History Of The Murder Mystery Party
Murder mystery parties are best described as a combination of the murder mystery genre and dinner theatre.
The murder mystery literary genre has been popular since the 1800s, and the history of crime fiction goes back even further than that. Authors like Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie brought their thrilling stories to the masses, keeping readers on the edge of their toes throughout each story.
However, as far as role-playing goes, the very first murder mystery game was Jury Box. Released in 1935 and manufactured by The Copp Clark Company, Jury Box had players portraying members of a jury who must decide whether a defendant is guilty or innocent. Unfortunately, Jury Box wasn’t terribly popular, The first murder mystery game to truly gain any traction was the board game Cluedo, which was released in 1948, and is actually still popular today.
The ‘80s saw a huge boom in murder mystery popularity. As early as the mid-‘70s murder mystery party kits began showing up on game store shelves, allowing anyone to host their very own murder mystery for guests in their own homes.
In 1981 events organiser Joy Swift created the very first murder mystery weekend getaway at a hotel in Liverpool, during which guests at the hotel were invited to help solve a mystery.
Following this, much larger-scale mystery dinner parties complete with actors would become a staple of dinner theatre in the years to come.
How To Host A Murder Game
Hosting a murder mystery dinner requires more preparation than the average dinner party. Let’s take a look at what you need to do to have the best murder mystery party ever:
1. Choose A Kit
First things first – you’ll need to get a murder mystery party kit to start with. You can buy kits buy off the shelf, which you can find online or at retail stores. Alternatively, you can order a fully customised mystery party kit from a specialised retailer.
2. Send Out Invitations And Confirm Attendance
Once you have a kit, you need to send out the invitations included in your murder mystery game to each person you’ve cast. These invitations may include story background, costume ideas, and initial clues.
It’s important to confirm the attendance of all invited guests, as each person will be assigned a character that they’ll be portraying throughout the night. Not only are some characters critical to the storytelling, but there’s also the chance that the assigned murderer won’t actually be at the party, which can be a major derailment. Some kits allow you to choose the murderer on the night itself to allow for no-shows.
3. Prepare Your Home
In the days leading up to the party, make sure that everything the kit requests is in place. Decorate and organise according to the theme if you choose to follow it.
4. Make The Dinner Courses
Make sure that you have a set number of courses in your menu that correspond to the number of scenes or storyline beats in your kit. That way, you can combine significant changes in the storyline with brand new flavours of food on the table.
Most murder mystery parties take about two to three hours to finish. It’s important to note that you don’t have to make the mystery the entire focus of your get-together! In fact, before you kick things off, you and your guests can catch up and enjoy each other’s company before starting the mystery with a bang. The shock value of a sudden interruption can add even more authenticity to the role-playing aspect of the game.
5. Announce The Game
When the game finally does begin in earnest, it’s up to you to judge how the reveal will be taking place. You can have everyone read the basic plot and background before dinner, or you can surprise everyone mid-meal and start the game by calling for everyone’s attention and reading out the introduction to the game.
How Much Does It Cost To Host A Murder Mystery Dinner Party?
Besides the food you prepare and whatever decorations you buy, the principal cost of a murder mystery dinner party will be the kit you use to govern the mystery.
The average cost of a murder mystery party kit is $USD 15-45 ($AUD 21-65). These may contain invitations, character info, props, script, audio CDs, and story guides. There are dozens of games created by dozens of companies, and each of them has their own unique storyline, so you’ll never run out of stories to tell.
If you don’t want to spend money on a kit, there are tons of free murder mystery party kits that you can look up online. They come with DIY printable invitations and theme ideas and may have options for scripted or improvised storytelling. Companies like My Mystery Party have both boxed and downloadable options.
How Many People Can Participate In A Murder Mystery Party?
Generally, most murder mystery party kits start at eight people and allow up to 14. There are kits for large groups, usually found online, that can scale up to as many as 24 people.
Very large murder mystery parties, which are usually held at special venues or dining halls, can have hundreds of people in attendance. These are definitely out of the scope of a normal dinner party at home though!
What Ages Are Murder Mystery Games Appropriate For?
Being that these murder mystery games are centred on grisly murders, the recommended age for murder mystery games is 16 and up.
However, for younger audiences, there are teen murder mystery party kits you can buy, and you can even find a mystery party for kids with plenty of room for age-appropriate, non-murder storylines that are still scary – perfect to keep the kids busy on Halloween.
What Are Some Good Murder Mystery Party Themes?
Many murder mystery party kits come with suggested themes and decoration ideas. Some of the best ones even allow for a very atmospheric historical feel; some have murders set in the decadent 1920s, while others can even take a Victorian-era old world theme. There are also 70s and 80s themed mysteries that can take place in clubs, complete with appropriate music.
Whatever you choose, it’s always nice to try to dress the part and have your dinner venue decorated accordingly. In fact, a murder mystery party can have similar elements to a costume party.
What Are The Prizes You Can Hand Out To Guests?
The real enjoyment of a murder mystery party is the game itself, but you can choose to give out prizes to your attendees for some added fun. One good prize idea is a fake police shot or mugshot with the ‘criminal’ who did it. You can also create a custom T-shirt with the date of the whole affair.
What Food Can You Serve?
For a sit-down murder mystery party designed to be held completely at the table, you can serve the usual multi-course dinner. You also can try to add a little macabre atmosphere to the whole affair by decorating your food with knives, nooses, and other murderous appearances.
For murder mysteries that require a little moving around, it’s best to serve finger food and appetisers, so that your guests won’t have to walk around with their plates.
Where Can You Find Murder Mystery Venues?
Hosting a murder mystery dinner party at home isn’t easy, so if you’re looking to get a prepackaged mystery hosted in a venue, there are plenty of options in major cities around the country.
In Sydney, there’s Murder Mystery Fun, which provides fully hosted options for venues around the city. Reserve a function room or dining hall and leave it to Murder Mystery Fun to coordinate the rest.
For Melbourne, Lime&Tonic offers hosted murder mystery dinners for a minimum of 20 people. The location will be kept secret from attendees until 48 hours before the dinner starts and will always take place at a restaurant within five kilometres of the Melbourne CBD.
In Perth, Cluedunnit offers various venues throughout the city and offers fully acted options and options where your own guests can be suspects.