How to Host a Murder Mystery Party to Die For!

Throwing a murder mystery party is the perfect way to have a killer evening with any group. Whether you are looking to have fun with old friends, make new ones, or have an engaging activity with coworkers, you can’t go wrong with a murder mystery party game. Feel intimidated? Worry not! Murder mystery parties are easy to host, and you can go as big or small as you like. But—how to start? Read on!

Step 1: Create Your Initial Guest List

The beauty of murder mystery games is that they can be played by anyone, and you can find games that cater to just about any group size and makeup (number of males, females, etc.). However, your choice of party or game may vary depending on your audience, so be sure to have a general idea of your desired guest list first before you begin planning.

While some hosts may prefer to invite guests who know each other ahead of time, this is certainly not a requirement. Murder mystery games are an excellent way to get to know new people and see an outgoing side of them right from the start!

Step 2: Choose a Game and Theme

Now that you know who you will be inviting, it is time to choose a theme for your group. When looking at different game options, be sure to verify the number of players the game permits and if the game requires a certain number of males or females. Some games have characters who are gender flexible, while others do not. Also, if you are planning for a larger group or one where the number of players may vary, you may want to look for a game that allows for a flexible number of players.

Going with an online company, such as Whodunnit Games, allows you to choose from an assortment of games and themes for different group sizes, purchase an instant download PDF, and have immediate access to all party materials, which can be easily printed.

Some games feature a format where guests all sit and face each other, and different clues/announcements are made to the group as a whole. These clues may contain a mix of scripted and ad lib responses. If your game features a “stand and mingle” format, each character will walk around and maintain completely unscripted conversations with other guests based on general information that will be provided to them on a character sheer. Having played these different types of games, we recommend the sit-down format with a mixture of scripted and unscripted conversation. This allows all to participate but also takes off some pressure, which many players appreciate, by allowing everyone to sit back at times and take in the comments of others while planning their next moves. All games by Whodunnit Games fall into this category, which allows for a solid structure that everyone can settle into while also allowing for entertaining and often hilarious unscripted comments by those who choose to make them. However, both formats of murder mystery games can be very fun and engaging, and it can be enjoyable trying out different formats to determine what you like best.

One additional recommendation is to verify if there is a rating associated with a murder mystery game before you purchase it. Games sold by some providers have content and references that may not be appropriate it your guests are, say, a church group or if you are including children at your event. Check for a rating and, when in doubt, reach out to the vendor, if possible. Virtually any online seller will have a Contact Us page with an email address where you can ask them questions, if needed.

Step 3: Select Your Venue

Depending on your guests and group size, you may decide to have your party at your home or elsewhere. A living room or backyard can make a great location for some parties, while others may require more space. For larger groups, a reserved dining area of a restaurant could work, or you might consider a public park, hotel ballroom, high school gym, or even a boat. Ensure that the area you choose has adequate space for your guests, particularly if you will be providing dinner during the murder mystery party.

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Step 4: Extend Invitations

Send an invite to each person you intend to invite to your party. For most situations, it is recommended that you do this 2-3 weeks before the event. Many games come with an invitation that you can mail or email to guests, though some hosts may prefer to keep it simple by forgoing such invitations and simply calling or texting each person. Ultimately, the method of extending invitations is entirely up to you. Be sure to tell those you invite that an RSVP is a commitment.

In addition to telling invitees the time and location of the murder mystery party, you will want to give them a specific date well in advance of the event by which to RSVP. This allows you to extend additional invites if needed and prevent a situation where you are held hostage the day before your party, still not knowing if you have the required number of players and are unable to invite anyone else because you don’t know if you will have a character for a new invitee if the person you are waiting for eventually says yes. Ultimately, it is of course possible to find people last minute in a pinch, but it’s better to take steps to avoid this.

As an aside, if you are playing a game that allows for optional players, you may be ok with one or more invitees who give you a maybe as long as you do have a definitive yes for all of the required characters. You will be ok if some of your maybes inform you they cannot come in the days immediately leading up to your murder mystery party. However, read through the host instructions closely regarding optional characters. While many games have optional players that can be added or subtracted at any time and in any order, some games require that certain optional players come in pairs and groups. Don’t worry if this is the case. Simply keep in mind that the same rule will then be applied: the invitees must give you a definitive yeah or nay well in advance so you know if you will need to extend additional invitations.

It is also feasible with certain murder mystery games, particularly those with optional characters, to be less formal. If you have, for instance, a group that will be at a location for which you are looking for an activity and only have a few days to come up with something, it is even possible to print off all required materials, including character bios, bring them to the event, have people read their character information, and go straight into the game. However, this likely won’t provide an opportunity for players to get into character ahead of time or find costumes, so we recommend extending invites well in advance in most cases.

Step 5: Assign Characters to Your Guests

Assigning character roles is fun, and there is no right or wrong way to do it. Murder mystery games should always have a character list describing the different characters who will be participating in the game. Certain personality traits as well as some specifics regarding dress may be described as well.

Consider the following three methods for assigning characters:

  1. Matching guests to characters based on the character descriptions and pondering over which of your guests would be best suited for the role in question. This is the preference of most murder mystery hosts in most situations, and it can be very fun to look through the different character descriptions and try to puzzle out who would be best suited for each role. You may see, for instance, that a given character is described as particularly arrogant, enthusiastic, or colorful in any number of ways. You may consider giving such characters to  guests who you know to be more extraverted or who you otherwise expect to really get into their role.
  2. Matching guests based on roles you think will challenge them. This is another fun way to do it, and you may be pleasantly surprised by how much some people who may even appear introverted will get into character for a murder mystery game.
  3. Completely random. Assign characters to your guests and let the chips fall where they may. This can be an entertaining way to see who will randomly assert themselves, and it is the preference of many hosts when assigning characters to guests about whom they know very little.

Once you have determined which of your guests will play each character, send them a copy of their character bio/description. In most murder mystery games, this will be a file, page, or short packet unique to the character and meant for their eyes only. Some games may not have a unique character bio for every guest but, rather, contain a single game description that all players will read ahead of the event. This will have a description of the scene and a general description of all characters participating without including anything sensitive.

It is recommended that you send the character bio or game description to players a minimum of one week before your murder mystery party to allow each person time to determine a costume and get into character. If you have ordered your game from an online murder mystery shop and received an instant download, it is a simple matter to email character bios to your guests directly, a preferred method of many hosts.

Step 6: Create Your Menu

Food is typically a part of any murder mystery party, hence why they are often referred to as “Murder Mystery Dinners”. While a full dinner at the start of your party or between acts can be a fun way to start or break up your event, this is not a requirement, and some hosts choose to keep the food preparations more casual by simply serving refreshments between acts. If your preference is to go big, consider serving dinner at the beginning of the evening and a dessert between the final act.

Another consideration if having dinner is whether you will play while eating, stay in character without formally advancing the game in any way, or simply use this time to enjoy each other’s company out of character. There isn’t a right or wrong here, but there are a few things to consider. First if you are playing a game with a “stand and mingle” format in which characters must perform certain actions and make particular revelations only to given characters but not to the group as a whole, playing the game while eating will not be possible, but you may consider remaining in character. When playing a murder mystery game that allows for players to sit and face each other, as many do, playing while eating can be done, if desired.

Of the different options just mentioned, our recommendation is to use the time while eating to have regular, out-of-character conversation. Whether you are playing with old friends or making new ones, it’s nice to have a portion of your party dedicated to regular chitchat, and this serves as a perfect opportunity,

As far as the menu goes, consider something that that goes along with your theme. Some themes may have obvious food choices, while others may allow for a broad interpretation. For example, a surfer murder mystery game taking place in Hawaii naturally caters toward foods such as Kalua pork sliders, fruity drinks with umbrellas, and pineapple upside-down cake. A theme taking place on a New Orleans riverboat casino could have Jambalaya and beignets. A Christmas-themed murder mystery party could include any number of Christmas delights or sweets, including Christmas cookies, eggnog, turkey, stuffing, Christmas pudding, etc. The possibilities are as big as your imagination! Feel free to check out our cuisine page for some ideas.

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Step 7: Decorate!

Adding decorations is an exciting way to liven up the venue and help create the perfect environment for your murder mystery party. No matter your theme, you should be able to find plenty of options at your local party shop or an online store such as Amazon. You can also make your own decorations! For a traditional creepy mansion mystery, you could go with spider webs, spooky looking portraits, and candlesticks. For a circus-themed murder mystery game, cover the walls with colorful designs, circus tents, etc. In addition to decorations, consider sounds and smells. Playing a game with a 70s theme? Find a 70s playlist or music channel on Amazon prime or Apple Music. Are there any specific scents related to the theme? Feel free to go as big or small as you want, but above all, have fun with it!

Arrival of the Guests

As guests arrive, hand them any game related materials they will need to have for the beginning of the game. These will generally include a name tag for their character, as well as a sheet that will be used for the first act. While some hosts may choose to have guests be in character from the very beginning, we recommend socializing out of character until all guests have arrived and you have officially kicked off your game.

Once all guests have arrived, you are ready to begin! If you decided to have dinner at the beginning of the game, start with that, as mentioned earlier. Then it is time to jump in!

The Game: Part 1

Most murder mystery games are divided into two or three acts or rounds. Regardless of the type of game you will be playing, a Host Guide will be provided to you in your game materials. The guide will tell you exactly how to play and advance the game as well as give you instructions for your guests to follow. In most games, you, as host, have the option to also be a player. Depending on the game, the murder itself may have occurred before game action begins, or, more commonly, it may happen during the game itself with one of the players becoming the murder victim! In any case, the first act will serve to set the stage, as the different characters carry on important conversations.

As mentioned previously, the first part of the game may have you sitting in a group setting or walking around and mingling with guests one-on-one. Whatever the format, all will have a blast as important clues and information are shared.

In a game with two acts where the murder victim was not killed before the game began, one of your guests will generally bite the dust at the end of the first act! If the game has three acts, this will likely happen at the end of the second. In any case, the hapless victim will generally have the option to continue on as a detective or otherwise stay in the game as you move on to…the final act!

The Game: Part 2 – The Final Act

You’ve made it this far! Someone has been murdered, and it is up to you and your guests to figure out who it is! The final act will be loads of fun as characters accuse each other and look for clues to determine the guilty party! The final act often features the addition of a detective, a role generally taken on by the person who was just murdered. Clues and evidence will be revealed. Can you help the detective and identify the killer? Or could it be you?! Time will tell, and you and your guests will have an incredible time as you work through the clues, give your alibis, accuse others, and watch the events of the final act unfold!

Wrapping up

Once all alibis have been given, accusations have died down, and the host instructions indicate it is time to wrap things up, the host will give everyone a “Whodunnit” or voting sheet. Each player says who they think is the killer and places their vote for additional categories such as “Top Performer” or “Best Dressed”.

After you have collected the filled-in voting sheets, you, the host, will instruct all to go around in a circle and tell the group who they chose as the killer and why. While they do this, you tabulate the votes for each category. Most games, particularly instant downloads, contain award certificates for the top performers, including “Master Detective” certificates for those who correctly identify the killer. You may decide to have additional theme-related prizes for the winners as well.

Once you have identified the winners, the killer is revealed. This is often done by one of the characters, such as the detective, reading “The Solution”. Then you, the host, hand out the award certificates and/or additional prizes to the winners. That will officially wrap up a successful murder mystery party to die for!