Murder mystery games are generally party games wherein one of the partygoers is secretly, and unknowingly, playing a murderer, and the other attendees must determine who among them is the criminal. This may involve the actual 'murders' of guests throughout the game, or may open with a 'death' and have the rest of the time devoted to investigation.
Murder Mystery Games are party style games, designed to be played in the host's home, using boxed games or internet downloads. These games can also be played on a larger scale in a hired venue, a restaurant or at a workplace. They are often used for fundraisers.
The games are often designed for use by between 6 and 10 players, but there are large group murder mystery games as well. During the games, the party guests/hosts will take the roles of the various suspects and will try to solve the mystery by examining all of the evidence in an attempt to identify the murderer.
The games for 6 to 10 players are played over 2–3 hours and the players use their character booklets and clues (i.e. the game contents) to delve into the background of the murder using the questions, answers, hints and clues provided. These are all designed to elicit more and more information about the murder, until the players are in a good position to suggest who they believe is the guilty party. More often than not, players will be invited (by the host) to attend the party dressed as, and ready to play the part of, one of the suspects listed in the game scenario. The game is usually played over a 3 course dinner party, although 'cocktail party' formats also work.
The large group murder mystery games are formatted a bit differently. You'll need 6-8 people to play the primary suspects. The rest of your guests will take on the role of detective and it will be their "job" to actively solve the case by examining evidence, finding clues, following and questioning suspects - whatever it takes for them to solve the mystery.
(*Live versions of Murder Mysteries shows, in which guests attend commercial venues such as hotels as paying viewers, are classed as Dinner theater or Mystery dinners, not Murder Mystery Games.)
Box games are designed to be played by groups of friends or family, who are seeking to enjoy a fancy dress style party with an additional 'theme'. The setup of these games can be simple or elaborate. Some games require no setup beyond a way to randomly select the roles; however, some party hosts like to develop an elaborate menu and decorate extensively. As well as providing the food and drink for the evening, the party host is required to follow the simple instructions, prepare for the party in advance, and generally co-ordinate proceedings during the evening. Organizers of the mystery can select roles and characters based on their knowledge of the guests.
Some of the box games can actually be solved by the players, using the clues provided, whilst others can't and are played just as a form of light entertainment. Players are usually required to 'act' as one of the characters/suspects involved in the plot, and must ask and reply to questions using the information provided in their character booklets and on clue sheets.
Murder mystery games come in several different versions:
Turn-based games work by releasing information over the course of the game. As the game progresses, each character learns something new about the plot and their involvement. Each turn players are prompted to ask specific questions, or perhaps read from a script. These are popularly played around the table at a dinner party.
Interactive murder mystery games provide players with details of their character from the start, but it is up to the character to determine how they solve the murder. Often players have other objectives – such as to be the richest player at the end of the game. Most people will have their own secrets that have nothing to do with the murder. This provides even more reasons for players to interact with each other. These games are better suited to buffets or finger food as generally everyone needs to be able to mingle and also to talk to others without being overheard. Some are done during a sit down dinner as long as time is provided afterwards for guests to move about and mingle.(The drawbacks of this style is that when the murderer is revealed at the end, often guests feel cheated that they were not privy to the same "secret" information some actor quietly revealed to other players.)
Another variant has 8 to 10 detailed characters as suspects, each with a detailed background and story. Everyone else plays detectives trying to solve the murder. These games require the detectives to interrogate the suspects to determine the holes in their story, and are clearly focused on solving the murder. Variants may involve changing the nature of the crime (especially if younger players are involved), allowing some participants to know certain facts in advance (even the identity of the murderer), or having 'plot twists' of unexpected events to occur, to help or hinder the investigation, as needed. Games aimed at younger children may contain puzzles and problems to solve or scripts.
A lesser known variant (known as DB Murder Mystery Parties) have 15 to 25 detailed characters as part of the plot. Each character receives their own character profile which includes their background information, the information they know surrounding the murder(s), exactly what they were doing and what they saw the night of the murder(s), and private information about themselves and the people they have been in contact with. Each participant receives their information a week or two prior to the evening of the murder mystery party, which allows each person time to get into character, get to know other characters, and develop their theories and alliances. The day of the party the participants come together to discuss the murder(s) that have occurred. At that time the court is in session and the town decides who to accuse, who to believe, and who to hang (similar to the game mafia). Murders can also occur the night of the party. When the town believes that the murderer(s) have seen justice the court is out of session and the town will find out the truth; have the murder(s) been hung, have the guilty been set free, and/or have they condemned innocent townspeople to death. This variant allows each character to be in complete control of their own fate, attempting to make the experience as close to real life as possible. This variant is great for groups of people who see each other throughout the week, such as work groups, church groups, college students, neighborhood groups, etc.
Murder mysteries can be played on Internet forums, the organizer privately notifies the murderer to let them know and they must try to blame someone else on the thread. At the end of a round, the organizer reveals the murderer.