Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Game 236: Mafia (1986)

Igelsoft (developer and publisher)
Released in 1986 for Commodore 64; English translation 2010 by TheRyk
Date Started: 11 December 2016
Date Ended: 11 December 2016
Total Hours: 4
Difficulty: Easy  (2/5)
Final Rating: 30
Ranking at Time of Posting: 137/238 (58%)
Ranking at Game #460: 290/460 (63%)

I'm not sure I've ever heard the right term to describe what Mafia is. It shares a common structure with Sid Meier's Pirates!, AutoDuel, Visions of the Aftermath, and even that awful Girlfriend Construction Set, although all five games are given different genres on MobyGames. In each of them, you have an underlying score and a fixed time period in which to engage in a number of scenarios to try to boost that score. The games don't last that long (Mafia doesn't even have a save capability) and are meant to be replayed. No epic quest here--just a fun little afternoon diversion.

Mafia is light on the RPG elements, but it has them. A new player specifies a name and gang name and then rolls for random values (15-50) in intelligence, skill, and brutality; these statistics in turn affect success in missions and in combat. You specify how long the game will last by giving the ending year, and then you are set loose on the city of Chicago in 1925, with no reputation and $6,000 or $7,000 in your pocket.
This was a lucky series of rolls.
The map of Chicago--which has nothing to do with Chicago--is unvarying from game to game. It is dotted with shops, banks, pubs, casinos, loan sharks, and other buildings, and the player's goal is to navigate through them and accomplish things, thereby increasing his score and rank. When the time limit is up, the winner is the player with the highest score. In a single-player game, the player must achieve a maximum score (100) plus accomplish two key side-missions.
The game world with its various facilities.  The best I can figure, up is west. In the lower-left, you're seeing a few of the docks and the beginning of Navy Pier. Michigan Avenue cuts down the middle, and you're seeing a bit of Grant Park in the upper-left. Don't ask me to figure out the train stations, though.
Every location gives you the opportunity to do something positive to increase your score. When you enter each location for the first time, you get a poorly-drawn full-screen graphic and are then taken to a set of menu commands. Your specific actions differ on the type of location but include:

  • Gambling Dens: Bet money on poker, blackjack, or roulette. Alas, you cannot actually play these games; the game simply tells you if you've won or lost. You can't even see what the probabilities are. From experimentation, they seem to be about 50/50 for all games.
The graphic upon entering the gambling den for the first time.
  • Banks: Rob it or case it for a nighttime safecracking. You have to have the rank of at least "small fry" to do either, and you have to have at least one other gang member to commit a robbery. The safecracking option brings up a fun mini-game in which you scroll through a three-digit combination on a safe and actually listen for "pings" with different tones than the others.
The cool safecracking minigame--one of the few times in RPG history that sound is vital to the game.
  • Grocery store: Rob it, panhandle, demand protection money, or pretend to be a police officer and confiscate the register. Only works at higher ranks. If robbery or extortion is successful, you have sub-options whether to ransack the place and/or rough up the shopkeeper.
I never had option #2 work.
  • Subways: Pick pockets or snatch bags. This is an easy way to get money and points in the early game.
  • Hideout: Rent a flat for a certain number of months, or pay to renew. Hideouts are necessary to develop gangs.
  • Gun store: Buy weapons or get training. Weapons include melee weapons (knives, chains), revolvers, shotguns, machine guns, and grenades. You have to have a minimum intelligence or "brutality" to use some weapons. Ammunition is limitless.
  • Car dealer: Buy or steal a car.
Only one of these cars was available in 1925.
  • Police headquarters: Turn yourself in, bribe the police commissioner to look the other way for a fixed number of months, or try to break a gang member out of prison.
  • Railroad station: Go to the bar (see "pub" below), pickpocket passengers, or rob the mail train.
  • "Faking Billy": Buy counterfeit currency or a fake ID.
You would of course expect a counterfeiter to operate with a paint can and roller.
  • Pub: Get a legitimate job (bouncer, croupier, hotel clerk) for a few months, get intelligence about available special jobs, buy alcohol for bootlegging, hire guys for your gang. Working a real job usually leads to either some skill checks and/or combat with single troublemakers.

The different options in the bar.
You accomplish these things in the context of turns, or months, which pass pretty rapidly. It can take an entire month to walk down the street and visit the pub, for instance. Buying or stealing a car increases your mobility and thus what you can accomplish in a month.

Every success except gambling adds to your point total, which causes your rank to climb from "rookie" (0) all the way to "gangland king" (100), passing through ranks like "snatcher," "hoodlum," "mafioso," and "public menace" along the way. Certain actions are restricted by rank; only "small fries" and above can rob banks, for instance, and only "hoodlums" and above can recruit other gang members.
An overview of my progress at the turn of the month.
Just about any scenario can go wrong and lead to combat with other gangs, police, bank security guards, and so forth. To succeed in the scenario, you have to win such combats. The combat system isn't bad--a lot of RPGs of the era are worse--but it could have been better with some effort. Basically, you and your fellow gang members (if you have any) exchange shots or blows with members of the opposing force until one of the groups is wiped out. ("Energy" serves as a proxy for hit points.) Your attributes and weapon type play a role, and there are some minor considerations related to terrain on some maps, but a lot of it is just luck.
Fighting against guards to rob the mail train. I guess those are giant bags of mail.
Losing in combat doesn't mean "dying." You can't actually die in the game. The worst that happens is you get caught and go to jail for a few months, which reduces your score. But if you set the scenario for long enough and play smart, you have plenty of time to make up for losses. 

In between months, you get a summary of your statistics and finances along with a continually-updated "wanted" poster for your character. The higher your level the greater likelihood that you'll get stopped by a police roadblock. 
Winning in single player means accomplishing three goals. First, you have to get your score to 100. This is the easiest part. You can do it via some of the scenarios that are almost impossible to lose at, such as working bouncer and croupier jobs at bars, or safecracking banks. The second is to complete the "assassinate the mayor" mission. You get this from bartenders after asking for their intel on available jobs.
Working a "real" job with a skill check. If I failed it, I would have had to fight one-on-one with an unhappy customer.
Once this mission is assigned, a new icon appears on the screen until you decide to attack. You first have to defeat the mayor's 6 bodyguards, then fight a rather sad battle against the lone mayor himself.

I don't like his chances.
(I'm obliged to note here that the Mayor of Chicago in 1930, when I killed him, was William Hale Thompson, widely regarded as one of the most corrupt mayors in American history, even by Chicago standards. He had the open support of Al Capone. The St. Valentine's Day Massacre happened during his third term. If I had solved this quest before 1927, I would have killed William Emmett Dever, the mayor who interrupted Thompson's second and third terms. He was known as "Decent Dever" for enforcing Prohibition even though he didn't agree with it. He's thus a much likelier candidate for this mission, and since he was due to die in 1929 from cancer anyway, it wouldn't have messed up the timeline very much.)
The second special mission is to ambush and rob a cash transport. It's the hardest mission in the game, involving combat against 10 police officers with machine guns.
The epic final battle on the streets of Chicago.
Solving these latter two missions means, therefore, building up your own gang. I needed 10 heavily-armed members to accomplish the last mission. You find gang members in bars. Each of them costs several thousand dollars (and you have to have a "flat" rented before you can hire any of them), plus another several thousand to equip them with weapons. If you don't like their statistics, you can pay several thousand to train them (an option also available for your own character). This is often necessary since the types of weapons a character can use are limited by attributes.
My late-game "party." The game names your companions.
Getting (and keeping) all this money makes up the bulk of the game. Robbery jobs might net you a few thousand--more if you can get some intelligence on where gold bars are stored. Investing in a credit business provides monthly payoffs. Investing in weapons smuggling (done in bars) can provide major one-time payoffs. Safecracking is pretty lucrative. Bank robbery almost always ends in combat, but the net is usually worth it. Even working bouncer jobs for $2,000-4,000 adds up fast. Gambling is risky, but unscrupulous players in the era of save states will naturally find it the easiest option.
And someone else took the risk!
Of course, events can cause you to lose money, too. If you're caught by the police (which often happens at frequent roadblocks), you either have to bribe them (around $5k) or hire a lawyer (about the same) to try to beat the rap. You can prevent this with a fake ID, but that's a few thousand in itself. You also need to maintain a hideout.
Still, the assets generally overwhelm the liabilities. I was able to win without cheating (i.e., reloading when something happened I didn't like) in just a few hours. When you accomplish all three goals, you're treated to an image of presumably you as a mafia don plus some congratulatory text.
In a GIMLET, the game gets:

  • 3 points for the game world. It's original for an RPG, but Jazz Age Chicago doesn't really "come alive" in Mafia.
  • 2 points for character creation and development. It just barely meets RPG criteria here.
"Interviewing" a goon for my party.

  • 2 points for NPC interaction. They're not classic "NPCs" that we see in most games, but I'll give some credit to the bartenders and shopkeepers and whatnot.
  • 3 points for encounters and foes. There's nothing to the foes, but I rather like the scenario-based encounters, which even offer a bit of role-playing (e.g., you can play as a card shark, bootlegger, gun-runner, extortionist, robber, or some combination of these).
A successful robbery against a store clerk affords some role-playing options.
  • 3 points for combat that aspires to be tactical but doesn't quite make it.
  • 1 point for equipment. You just have different kinds of weapons.
  • 6 points for the economy, the true driving force of the game. a successful mail train robbery drives home.
  • 3 points for a main quest with several parts and paths to reach it.
Getting intelligence on one of the final missions.
  • 3 points for graphic, sounds, and inputs. The graphics are ugly. The sound is fun in parts (I like the machine guns and the safecracking). The interface is simple and easy to master. Loading the graphics takes too long.
The police chief doesn't really want to see me.
  • 4 points for replayable gameplay, and it's hard to challenge the pacing when you can set it yourself.

The final score of 30 is higher than I expected, but despite the comparatively high score, I couldn't help but wish it was better. Better character development, better combat, maybe some more complex plot developments, a more interesting map...all of these would have helped make Mafia a true crime RPG instead of a crime-themed simulation/strategy game with RPG elements.

The one thing I didn't experience was multi-player mode, and I could see it being a lot of fun (if even less of an RPG). You'd have to specify a relatively short time period or else the game (which, again, you can't save) would take all night and everyone would find a way to get to 100. But with that caveat, Mafia could become a fast-paced board game in which you'd have a lot of fun laughing at other player's misfortunes and declaring gang wars on them.

I haven't been able to find much information on Igelsoft (I believe igel means "hedgehog") or anything at all on Mafia's developers specifically. I don't get the impression that it was terribly popular, even in Germany. (The English version that I played was a 2010 adaptation.) But it does deserved to be remembered as the first "crime RPG," if only barely (there have been other games in which crime was possible, but I can't think of an earlier one with crime as the driving mechanic). Quickly scanning my list, I don't see another obvious one until Gangsters 2 (2001).

It's nice when my diversions from Fate are just single-session games. Let's see if the same is true of The Rescue of Lorri in Lorrintron.


I played Journey into Darkness for a while and found its interface excruciating. Then I realized I could reject it because there didn't seem to be any mechanism of character development except through acquiring inventory. No experience, no levels. If I'm wrong about that, someone will have to play the game long enough to prove me wrong, and that doesn't seem likely.

I've also rejected Mindstone on the same grounds. It's an adventure game in which the characters can gain some one-off increases in attributes. This is not enough "character development" to qualify as an RPG.

Finally, after some research, I've come to the conclusion that Planet's Edge is a 1992 game, not 1991. I base this on a) the earliest review of the game wasn't published until May 1992; most are from the fall of that year; b) the trademark for the game wasn't approved until June 1992; c) the November 1991 issue of a German gaming magazine refers to the game as "forthcoming"; and d) other than the reference in (c), the name doesn't appear in any book or periodical searches (relying heavily on Google Books here) before 1992.


  1. Beyond Castle Wolfenstein from 1986 had a similar lockpicking mini game, with the added bonus that if you took too long an SS solider was sure to show up. Good times!

  2. "But with that caveat, Mafia could become a fast-paced board game..."

    From your write-up, the game does come across as maybe being a board game adaptation. Does anyone have any idea if this is the case?

    1. No, it was certainly no board game adaption. The original German version was distributed as Public Domain by a company called Digital Marketing. I still give props to the originality of the unknown author, as the idea and scenario is still pretty unique

    2. Yeah, for all that it clearly falls short of what you'd want in a lot of ways (as pointed out by Chet), it's obviously an inventive piece of work. And as I've said here before, what makes this blog a must-read is the coverage of obscure games like this, rather than famous stuff that everyone already knows about.

      Thanks for the info, Markus.

    3. And as I've said here before, what makes this blog a must-read is the coverage of obscure games like this, rather than famous stuff that everyone already knows about.

      Hear, hear. (That is: I completely agree.)

    4. Funnily enough, there was a German boardgame about gangsters called "Chigago" which also came out in 1986, apparently. Unfortunately I have not played it, though aside from the theme and setting it looks a bit different, so probably just coincidence!

  3. Igel is indeed hedgehog. I checked some German sites on the game but there is not much info to add, looks like the original version was quite buggy but had a decent fan following responsible for the debugging, translation and a later complete remake. Quite a few forum posts and article comments by people who fondly remember the game. :)

  4. btw. there is a small time web design and hosting company called igelsoft still active but since that was founded in 2013 they don't seem to be related.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Igelsoft is a pun on Eaglesoft, one of the most prolific and 'professional' cracking groups (at least in Germany, for C64 games). At least that's what my buddy and me immediately thought when we first fired up Mafia back in the day (must have been 1988 or somewhen around then). Gave us a chuckle, because, to be completely honest, we saw that Eaglesoft logo a lot. Who ever bought C64 games back then?

      More info on Eaglesoft on the C64 wiki:

  5. Playing Mafia on the C64 with some friends is one of my fondest childhood memories. Thanks for reminding me, your blog is a real treat as always!

    1. I'd been looking forward to this one! It's really something else in multiplayer. You have to find the optimal moves to end up with a higher score than your buddy(s), and then, chance and random events will still make every game a little different. The no-save thing was a bit of a bummer, though.

  6. At leadt one version (Bug?) had a serious problem: You could buy fake currency and then buy more fake currency with that currency and so on, basiccly solving most money problems, at least in the beginning in the game. A friend of mine owned the game and showed it to me (including the moentioned money bug), that was my onbly exposure to it.

  7. Starting a gang war after buying machine guns for the first time was a must do...
    Regarding "Igelsoft", I always had the impression it was meant as a pun.
    "Igelsoft", spoken in German, sounds like eaglesoft, them being a group of crackers that made many C64 games available for the greater public.

    1. Yes, I suppose that is the explanation for the fake company name

    2. Woops, posted this upthread before reading your post. And here I thought I was being a genius...

  8. I remember playing the German version of Mafia with my brother. Multiplayer was hilarious, but even then I thought there were many elements like the combats which could have been improved. A modern remake with more NPC interaction and more tactical combat and RPG elements would be fantastic.

  9. This is the remake that started in 1993 and is available for modern devices as well: Crime Fighter

    1. Ahh, I was thinking crime fighter all the way through this review, didn't know it was a remake of a much older game :)

    2. I immediately thought of Crime Fighter too. I'm pleased to see that its freeware now, I'll have to give it another spin soon.

    3. "Crime Fighter" doesn't sound so much like a remake as an exact opposite of this game.

    4. Chet: Translation error I'm guessing: The writer is German. Here is the Ancient Dos Games on it, including tips on how to run it optimally in DOSBOX. It has advice on how to play, but given you've beaten Mafia, I suspect you'll have to trouble anyway.

  10. even that awful Girlfriend Construction Set

    You will be glad to hear that as part of the slow-as-molasses genre system overhaul over on Mobygames, titles such as the above which I inadvertently inflicted upon you all will ultimately be marked with the genre "contains RPG elements" for games that really are about something else. The old system lacked that fine grainedness, but the heaps of derision inspired us to do something, eventually, about it.

    1. I've been critical of MG before, but what I said above wasn't meant to be a criticism. I think that all those games are honestly different genres, but they also occupy a similar structure.

    2. FYI, if you have any pull over there, what would REALLY help me out is if:

      1) the "Released" year on the front page actually reflected the first year of release. Half the time, when you click on "Releases," there's something from a year earlier.

      2) Games would stop getting tagged with "Windows" because someone made a custom emulation package. EVERY game is a "Windows" game if you allow for emulators.

      3) If there was a way to limit the "Year" filter to only the original release year. Right now, if I want to find all 1991 games and filter by that year, I end up with a ton of games that had ports and re-releases in 1991.

    3. Don't hold your breath, but by the time you advance a year or so on this blog, it looks like some of these problems will be addressed -- or at least closer to being addressed:

      -- With the usual precautions against predicting the future, etc., I can say that I have every intention of fixing these problems. For a little more detail...

      1) the "Released" year on the front page actually reflected the first year of release. Half the time, when you click on "Releases," there's something from a year earlier.

      3) If there was a way to limit the "Year" filter to only the original release year. Right now, if I want to find all 1991 games and filter by that year, I end up with a ton of games that had ports and re-releases in 1991."

      These are related problems. If a game was released in 1992 for SNES and 1993 for Genesis, which do you pick? 1992, of course, but then someone who knows that they bought the game on release in 1993 (because it was the Genesis version) will be surprised if they don't find it where they expect. But this is basically just a question of making a good, easy-to-use interface for search and browsing. The data is all there, we just need to present it in a useful way. That's certainly our aim!

      2) Games would stop getting tagged with "Windows" because someone made a custom emulation package. EVERY game is a "Windows" game if you allow for emulators.

      This is a bit larger problem, which we've discussed a few times over the years. My tentative plan is that games which are emulated will get an appropriate tech spec or some other kind of flag and then we'll have some new switch on the interface so you don't see them when you don't want them. It's a similar issue with mods/homebrew--having a usable interface so people don't drown in the sea of games is the key thing, in my opinion.

      I can't estimate when these problems will be solved, but work is ongoing and I will be keeping everyone's comments/complaints/suggestions in mind so that each step is progress toward something we'll all be happy with.

    4. "If a game was released in 1992 for SNES and 1993 for Genesis, which do you pick? 1992, of course, but then someone who knows that they bought the game on release in 1993 (because it was the Genesis version) will be surprised if they don't find it where they expect."

      But the interface already seems to be set up to account for this. They way it works most of the time--and the most sensible way for it to work--is when you're on the main page for a game, the "released" year is the first year released for any platform. If you click on a specific platform, the year changes to the year for that platform. I just don't understand why this works most of the time but not all the time.

  11. Martian Dreams is back on the docket!

    I hope you are able to figure out the bugs that plagued you last time, but I admit that I ended up abandoning the game as well. I hope to look at it again when you pick it up. I've played Ultima 1-6, Savage Empire, and Mt. Drash with you (or after you but reading along) so far and I'd like to beat Martian Dreams as well.

    (I was never able to beat Mt. Drash, but since it's not much of an RPG I decided to live with that.)

    1. The same for me - i've completed U1-6 + Akalabeth, Savage Empire and Martian Dreams and the next one is Underworld 1. Addict inspired me to do that. I didnt have any problems with GOG version of Martian Dreams, the game was only very slow when there was Creeping Cactus nearby :)

    2. I don't know why I waited so long to give it another try. I put it on the list because I'm not going anywhere for 4 weeks, so if the worst happens, I can still just keep my emulator running without shutting down the computer.

      Although, now that I think about it, now that I have Windows 10, I don't really seem to have control over when my computer decides to restart. Maybe that's a bad plan.

  12. As a child, I even had a self-made clue book with the complete statistics for every weapon including damage value, for every gangster you could hire including their price and standard weapon, and so on. Must have been an unbelievable effort to create. I still have fond memories of the game, but with the right strategy you moved up to the 100 points way too fast, so that deliberately going to jail just to extend the game was a common procedure.
    Finding out about one bug in the original version completely spoilt the experience, though: if you bet negative amounts in the gambling den and lost, the game credited this amount to your earnings. As a child, this was really a traumatic experience :-)

    1. ha yeah, I think that was the first abusive bug in a game I ever experienced ..... later on in multiplayer we always played "honest" without using infinite money. :)

    2. That's funny. My win/loss ratio seemed to be about 50/50, though, so betting a negative amount expecting a loss might still not be a great strategy--unless you don't lose the negative amount when you win.

  13. Two notes:

    1) Regarding the counterfeiting, the roller and paint make more sense as printing ink and a brayer; along with the big roller press behind them, these are common items in block printing, and reasonable things for a very slow counterfeiter to use.

    2) I played at least one version of this for the TI-82 graphing calculator; it was a very popular game in high school math classes :)

  14. Ah soooo fond memories of this game, we used to spent entire afternoons playing Mafia on my C64. And over here in Germany ( at least in my area ), everyone who had a C64 knew and loved this game.
    And the C64 was very popular here in the 80s till around 1993 or so.
    Since the game was written completely in BASIC, I even tinkered with the code a bit and added Joystick support and an option to turn off all the pictures to save loading time,I definitely have my "modded" version lying around somewhere :)

    Really cool that you dug out this little gem.

    But I still cannot wait for you playing the following :
    Realms of Arcania 1-3 ( based on Das Schwarze Auge, german cult pen and paper rpg )
    Ultima Underworld I and II ( unbelievably great games )
    Betrayal at Krondor ( another top fave of mine )
    Albion ( another wonderful German CRPG)

    Ah the 90s were awesome :)

    1. We will read here about Amberstar a couple of years before Albion, and it's at least similar since both games share some developers. I'm really looking forward to it!

  15. My first car was a Buick Century...little did I know that I was driving around Mafia style!

  16. I also have fond memories of the game, and yes, multiplayer makes it better. It isn't the archetypical RPG, though I only lately have realized that it does fit in the genre. I think it's an early version of the "technically RPG, actually strategy/simulation" kind of games, like Syndicate or X-Com.

  17. As a casino employee, that "real job" screenshot hurt my brain.

    1. This would be the cue for a real life criminal to pitch in... :)

    2. What? You mean you are NOT a criminal?
      We live and learn.

    3. Is it so far-fetched for a casino employee in 1925 Chicago, though?

    4. It is. Cheating the customers was a common practice of fly-by-night carnival games, but any permanent institution loathes it. Even discounting any legal penalties, a reputation for dishonesty will cost you hundreds, thousands, or even millions of dollars for every one you manage to get dishonestly. This is why mafia-run lotteries have always been scrupulously honest - anything else is bad business.

      This also ignores the fact that many casinos in that era were run by the mobs to launder money. Anyone doing something that risked bringing the law down on the place (like cheating for the house) would run the risk of floating down a river with their throat cut.

  18. German reader here, and yes, "Igel" means hedgehog indeed.
    Also, never heard of this game, must have been too busy playing Elite and Ultima and such. A pity, I think I would have liked it. That's why I keep reading your blog. It's interesting how many hidden gems you can uncover if you are looking hard enough.

  19. I think this style of game can be called a Raising Sim. There's a lot of flash games with similar systems, but the most popular games of this genre are probably the Princess Maker series.

  20. Oh wow. I totally forgot about this game. Back in the day, we played and loved it to death. I spent so many afternoons playing Mafia with my bests friends at the time.
    I even remember Ma Baker and Mr. X being the "best" gang members to buy, and the one-size fit all combat tactic of simply equipping everyone with machineguns and and forming a line. The obscenely stupid AI would move in to firing range and get instantly gunned down while only the front person in the line got occasionally poked.

    And then I think about it some more and realize that was ~30 years ago. I feel so old now.

    1. Until I read these comments, I figured the gang members who join the party are randomly generated. I wonder how many there are.

    2. My 11yo self could tell you. All I remember is that Ma Baker came with a machine gun, there were two or three more where you only needed to buy the weapon, and another three or four that only needed minimal training to raise brutality and intelligence high enough for machineguns.
      iirc, my gangs usually had six members. I think you could re-enter the pub with every second step and scan the crowd repeatedly until you got the members you wanted.

    3. She was the meanest cat
      In old Chicago town
      She was the meanest cat
      She really mowed them down

    4. There was a pool of 30 Gangsters with fixed stats that always come with the same weapon. I found the list for the German version that I created back in the day. I assume they just changed some of the names for the English version. Ma Baker (same in German and English)always came with skill (in German "Kraft" = strength) 20, intelligence 80, brutality 95, and equipped with the machine gun.

  21. I'm way behind on your posts. I just got to this one, and I laughed out loud when I saw that "Castello" was leading the "Tossicomani." I love these Easter Eggs in your articles.


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