Welcome to a world of murder, mystery and intrigue! Today we'll discuss everything you need to know to host an exciting murder mystery party, where all your guests will feel as though they’ve become characters in their favorite mystery novel!
1. Start planning early
Although you will be purchasing a game package that includes a lot of the materials you need for your characters and clues, there is also a lot of preparation you'll need to do before your party to make sure it feels really immersive and runs smoothly. Give yourself at least two weeks to get ready, but ideally four weeks, so you have time to track down just the right decorations, costume items, favors, etc.
2. Choose the right game
There are hundreds of murder mystery game kits available online. Look for games that can accommodate the number of players you hope to have, and it's a bonus if the characters in the game can be played by either a male or a female (that will give you more flexibility in your guest list). Most games include a character packet for each player, and either some printable clues or videos full of clues that you can play during the game. It's nice if the kit also includes some bonus materials like character nametags, award certificates, custom invitations, etc. These add-ons will save you time as you build out the imaginary world in which your game will take place.
3. Choose your guests carefully
Not only will you want to match your guests' personalities with the characters in your game, but you also need to make sure that everyone you invite will actually attend (since a missing character might mess up the way the game works). First, send out initial invitations to determine who's available on the day of your game. After you have commitments from guests that they'll attend, THEN assign the characters to the appropriate people.
Begin with the required characters in your game, then assign as many additional optional characters as you need to fill out the rest of the list. Don’t tell the guests whether their characters are optional or required, just let them know who they are playing and encourage them to let loose and have fun. Guests should not choose their own characters. For best results, assign the required roles to the most extroverted and trustworthy people on the list.
Once you've determined how many guests you'll be hosting, you might like to pick up small blank notebooks to hand out at the beginning of the party for each player to keep track of the clues they see and hear.
4. Plan your themed decor
The best parties make guests feel like they’ve entered another time and place when they come to play a murder mystery game. Clearly you don’t want to break the bank on an event that will only happen once, but you can repurpose items you already have around your house, find items at your local thrift shop, or make some DIY decorations. The trick is to determine what 5 - 10 items really EVOKE the time or setting that your game takes place in, then group those items together into a few beautiful displays for high impact.
For example, an Alice in Wonderland setting might include some tea cups, a top hat, a stuffed rabbit, a clock, etc. A few items set together in your entry hall, and a few more as a centerpiece on the table where you'll eat or play the game, will set the stage beautifully. You can spring for a few new fun themed items if you feel like you'll use them again after the party, like these Victorian poison label pub glasses.
You might also like to play some theme-appropriate music or even have a related movie playing on mute on your tv. For more details about decorating for your murder mystery party, please click here:
5. Plan your themed food
Everyone loves to eat, and when you’re planning an immersive event set in another world, serving food from that world goes a long way toward making your space feel real. You can reproduce actual foods that are associated with your world (like Butterbeer for a Harry Potter themed game), or you can just cook something you know is delicious and just give it a theme-related name (like your favorite cocktail meatballs, but call them Basilisk Balls). Or, pick up some fun printables on Etsy and decorate standard party food -- like these cupcakes topped with printable Victorian poison labels:
Depending on the time of your party, you can choose to offer just appetizers, just desserts, or a whole meal. There are a lot of theme-inspired cookbooks available online, if you'd like to challenge yourself to bake something new. Or, for more ideas for fictional feasts, please click here:
6. Plan prizes or favors
If your guests know they're competing to win a prize at the end of the game, they're more likely to commit themselves to their character and throw all their energy into solving the mystery, which enhances the overall energy of the party. You can download simple award certificates to hand out at the end of the night, recognizing not only the players who successfully solved the mystery, but also the Best Dressed, Best Liar, Most Dramatic Death, and more.
You can also plan to hand out detective-themed or mystery-themed items at the end of the evening as prizes or favors, like this fun murder-themed tea towel that features a vintage lady asking, "Darling, does this towel smell like chloroform?"
7. Print out all your game items ahead of time
Each of your characters will have their own multi-page packet containing their biography and clues that they should share. You will likely send these to each guest via email so they can print them out at home, but you may also want to print out copies yourself, in case a guest forgets to bring theirs. Your game kit may also include clues that the host should print, or signs, or nametags, or decorative items. There may be more of these than you realize, so it's good to print everything out well in advance, so you don't find yourself rushing right before the party. Also, don't print these double-sided -- sometimes there are clues that are meant to be removed from a packet and passed around, and you don't want to lose your dialogue pages.
You may also want to create your own "character map" to help guests keep all the characters straight. This can include photos of your guests with their character name below, or a family tree type of a graphic, or even just a little cheat sheet list that each person can tuck into their notebooks and refer to when they're confused.
8. Test any videos ahead of time
The last thing you want is to struggle with technology during the party. If you'll be playing clue videos, choose a location for your video viewings well in advance, and set up the device on which you plan to play the videos (laptop, iPad, airplay to a television, etc) so you can test the whole process. You may need to raise the height of the device so it can be seen by all, adjust the lighting in the room, track down an extension cord or adapter, etc. Some game kits will include a printable transcript of any videos, just in case the worst happens and you aren't able to view them. It's worth it to print these out ahead of time too, just in case!
9. Make a contingency plan for last-minute guest cancellations
In the era of Covid, it's not unusual for a guest to bow out at the last minute. Think through your game and decide how you'll handle a game-time cancellation. Your options include playing the character yourself, asking another person to play two characters, reading the missing characters' lines aloud as if they had sent them to you in a letter, or leaving out the missing character altogether (which only works if it's a non-essential character).
10. Don’t forget to take photos
It will be easy to get swept up in the fun of your party and forget to take photos, so make a point to set up a photo booth. Download some printable signs that say things like "I did it!", "I solved it!", "Call my lawyer," etc, and ask your guests to hold them up while you take photos after the game has concluded.
And now you're ready to host an amazing murder mystery party! Let us know in the comments how your event went :)