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Usually the game is set in a town that discovers a mafia presence. The game takes place in two phases, a day phase and a night phase. During the day phase the town (an angry lynch mob) select one player to lynch. They are lynching other players trying to eliminate the mafia. During the night phase the mafia kill one player. They are killing other players trying to eliminate the town.
Unfortunately for the town, good individuals do not know the identity of each other; whereas the mafia know who each other are.
The mafia can plan and scheme in private or public communication, but the town may only use public communication to converse.
I suggest watching the beginers guide in the helpful links FAQ (»Pub Games FAQ »Helpful Mafia links ).