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How to Host a Murder Mystery Party

Which one of your lovely guests is the "killer"?
Which one of your lovely guests is the "killer"?
Vincent Besnault/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Your guests arrive to your party to find out some alarming news: A "murder" has been committed. Instead of dialing 911 or running from the premises screaming, they try to figure out who committed the "crime." Was it Nancy, who's wearing a blond wig and false eyelashes? Was it her date Joe, who's scratching his fake mustache and a walking with a cane? So many questions. And it's all up to you and your friends-in-costumes to solve the mystery ... while munching on finger foods and drinking delicious beverages.

Welcome to a murder mystery party, an interactive party game in which someone is killed and everyone else has to figure out who did it. There are many ways this kind of party can play out. Guests may arrive costumed and in character, or not. Sometimes the game involves playing cards over dinner; sometimes it involves scripts and hired actors; sometimes the whole thing is almost completely improvised. Your party can last an hour or two, or it can last an entire weekend. As host, you can participate and have someone else direct, or you can be the director. It all depends on the crowd you've invited, and the kind of party you'd like to have.

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A murder mystery party works best with a minimum of about 10 people and a maximum of around 30. There are games for adults, for teens and for kids. The easiest thing to do is to order a box set game or download one from the Internet, which will include all the instructions you'll need. You, as the facilitator of the game, will receive:

  • Instructions on how to coordinate the investigation of the murder
  • Roles for all the suspects, including family backgrounds and "memories"
  • Clues that can be exchanged or read aloud at critical moments
  • Solution sheets for guessing who the killer is
  • The "denouement," read aloud at the end of the party, revealing the killer and his or her motives and means

To make sure everything runs smoothly at the party, you'll need to prepare your guests properly ahead of time. In advance of the party, each guest will be assigned a character and sent a dossier of sorts -- a background of the characters, the pretend locale (aboard a ship, perhaps?) and the crime. Each guest also receives a booklet describing her particular character, including her background, goals, objectives and special abilities (and, of course, whether she's the murderer). If you're going the costume route (and we advise you do!), this information will help your guests put together their outfits. The guests also receive any special items they might need to play their characters.

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When your guests arrive to the party, provide them with notebooks and pens, so they can jot down clues as the game progresses. Most games will come with itineraries, so the facilitator (you or someone else you've selected to be the facilitator) can make sure the group sticks to a time schedule and that the game moves along at a nice pace. At the end of the game, you'll collect your guests' solution sheets before revealing the killer, and see which one of your friends was the best sleuth!

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A murder mystery party can take place in one large room, throughout an entire house, in a backyard, or in a rented space -- the possibilities are endless. No matter where you host it, the most important thing is to decorate the space to look like the pretend locale of the "murder" -- a casino, Old Hollywood, a cruise ship, etc., etc. Here are some examples of game themes and settings [source: Murder Mystery Party Games]:

  • All at Sea -- A cruise ship has set sail on the high seas when its Captain is murdered!
  • Casino Fatale -- Rumor has it this casino has ties to a famous underground boss. Who is it?
  • Hollywood Lies -- The star of an award-winning movie mysteriously dies right before Oscar night.
  • Lei'd to Rest -- A luau goes bad in the paradise of Hawaii.
  • Arabian Nights -- A beautiful princess's fiancée dies the night of their engagement.
  • The Karma Club -- A rock band is playing at a commune when the lead singer is mysteriously murdered.

You can also find games suited for various holidays, games set in certain time periods, like the roaring '20s or the Victorian Age, and games for women only.

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But what if you don't have the room to throw a huge party? No worries. Try a more intimate affair with a murder mystery dinner party!

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Murder Mystery dinner party games are played where you'd expect -- around the dinner table. With this type of party, your guests will receive a dossier in advance and are still welcome to dress up as their characters, but the game will be a little more low-key. Like a party game, dinner games are themed to take place in a certain locale, which means you get be creative with your menu -- make sure your dishes match up with the theme. Don't forget about music -- a playlist that reflects the location where or the time period when the "crime" too place.

Murder mystery dinner party games work a lot like a murder mystery party, except that guests don't move around; you play the game over dinner. Guests wear name tags and are given dossiers and cards describing their characters and motives. Sometimes these games come with scripts that the guests read out loud around the table. But often games aren't that strict -- even though they're facilitated, the guests can improvise, which can lead to more entertaining interactions and fun for everyone. Some games even include weapon cards and fake money, so deals and blackmail can go down among the participants. Of course, this all goes according to the storyline, which the host facilitates.

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A dinner party game can last through several courses, and you and your guests may linger over coffee and dessert until the murder is solved. Most games usually take about two to three hours to work through. Once the killer is revealed, have the guests take turns reading their character's descriptions -- you might be surprised to find out what your friends were hiding!

It's also nice to have small prizes or gift certificates for the end of the night for "Best Performance," "Best Costume," "Best Sleuth," or any other silly categories you can think of.

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Sources

  • Hatherley, Steve. "Host Your Own Great Murder Mystery Games." 2012. (Jan. 26, 2012) http://www.great-murder-mystery-games.com/
  • "Dinner and a Murder." 2012. (Jan. 26, 2012) http://www.dinnerandamurder.com/

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