Murder mysteries are fun party games during which guests play different roles; ranging from suspects to victims and murderers. Attendees have to follow clues and gather information as to who among them is the criminal. In some games, the victims or murderers are aware of who they are, while they might still need to figure it out in others, along with the other participants.
Murder mystery parties started at the beginning of the 19th century. During the early 20th century, Wink Murder was invented whereby the secretly selected murderer could kill other players by winking at them. The ‘murdered’ player had to count to five before dying, while the murderer tries to avoid being detected by the others. Learn more about the history and origin of the murder mystery party here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_mystery_game
Its concept was probably inspired by the real-life story of the murder at Road Hill House in 1860, where a 3-year old British boy was found murdered. Detective Jonathan Whicher had to solve the case, based upon suspicions about the dead boy’s teenaged half-sister, the governess and other family members. Since the murder was extremely horrific and disturbing, and the entire family was under suspicion, the detective’s career hinged on it and inspired many fictional stories.
People became captivated by the mystery and developed their own theories, which they sent to newspapers. Newspapers published everything the people wanted to hear, whether it was true or not. Their suggested solutions helped shape murder mystery novels and games, in which every detective can be a hero. In modern games, several details are investigated, such as door handles, footprints, clothing, carpets and cutlery. Seemingly ordinary events suddenly have alternative or sinister motives. Ordinary slapdash sleuths can now also have the detective skills to solve a macabre mystery.
The first murder mystery game, called Jury Box, was released in 1935. Players were given a certain scenario, along with evidence, ballot papers and photographs, after which they have to vote on the guilty party.
Cluedo/Clue was the first murder board game and was released in 1948. Role playing games in box format, such as Mafia, became popular during the 1980s. Today, there are countless online companies, such as Red Herring, who sell both downloadable and boxed versions of games.
Writers have improved the complexity, playability and appearance of the games by adding graphic designs and boxes. Players hear evidence and solve clues to figure out who is the murderer. Games take place over several rounds, and are usually themed. Players are encouraged to dress up to enforce their characters.
The Most Innovative Murder Mystery Party Themes
Although it might seem simple, choosing a specific murder mystery can be complicated. Not all games are created equal, as some can be played directly out of a box, while others require more effort and guests will have to physically mingle to actively obtain clues. They also vary from serious to silly and terrifying to blatantly vulgar.
Some of the best murder mystery party themes include the following:
- The haunted Halloween heists
- Murder at the manor
- Zombie cannibal asylum
- 1950s murder mystery
- Murder in the roaring 1920s (family friendly)
- A bad vintage
- Night of mystery
- Way out West
- Girls just wanna have guns (for females only/vulgar)
- Murder on the SS Titanium (downloadable)
Some hosts prefer to use their own imagination to create new games that no one else has ever played before. Characters are based on real-life friends or family, and the benefit is that hosts already know their guests’ unique personalities or quirks.
Stories are based on their actual lives, jobs and hobbies. The host might find a morbid satisfaction in deciding who will be bludgeoned to death or drink from the poisoned chalice. However, it is important to handle the storyline with caution, as people still need to remain friends afterwards!
How To Host A Great Murder Mystery Party?
There are 2 main ways to host a party: either at a designated venue or virtually, via Zoom, for example. Check out this post to learn more about how to throw an unforgettable murder mystery party.
This is the traditional way of hosting, especially if the host has a large home. The venue can also shift to a backyard, restaurant, hotel or even a yacht. The amount of guests will depend on the game and venue picked. Decorations can match the story setting or era in which it plays out. Each guest is assigned specific roles, information about their characters and goals. They have to socialize during snacks or dinner to gather clues and solve the crime.
Covid-19 has prevented socializing, which increased the popularity of virtual or online games, which are hosted via platforms such as Zoom. The rules are the same as for in-person games; however, Zoom unfortunately allows fewer participants. Players have to watch a video before the game starts, after which they have conversations with each other in breakout rooms to gather clues.
No matter where or how they play, hosts should ensure that guests are having fun and feeling comfortable with their roles. Materials and information should be well-prepared, and eating shouldn’t interfere with the pace of the game. Here are some more top tips for hosts:
- Invite new people or coworkers as well in an effort to get to know them better
- Designate characters carefully to ensure that guests enjoy their parts
- Reassure guests to calm their nerves or give advice about their costumes
- A little décor goes a long way to create the perfect ambience for scenes
- Use as much space as possible; even toilets can be used to eavesdrop for clues
Compliment and thank guests for making an effort to dress up and being willing to act out their roles
- Take many pictures and videos of the event; people actually love seeing themselves on camera
- Buffet snacks are usually better than formal dinners, as guests can eat while moving around uninterrupted
It is a party, so just have fun!