How to Host a Murder Mystery Party
Updated: Feb 14, 2020
Have you always wanted to host a murder mystery game, but don't know where to
begin? Or maybe you've attended one and want to create the next memorable experience for your group of friends, family, or colleagues. The following are quick and easy steps for how to start planning an intriguing, unforgettable night of mystery.
The first thing to do is sit down with a cup of coffee (my preference) and a pen and paper (again, my favorite) and write down who you would invite using two columns labeled 'must-haves' and 'the rest.' Don't ever show anyone this list, or you could hurt their feelings, so this is just for you. The first column contains a list of the definite 'must-haves' - the dependable people. Informally, I send my 'must-have' players a save the date text message. If you are hosting a more formal event, you can send the save the date cards with an RSVP line (mail or electronic). If you're doing it formally, be sure to have a deadline on your RSVP. If the 'must-haves' can attend and have acknowledged your party date on their calendars, then you move on to selecting your game. This is where the fun begins.
PICK YOUR THEME
Head over to mymysteryparty.com (shameless self-promotion), and peruse the selection. Use the game sorter to narrow down the number of games, as I have written over 100 over the years. I try to keep the most successful games on the site and will retire the lowest- performing games as I release new a new one. That way, the selection isn't more overwhelming than it has to be, and only the best games are offered.
My personal favorites would be my newest games, but that's an author's life - we always prefer our most recent work. These are the games I've selected as 'featured,' and you can use that as a sorting option in the top right box on your screen when viewing the games. I will say the newer games will tend to have more of a challenge, and I try to include more 'bells and whistles,' like the additional round one clues you can hide in your party space with the Murder on Baker Street game, or the required videos you must play for Bad Santa.
The game sorter will narrow down by age (adult, teen), gender (co-ed, all female, all male), group size, and difficulty rating. This should make the number of games more manageable. Then, it comes down to two things - what theme stands out to you, and does your group match the available characters. Do you want a retro party (20's,50's, etc.), or is this around a holiday such as Christmas? Spooky is always an option and can be done year-round and not just on Halloween. Once you find a game that intrigues you - check the character list, read the synopsis, watch the game trailer video, review the sample game file (under helpful links on the game page), and see if you are still interested. If yes, check the character list against your group. Do you have enough players for the minimum number? Does the game have enough players? If you scroll down on each game page, there is a breakdown of the stats of the game under other details. You might need to purchase an expansion pack, so be sure it's available for your selected game. Expansion packs can always be added later if your invite list grows, which it usually will - so pick a game with a cushion of available players. Also, check the gender ratio of the character list and ensure it is the same as your group. Not all co-ed games will be an equal 50-50. Some of my older games might have slightly more female roles, as when I started writing games a long time ago, it was always common for a few extra females to join any given group. I was writing custom female characters to add to games, and these became incorporated into the games over time. Now, I try to write games with flexible genders to avoid these gender ratio issues.
My advice is if you are hosting a big event - go more simple. Don't try to host a big corporate party with 200 players with a Sherlock level game. That number of people alone is chaos, so you don't want to add to it by hosting a high-level challenge game. I'd say stick to the moderate difficulties for more than 30 players. Unless you are all seasoned murder mystery gamers!
CHOOSE YOUR EVENT SPACE
This one is easy. You can host any of the My Mystery Party games in your living room - as long as you have space for your players to mingle and have discussions. Or, use a recreation center or community party room, a hotel ballroom, a private dining space at a restaurant, a school cafeteria, a pontoon boat (just not while it is running, as you can't hear). Be careful about hosting in a hotel room, as some hotels will prohibit you from hosting a party in a private room, so check in advance if you are going that route. Bottom line - you need a space big enough to mingle and access to restrooms.
INVITE THE GUESTS
There are free invitations at My Mystery Party under helpful links on each game page. Feel free to use them if you wish. You have made the top-secret guest list, so you assign the 'must-haves' to the required players. Each game has a host list with required and optional designations. Only the host will know who was required. This gives the host an ever-so-slight yet unavoidable advantage at the start of the game, but that 'leg-up' quickly wanes during gameplay, so don't worry about that. Once the victim is claimed and the investigation begins - everyone is on an even playing field. I want my hosts to be able to play. The host does all the work, spends the money, so they should have fun!
Use the free invitations, the pre-game site at YourMysteryParty.com, or maybe purchase our printed invitations, as they have a line for you to write in your pre-game site extension. Or, you can create an event page on social media, or text people your party details if it's informal. You, as the host, will assign each player to a character role. You must do this to ensure the required spots are filled (and stay filled). Also, you should select your most outgoing guests as the required players, as well. So, if you have more must-haves than required players, choose the highest energy folks for the required slots.
PLAN YOUR MENU & DECOR
Do not host a party without food. Hangry guests are unhappy guests. Even if you want to throw out only chips and dip - do it. But if you go that route, make sure everyone knows in advance of the party what the dinner situation will be. If you're not serving dinner - let them know that on your invitation. If you wish to serve dinner, the host instructions of the game will let you know when to serve dinner. It will usually be before round two. You can do a sit down dinner or a buffet - it is entirely up to you. Or, you can have people grazing at a buffet table full of appetizers as they wish. Food is flexible, but if you can make it match the theme and become part of the decor - that's the best.
We always have a Pinterest board with lots of DIY options for how to decorate and what food to serve, etc. Also, each game file will include a suggested menu and decor, as well.
ENGAGE IN THE PRE-GAME TASKS
Most of my games will have an optional pre-game round where characters are given cards with information to contact certain other characters in advance of the party. I highly encourage you to do this round. It is optimal to do this one week before the party, as that's how most of the tasks are written, but it can be done at any time before your event. Just don't do this too far in advance, or you'll lose steam. I've listened to feedback over the last couple of decades, and the consensus is - the pre-game is a hit, and it leaves your players wanting more, and they are excited about your party.
CHECK IN WITH YOUR REQUIRED PLAYERS
Only because a required player no-show could kill your game (no pun intended), you need to check in with your required players 24-hours in advance of your party. Last minute things happen and can be unavoidable, but this will at least give you some peace of mind in the hectic hours leading up to your big night. If one of the required players tells you they will not be able to attend, you'll ask one of your optional players to switch into their role. This is always optimal - to have the required spots filled. If you are only playing with the number of required players, you can contact the staff at My Mystery Party, and they'll let you know if you can play the game with the missing player. If not, they'll tell you what to do.
PLAY THE GAME
ARRIVAL: the big night has arrived, and your guests are crossing the threshold into the party room that you've decorated to match the theme. Snap a photo of each guest in front of a decorated backdrop. Once everyone arrives, snap a group photo. Hand them a beverage (even if it's water) after (not before) the photo, and show them where the food is set up.
Have a character list on display for the guests to review (they've probably already seen it on the free invitation &/or Your Mystery Party pre-game site, but a refresher won't hurt anyone.) Also, they can refer to it during the game.
READ THE GUEST INSTRUCTIONS: once everyone has arrived, read the guest instructions. Discuss how to play the game, and once everyone is ready, you can play the game trailer (available on the Your Mystery Party site) to set the scenario. Or, some games might have a required video to play to start the game, such as the Last Will & Testament of Roland Kingsley and Bad Santa.
PASS OUT THE ROUND ONE CARDS: and the players will mingle about and discuss the clues and stories on their cards. Some players will be directed to do things or talk to certain people. This round is essential, as it sets up storylines and builds intrigue. This round should take about thirty minutes to an hour. My rule is - don't stop fun. If your players are really getting into it, let them keep going and make up the time later if you must.
SERVE DINNER (OPTIONAL) AND THEN PASS OUT THE ROUND TWO CARDS: this is the best time to stop and serve dinner. Dinner is always optional.
With most games, there will be a victim claimed at the start or during round two. They are notified of this via their round two card (they don't know in advance). Having a victim in the game is the optimal format, as it's the most suspenseful. The victim is never taken out of the game and has the limelight role. I'd never remove someone from a game - I want everyone to have equal fun and get to play. Also, in my games, the murderer will never know they were the murderer until the end. Of course, that isn't realistic, but it's the only way to keep them in the game and allow them to investigate the crime, which is why you're all there. Plus, you wouldn't want one of your guests having the power to ruin your game - either by accident via bad acting or intentionally hinting or letting it slip out that they are the culprit. The pre-murder section of round two should take about 20-30 minutes.
INVESTIGATE THE HOMICIDE: after the victim is claimed, your players will investigate the crime, as they will all have a vested interest in catching the murderer before the police arrive. If they don't hurry, they will all be suspects in a potentially lengthy murder investigation. This part of the game is highly variable between games, but most will include a forensic report of some kind to include in the investigation. There might be other tangible evidence to consider, as well. The investigation should take about twenty minutes.
TURN IN GUESSES OF WHODUNIT AND ACCUSATIONS: once the investigation is complete, the players will guess whodunit. I suggest you take up their investigation sheets with their written guesses, as you don't want players changing their answers once they hear who others accuse. You can pick a winner by the 'first' one to turn in a correct guess - but don't tell them you are doing this, or they will rush.
After everyone has submitted their formal guess of whodunit, you can allow each player to stand up and accuse who they believe did it and why. Only undergo the accusations if you have time, and the players want to do it. Maybe ask for volunteers, and once you run out of willing accusers, move on to round three.
PASS OUT THE SOLUTION CARDS AND SERVE DESSERT (OPTIONAL): this is the best time to serve dessert and coffee (or after-dinner drink). This is also when the murderer will realize they did it. They will be last to present their solution and confess. There might be a fun interactive story ender on their card to end the story.
Again, it's not realistic that a killer would admit guilt so willingly, but if they didn't, you'd all be maddened by curiosity. In my games, the evidence points to a single killer. There's no gray areas or maybes. I give you a solution key to use if needed. There could be after-the-game questions, and I cover them all in the key. The final round could take up to forty-five minutes if everyone presents their solution. It's flexible, however. You don't need to have everyone in your game present a solution. If you are short on time, you can only have the murderer confess.
OPTIONAL AWARD CEREMONY: if you have the time, after the murderer confesses, you can host an award ceremony. My Mystery Party sells various award certificates, costume ribbons, bonus game ribbons, and an award medal for you to use in various ways to put a fun and rewarding end to the night.
I cannot guarantee that you won't have a bit of chaos during your party, but that's utterly normal when a crime - real or fake - is involved. Don't stress over the tiny things. Nobody lit the aisle candles at my daughter's wedding, but not one guest knew the difference - only me. Your guests will have a fun, memorable time.