, there will be no surefire way to try and game the system in Starship Epiphron, with the fact that any role could be evil lending each and every game its own identity. This also prevents any of the solving from becoming too focused on mechanical actions - any mechanical result you get could have been affected by an evil role at some point in the chain. Thus, this setup is deceptively hard to solve mechanically without a strong social basis at the core, and despite the wide variability the side that plays better during the day is almost always the side that will win.
Another benefit is that there are a large number of ways to format a tournament around a 12-player setup. Because 12 has so many factors, there are many ways you could set up advancements, including things like running four semifinal games and advancing three players from each to increase total semifinal participation relative to prior years. Or you could run the traditional three semifinals and advance four players from each if that is deemed to be more appropriate. Additionally, game sizes of 12 allow a bit more granular control over the total number of players in the tournament - a 15p setup jumps from needing 150 players to 165 if you want to add another game, while a 12p game allows smaller jumps, such as from 144 to 156. This should reduce the number of unfilled slots left over by allowing us to more finely tune the size of the entire tournament.
It's also just a really fun setup. I've played and hosted this setup a number of times over the past several years, and not once has there been a major issue raised by any of the involved players. I've seen good towns curbstomp the scum in stunning sweeps, and I've seen good wolves go deep and pull off incredible victories. Although I can't say that everybody that has ever touched the setup has enjoyed it, it is my experience that the vast majority of players from a diverse range of backgrounds have walked away from Starship Epiphron games feeling like the experience was enjoyable and that the better team came out on top.
To help prove some of these points, I polled the 12 players of Orangevitational after the game had completed as to their thoughts about the setup. Because this was a hand-crafted list of players that I consider to be both good-natured and competitive while including a diverse set of archetypes, I think their opinions of the setup are likely to be reflective of the opinions that an average champs player might hold towards the setup after giving it a try. Here are some of the questions I asked them, as well as their responses. Please note that the player who was mislynched on Day 1 chose not to respond to the survey, as they felt they hadn't followed the game closely enough after their death to comment.
As can be seen, every single player involved in the game either agreed or strongly agreed with the assessment that the side that played better won, with zero players disagreeing with the factions being well-balanced and the setup being competitive. Additionally, the vast majority of players agreed that the roles were well-balanced, that they enjoyed the setup, and that the outcome of this setup is mostly determined by social reads as opposed to night actions and mechanical information.
Amongst the players who disagreed with the assessment that the outcome of the setup is mostly determined by social reads, it is in my opinion worth noting that the player who chose to "Strongly Disagree" was also an Alien in the game, and therefore did not actually spend the game trying to solve other players. The vast majority of the town players agreed that social reads were more important than mechanical info to the outcome. Additionally, both players who dissented with this statement strongly agreed that they would play this setup again.
Both of the two players that disagreed they would play this setup again agreed that the roles and factions were well-balanced and that the outcome of the setup is more dependent on social solving than mechanical solving. This seems to speak to a personal preference rather than to any belief the setup is bad.
In terms of roadblocks to making this actually viable to be chosen for a Championship setup, the largest two are going to be convincing the MU-centric Champs organizers to run a game with elements that are considered nonstandard on MU despite being very standard in other communities, and actually coding modbot to be able to handle some of the peculiarities of this setup, such as the Bus Driver role and the time bank system. While I do think that it can be sufficiently reasoned that some of the more forign-to-MU elements of Starship Epiphron are good for a Champs setup, I do think that the Modbot element is likely to be the largest hurdle.
On the bright side, the very limited nature of Starship Epiphron, having only 12 roles with a finite set of predefined interactions, should alleviate some of the larger concern of possible buggy interactions when attempting to incorporate some of the new features this setup requires into our automated game moderation system. Although I do not have a great grasp of how this system currently operates, I do believe that all of the key elements that would be necessary to make this setup work are already present, and do not currently believe there would need to be any excessively major overhauls to make this setup work. Please feel free to correct me if this is not the case.
In conclusion, this is a tried and tested setup in a wide variety of environments with a wide variety of players that has consistently shown itself to be deep, varied, and deceptively competitive, and I strongly feel it would make a fantastic choice for Season 10, especially after the relatively vanilla setups of Seasons 7 and 8 and straight mountainous (again) for Season 9.