This post expands on Step 1 of my How to Host a Murder Mystery Party Guide by going into further detail about the five important decisions you must make before a murder mystery game for your party.

Let's take a closer look!

STEP 1: Choose Your Game

The most important part of hosting an exceptional party is making sure that you have chosen a game kit for your party that meets your specific needs!

5 choices to make before picking your game:

  1. Venue
  2. Guest Count
  3. Game Type
  4. Game Format
  5. Theme

Venue

Your 1st choice to make is where you want to host the party. This will determine how many people you can invite and will create advantages and limitations for the party.

Parties are usually held in one of these places:

Playing at the host's home. How to Host a Murder Mystery Party. #murdermysteryparty www.playingwithmurder.com
This host held the train-themed party Last Stop: Murder at their home.

At Your Home

Most parties are thrown at the host's home.

Advantages:

  • Familiar space
  • Plan precisely
  • No rental fees
  • Can decorate well in advance
  • No time constraints (so party can run long)

Disadvantages:

Of course, not every home or apartment is well suited to entertaining. You may experience issues with:

  • Insufficient space
  • Inconvenient layout
  • Insufficient parking
Playing at host's office. How to Host a Murder Mystery Party. #murdermysteryparty www.playingwithmurder.com
This company hosted the motorcycle club themed party Murder on Two Wheels at their office.
Common reasons to host here:
  • Fundraisers
  • Team building exercises
  • Work parties
Your organization's space may be available even if your party is not for the organization. It's worth checking!

At Your Organization

Many people host parties at workplaces, churches, social clubs, and other organizational spaces.

Advantages:

  • Plenty of space and multiple rooms
  • Good parking, restroom facilities and other conveniences
  • Often free of charge

Disadvantages:

  • Could have an undesirable atmosphere, such as a pronounced industrial or institutional design
  • Decorating limitations
  • Must work around dates & times the space is available
Haunted manor theme party. How to Host a Murder Mystery Party. #murdermysteryparty www.playingwithmurder.com
One of our customers rented this countryside manor because it provided the perfect atmosphere for her haunted mansion party, The Terrible Castle of Baron Castaign.

At a Rented Space

Some party organizers choose to rent a venue for their party, such as a bed and breakfast, hotel, or conference center.

Advantages of rented space:

  • Choose a venue suited for your particular event and guest count
  • May be spaces available that already have atmosphere you want

Disadvantages

  • Can be expensive
  • Some locations have special rules or restrictions related to this sort of activity

Guest Count

Your 2nd choice is how many people to invite. The space you choose will affect your choice, but it's also based on what experience you want. Different group sizes present different advantages and challenges.

Playing with a small group. How to Host a Murder Mystery Party. #murdermysteryparty www.playingwithmurder.com
This host had eight guests and put a "Deep South" spin on the Roaring '20s themed party Jazz Age Jeopardy.

Small Size (10 guests or less)

Having a small number of guests is often ideal because it's easier to manage all the moving parts of the party.

Advantages:

  • Expenses are limited
  • Much easier to organize the party and assign roles
  • Individuals have bigger roles in the game
  • Many pre-made mysteries available for this size group

Disadvantages:

The most important drawback is that if someone ends up cancelling at the last minute, it is likely that their absence will have a big impact on the flow of the party.

Playing with a medium group. How to Host a Murder Mystery Party. #murdermysteryparty www.playingwithmurder.com
This group of 15 people played through the sci-fi themed mystery party Murder at the Nir Catina.

Medium Size (11-25 guests)

Most mystery parties fall into this category.

Advantages:

  • Can assign less important characters to guests who may not end up attending or who are too shy for central roles
  • Excellent opportunity for mingling and intrigue in this size group
  • Game is more challenging because there are more suspects and info
  • There is a huge variety of pre-made mysteries for this number of players

Disadvantages:

  • Party expense increases with each guest
  • Complexity of planning and managing the party goes up
Playing with a large group. How to Host a Murder Mystery Party. #murdermysteryparty www.playingwithmurder.com
This host held a murder mystery party at her family reunion, playing Malachai Stout's Family Reunion, most appropriately. They used the Group Characters method; each table played one of the characters.
There are a few ways to run parties with this many guests:

  1. Simultaneous Games - Divide the room into groups that each play their own game
  2. Group Characters - Each character is played by multiple people who work together
  3. Cast & Observers - A small group of guests play the characters, while the rest observe their interactions as "detectives"

Large Size (26+ guests)

You may be considering throwing a murder mystery party as part of a larger event, such as a fundraiser or family reunion. This changes the ballgame as you will have much more work to do, but the payoff can be an extremely entertaining night for everyone!

Advantages:

  • Endless opportunity for intrigue and back stabbing
  • Solving the mystery itself will pose a substantial and worthwhile challenge for the participants
  • Large events are always exciting and memorable for the group

Disadvantages:

  • Need a much larger space; this may entail renting a location
  • Cost will increase substantially, especially if you are serving food
  • Individuals can get "lost in the shuffle" in a large group. It's crucial to have everything well planned out and organized in advance!

Game Type

Your 3rd choice is whether you want an Interactive or Scripted game.

  • Interactive - Guests move and mingle freely with each other
  • Scripted - Guests read from script when prompted, often seated at table
Playing an interactive game. How to Host a Murder Mystery Party. #murdermysteryparty www.playingwithmurder.com
These guests are freely mingling with each other and improvising their characters in Last Stop: Murder, a train-themed mystery.

Interactive Games

Interactive games provide each guest with a sheet that explains their character’s details (goals, secrets, etc.). They then mingle and play their characters however they like!

Advantages:

  • More mingling and interaction
  • Encourages impromptu acting & humor
  • Guests have leeway in playing their character
  • Larger numbers of characters possible
  • Good for experienced players

Disadvantages:

  • Host must oversee party more carefully
  • Typically take more time to complete
  • Not the best option for groups of shy people that don't know one another
Playing a scripted game. How to Host a Murder Mystery Party. #murdermysteryparty www.playingwithmurder.com
This seated group is ready to begin their scripted mystery.

Good for certain groups

Because scripted games provide more direction, they are good for:

  • Children
  • Large groups
  • First-time players
  • Shy players
  • Groups that don't already know each other

Scripted Games

Scripted parties feature character cards that contain scripts that are read verbatim at certain points during the party (either in response to another player, when prompted by the host, or simply in a pre-set order.)

They are often played while seated around a table.

Advantages:

  • Provide specific instructions for the guests, which is helpful for more shy or inexperienced players
  • Easier to keep the mystery on track and running smoothly
  • Take less time than interactive parties

Disadvantages:

  • Gameplay may seem overly restrictive
  • Less impromptu acting and humor
  • Accommodates fewer players

Game Format

The 4th choice is whether you want a Downloadable or Boxed game. Downloadable mystery kits have become very popular because of their convenience, but boxed kits are still a good option, too. Alternatively, the very bold may even consider writing their own party.

Printing downloadable mystery party kit. How to Host a Murder Mystery Party. #murdermysteryparty www.playingwithmurder.com Playing with downloadable mystery party kit. How to Host a Murder Mystery Party. #murdermysteryparty www.playingwithmurder.com
Downloadable kits can be as easy as print-and-play!

Downloadable Party Kits

More and more murder mystery parties are being made available in an electronic format, since everything in a party kit can be printed (instructions, character sheets, nametags, voting sheets, etc.).

Advantages:

  • Instant access to your party after purchase
  • Endless reusability
  • Generally less expensive than boxed sets of comparable size
  • Simpler to customize and edit
  • Many themes to choose from
  • Supplemental media (sound files, e-vites and more)

Disadvantages:

The only real disadvantage to electronic mysteries is that they require you to print them yourself, which does add some small additional expense.

Boxed Party Kits

Boxed kits provide everything you need (script, character cards, clues and invitations) in one handy place.

Advantages:

  • High production quality and artwork
  • Ease of use
  • Ready to play with a minimum of preparation

Disadvantages:

  • Limited or no reusability
  • Greater expense typically
  • No ability to customize or edit the product
  • Fewer options to choose from
  • Most use "scripted" format (see Game Type)

Writing Your Own Party

If you are of a creative mindset, or if you just can’t find anything that matches your particular mystery party needs, you can always consider writing your own script!  This can be both challenging and time consuming, but if done right it can be very rewarding.  While the intricacies of creating your own party are beyond the scope of this guide, there are several resources online that will help get you moving in the right direction.  A good starting point for writing your own simple murder mystery can be found here.

Theme

The 5th (and final) choice you must make is the backdrop do you want for the party.

Role-playing characters from a different time period, background or geographical location is one of the most exciting elements of hosting a mystery party. Much of the night revolves around the theme, and there are literally hundreds of options to choose from! 

Here is a list of the most popular murder mystery party themes:

Theme Description Example
Casino Host runs casino games (e.g., blackjack, roulette) during the party. Fake money, of course! Casino: Dead Money
Roaring '20s Flappers, speakeasies, jazz, gangsters, etc. Jazz Age Jeopardy
High Society Recreate upscale parties of the wealthy and fabulous Murder in Manhattan
Transportation Set on a train (e.g., Orient Express), boat, plane or other vehicle that typically breaks down, trapping the guests. Last Stop: Murder
Old Mansion Set in a creepy old manor a la Clue The Terrible Castle of Baron Castaign
Mardi Gras Classic party theme that can be played year-round (if you don't feel like waiting until February)! Mardi Gras, Masks, Murder!
Sci-Fi Space travelers & aliens, scientists & experiments, futuristic settings Murder at the Nir Cantina
Pirate Arrr Matey! Often starts on a boat, which is then typically shipwrecked. And there's always treasure at stake! Pryce in Blood
Christmas/
Holiday
Mysteries for the holiday season. Many non-murder mysteries available. There Might Be No Christmas
Western Saloons, marshalls, outlaws, gambling
Fairy Tale Popular with all-female and children's parties. Typically no murder but some other form of mischief.
Historical Medieval, ancient Egypt and Roman times are all popular themes.
Hollywood A Hollywood star, starlet or other celebrity gets killed.
Haunted manor theme party. How to Host a Murder Mystery Party. #murdermysteryparty www.playingwithmurder.com
Haunted manor theme party
Sci-fi theme party. How to Host a Murder Mystery Party. #murdermysteryparty www.playingwithmurder.com
Sci-fi theme party
Casino theme party. How to Host a Murder Mystery Party. #murdermysteryparty www.playingwithmurder.com
Casino theme party

There are also an increasing number of specialty kits for particular niches:

  • Scavenger hunt-style mysteries
  • Wedding-based murder mysteries
  • Survival-horror mysteries
  • Birthday mystery parties
  • Clean mysteries that either don’t involve adult elements or don’t involve murder at all

Have fun with this choice! It will set the tone for your party.

If you want to continue researching possible themes, check out these murder mystery games.

Step 1 Review

Now that you have weighed the pros and cons, it's time to review your options and make your choices.

Venue:
  • Home
  • Organization's Space
  • Rented Space
  • Guest Count:
  • Small group
  • Medium group
  • Large group
  • Game Type:
  • Interactive
  • Scripted
  • Game Format:
  • Downloadable
  • Boxed
  • Theme:
    Which time & place will you recreate?

    Choose Your Game

    Use your decisions from Step 1 to help you choose the game for your party. There are many script options out there. A quick Google search will bring up countless vendors for every type and format of game.

    Playing With Murder sells both interactive and scripted games in downloadable format.
    If you would like to start your search here, we invite you to browse our games.
    shop_games

    Otherwise, if you want to save your search for later, the next two steps will give you more of an idea of what to expect when hosting your party.

    Continue to Step 2: Plan Your Party for an in-depth look at how to plan your party.

    Or you can read my How to Host a Murder Mystery Party Guide for an overview of the full hosting experience!