It’s become an almost annual tradition for me to host a murder mystery party for my birthday. This year I was lucky enough to have TWO of them (virtually of course #stupidcovid)!
Since most of us are back in lockdown and are looking for fun ways to virtually interact with people, I thought it might be helpful to provide my tips to host a virtual murder party. In this post I will give you a run down of how to host a virtual murder mystery party, review the ones that I have tried, along with some tips on how to host your own murder mystery party (perfect for holidays, new years, or birthdays!).
Doesn’t this look like so much fun?!
The Virtual Party
This year I was feeling a bit bummed about my 40th birthday being pretty much cancelled due to COVID. Originally I had planned a big trip with my girlfriends and another with J to really enjoy this year. But since a pesky travel ban and lockdown got in the way of that. I decided I would make the best of it and at least have a party. In previous years, I have always hosted an in-person murder mystery dinner party complete with themed food, decor and costumes. It is always loads of fun and everyone really gets into it! But with the news of impending holiday lockdowns and restrictions on gatherings I knew an in-person party out of the question. So I decided to turn things virtual and host my own virtual murder mystery party!
Unbeknownst to me, a few weeks before I decided to host my own party, my sister had also decided she would throw me a surprise virtual murder mystery party too!!! So her and my husband worked behind the scenes to plan their own party. They also made sure I invited a different group of friends to my party, while they planned one with all of my cousins – I planned one with our close friends and virtual game night crew that had formed during the first lockdown. I’ll share the details of how both parties wend down (don’t worry there won’t be any spoilers) and how we pulled off two virtual parties this year. As well as the pros and cons of going virtual for this kind of party.
Virtual v. Non-Virtual Murder Mystery Parties
All murder mystery parties I have done so far follow a very similar process.
You purchase a package of PDF downloads that help you set up the party. The price ranges from $50 to $100 depending on the number of guests you are expecting.
The package will include instructions, character lists, and descriptions for each participant, there will be additional documents or ‘evidence’ or ‘clues’ that will be shared at different times throughout the party. Information is revealed by each character a little at at time, and eventually, once all the information is revealed, everyone gets to piece together all the facts and vote who they think the murderer is before the solution is revealed. And there is also a chance for everyone to vote for best sleuth, best dressed, best acting etc.
As the host, you will need to prepare a bit and read the character descriptions to assign characters to each person (I like to assign based on personalities that I think would suit that character). The best part is that you do not need to read ahead and find out who the killer is if you don’t want to! So even the host can be a character and play along! There are other mystery games that are set up so the host has to know who the killer is, but I have not tried any of those because I like to be in on the game too!
Most virtual murder mystery parties I have seen on average have about 4 to 20 characters (some in-person games can even go as high as 100 guests for larger gatherings!). Depending on the party you decide on, there will be a certain minimum number ‘mandatory characters’ that you need to run a proper game. These characters are integral to the story and cannot be skipped so make sure you assign those characters to people you know are going to attend. The rest of the characters are optional, so if you don’t have anyone to play that role, or if someone with that role drops out at the last minute, your game won’t be ruined.
For a virtual party I recommend no more than 20 people though as that takes about 2-3 hours to get through a game with that many people. And it becomes hard to track characters! The ideal number I think would be anywhere between 8 to 15 people. Both my parties had about 18 participants and it did worked well, but both ran really long because we had to allow time for each person to speak in turn. So keep that in mind when planning your party.
For in-person parties, you can definitely have more people, and I find even spectators had a great time trying to listen in on the different conversations happening around the room and trying to solve the mystery. But in a virtual game, I find the spectators are not participating as much so I don’t know how much fun it is for them.
I have tried three different types of mystery games from different vendors. I have hosted and participated in several in-person parties using the Night of Mystery games and have loved them! (I also note that Night of Mystery does offer virtual mysteries now, so I might try those out next time to see how they compare). This year we tried two different virtual murder mystery parties from: Red Herring Games – The Great British Bump Off and My Mystery Party – Murder in 1985 .
Here’s a brief review of each of the companys that I have tried.
Night of Mystery
In the past I have really enjoyed hosting non-virtual murder mystery parties from Night of Mystery. The few that I have tried from them in the past include:
- Murder of a Millionaire – My very first murder mystery party! It was a good one and still my favourite. And nobody guessed who the murderer was. I’d say this one is definitely challenging!
- Murder in the Juice Joint – A great 1920’s themed party. Dressing up for this one was super fun!
- Murder Among the Mateys – A fun pirate themed party.
- Once Upon a Murder – Featuring all your favourite fairy tale characters! Even the kids loved seeing their parents dress up for this one!
- Lights Camera Murder – A fabulous Hollywood themed party.
I found all of the mysteries I have done from Night of Mystery always had a great themes and characters. The level of complexity in their mysteries is really good. They make it a challenge to work out who the murderer is. You really have to be paying close attention to all the clues throughout the game. Very few people could actually figure out who dunnit for most of these games. Part of that might be that an in-person party it is a lot harder for any one person to catch all the details and facts that each character has to reveal. There can be a lot of scheming going on between characters in secret, and so it is harder to solve the mystery overall.
These parties also have an added element of bribery. Each player is given money so they can bribe and get information out of other players. It’s always fun to see how people negotiate these deals between each other and see who made the most ‘money’ in the end! (I am not sure how this plays out in a virtual setting as I have not tried their virtual games yet – if you do let me know!).
Their PDF game packages are quite lengthy. But do contain a lot of really great information and extras like invitations, signs and decor that can be used to help set up your party room/home for an in-person party. You do need a colour printer (or make a quick trip to the printers) to prepare your materials for the party. I loved making individual themed envelopes for the guests to give them their character info when they got to the party. Some envelopes would have secret additional information like the murder weapon or some cryptic message to reveal to the group. And revealing the final solution envelope was always fun to open and share with the group! It always lead to so much discussion after!
People always get really into their characters and it is always so surprising how good the acting is in the group!
I keep going back to this one as I find the quality and details of the story always really good. I highly recommend them for in-person murder mystery parties. And I hope to try their virtual parties at some point too!
Red Herring Games
This UK based murder mystery game company has several virtual murder mystery games for between 6 to 20 guests. The game we played was called: The Great British Bump Off. It can be played with an ‘inspector’ who knows the outcome and basically is like the guide who makes sure things move along properly till the end. Or if you want to keep the whole mystery as surprise, don’t assign the Inspector as a character, and just have someone read the inspectors part as things progress. The pdf packages are really nicely set out. Everyone gets emailed their roles along with some brief character background to help them get into their role before the party.
For this game J played the ‘inspector’ and he did read ahead so knew who the killer was. So he didn’t get to participate in the mystery solving part. But it was helpful for him to help keep things moving and revealing the necessary clues and evidence at the right time.
The whole mystery took 18 of us about three hours to complete with a couple of short 10 minute breaks. It flowed quite well, and everyone seemed to do a good job of speaking in turn and getting the information out as needed. There were a total of three rounds to the game, and in each round there was a short 5-minute scripted portion, to get things going, then a kind of free speaking round where each person can speak whenever they want with a list of key points or questions to ask other characters. At the end of the three rounds we voted to see who we thought was the killer and then the answer was revealed by the ‘inspector’.
I liked how the information each character received in each round had key questions to ask other characters, that really helped make the whole thing feel like a natural conversation was happening as we were discussing the information in each round. I did not love the ‘scripted’ part at the beginning of each round. But it didn’t detract from the overall experience. It just felt a bit stiff as people read off their script.
Overall I would say this was the easier of all the murder mysteries I’ve done and almost everyone was able to figure out who the killer was in the end. I think it was because in a virtual setting everyone has a chance to hear all the evidence, rather than in an in-person setting where you might not catch what everyone is saying as people discuss things in smaller groups. But that didn’t take away from the overall fun of the party. And there were some pretty hilarious accents people tried out for their characters! I liked how each persons ‘script’ helped us ask specific questions of other characters. That part seemed to flow really well. This was a long one though. I think we went for a total of three and a half hours!
My Mystery Party
My Mystery Party is a US based company with about 16 specifically virtual murder mystery games. Each game can be played with between 4-10 players but many also offer an expansion pack that let you add up to 6 more characters and as many ‘spectators’ as you like. Spectator don’t play an active role, but they do get a chance to act as ‘cops’ who get to watch as everyone speaks, and then they can help solve the mystery with everyone as things unfold.
We played the ‘Murder in 1985‘ game with a total of 16 characters and a couple of spectators (I bought the basic and expansion pack). This game lasted about two and a half hours with one short break. I liked how this game actually has short videos that you can play and share screen with everyone to set up the context of each round. After the video plays each person had a list of three things they need to reveal about themselves to the group. Each person took turns revealing their information before there was a puzzle that we all had to solve as part of the evidence. After both rounds were over, we debated over who we thought the killer was and then voted before playing the big reveal video!
The interactive and multimedia element of this game was a really nice touch. I shared my screen and played the video for everyone to set the stage. It really made it feel like we were solving this thing together.
They also provide a few bonuses that I felt made this game very different from others I have played. There was a ‘pre-game’ element that gave each character a task to text a few other characters the day before the game. I think this really helped everyone get into the game and broke the ice quite nicely for people that may not have known each other. There were also themed bonus quizzes that we could have chosen to play if we wanted to keep the game going longer. But we never got to that part. The mystery game itself was long enough!
I thought the characters in this game were really fun. They provided much more background information and suggested costumes to each player before the game so each person could really get into their character. I did find that the instruction file for the host was quite long and tedious though. Information was not very logically set out, so I had to really look for information in several different places to piece it all together. And in the end I did miss revealing a key piece of evidence that might have made it easier to solve the mystery. This is partly my fault for not following the checklist properly. But I do feel it all could have been much better set out to avoid this confusion.
But even so, this one was loads of fun! I loved the pre-game part. It felt like people really got into their characters and when we all got on the actual call, it felt like we had already been partying together! I would definitely try another game from them again, but wish the instruction file was much better laid out and easier to follow especially when in the middle of a game!
After hosting so many, I do have a few tips and tricks on how to host a murder mystery party and especially now that things are virtual.
Tips to Host a Successful Virtual Murder Mystery Party
- Get organized – ideally you should give yourself a few weeks to plan things properly. It can all be done in less than a week, but you really want to give your guests a some notice so they can properly prepare and get costumes if they want to get dressed up for the big party! Also assigning roles and confirming your ‘required’ characters are going to be available can be a challenge so give yourself some time to plan this.
- Keep your guest list to less than 20 guests – Any more than that and it will become hard to follow and take longer than 3 hours to get through each character’s information. If you have more people, try combining guests so one couple or household group can play one character so everyone feels included.
- Assign and Confirm your Characters Carefully– This is very important. I always make sure to assign ‘required’ characters to those people who I know are trustworthy, will do a good job of playing the role well, and whom I know I can count on to be there for the whole party (since one of them is likely to be the murderer or have vital information that needs to be shared!). So assign the important roles to the people that you trust the most – you know who they are. I also like to assign roles based on personalities and whom I think will play a certain character well. Give the optional roles to the friends you know know will likely ‘flake’ on you (there’s always a few) so you aren’t left stressing out or scrambling at the last minute to reassign roles! Inevitably it will happen, but if you plan ahead and make sure to confirm with everyone a few days before the party, it will help reduce the stress on the day of!!!
- Organize your Files – For a virtual party, there are a lot of digital files you need to be able to sort through. If you like organizing this task is for you! I created a folder for my ‘invites’ with the invitation, character list and character info to send each person. I created another folder for the host files which contained all my instruction files as the host. Finally, I created a separate folder for the ‘party’ and further split that into a sub-folder for each round and the solution files, to make sure during the party I would reveal the information at the right time. I put all the relevant files into each folder (making sure not to read anything that would spoil the outcome for me). That way when party time came I wasn’t scrambling for the information.
- Create themed goodie bags – Normally I would make themed food, and decor for an in-person party. This time, to give it a more personal touch, I decided to make goodie bags with some theme related treats and fun toys. I dropped off these treat bags for each of my guests a week before the party.
- Have a good internet connection and use good virtual meeting software – This seems pretty obvious but it is important that everyone attending has a reliable internet connection, good speakers and mike. If they need help setting up, do this before hand. Personally I like using Zoom (they limit to 1 hour for free, but if you pay your party can go for as long as you like. And then you can just cancel afterward). Google Meet, or Skype also work really well. Just pick something you or most of your guests are familiar with so you are not scrambling to figure things out the day of.
- Use a Virtual Questionnaire to gather votes – At the end of the game everyone gets to vote who they think the killer is, the best dressed, and best actor. You can have everyone write it on a piece of paper and hold it up to the camera. But my favourite way to gather votes is to create a quick free online questionnaire (try google forms or survey monkey). That way you can gather the votes in secret and then share your screen to reveal the votes!
- Share your screen to share evidence – Use your virtual meeting setup to your advantage. Share evidence to the screen so everyone can get a look together. This helps make it feel like we are all in the same room looking at it together.
- Use virtual backgrounds to keep with the theme – Encourage people to change their virtual backgrounds. Virtual meeting software like zoom and google meet allow you to do this for free. One person had a really good moving background that went well with his character. It really helps set the mood!
- Change your name to match your character’s name on screen – Zoom allows you to change your name on screen to match your character, which helps everyone keep track of who is who. Just don’t forget to change it back at the end or your next work meeting will be very interesting!
- Don’t forget to hit record! – Don’t be like me – I got so into the game I totally forgot to hit record at the beginning of our party! So we only ended up recording half of it. So just remember to get online a bit early and hit record before you get started! Or assign this task to someone else so you don’t forget! There are always some good laughs and accents you will wish had been recorded!
Pros and Cons of Virtual Murder Mystery Games
|Pros of Going Virtual||Cons of Going Virtual|
|You are not limited to guests from your area code! I had friends from Calgary join my party in Toronto! The only limit really is your time zones!||It is much easier to solve the mystery as everyone is on an equal footing hearing the same information at the same time.|
|You don’t need to leave the house!||You don’t get to see everyone in person and as a character you are only limited to acting and showing only what can be seen on screen -from the waist up.|
|You only need to dress up from the waist up.||Limits the number of ‘characters’ you can have to less than 20, to keep the timing of the game to a reasonable amount.|
|You can order whatever food you like. No need to worry about food preferences of your guests!||You can’t decorate as much – no themed food or decor (although this could be a pro – as you save money on this!)|
|No need to worry about how to get home if the party runs late!||Seems less fun for spectators as they don’t really get to interact with the characters on screen|
|It is cheaper – no cost for decor, food, drinks etc.||More expensive – but definitely much more impressive if you really go all in on the theme.|
Overall, it was loads of fun to host a virtual murder mystery party and after each one, I just want to have another one! I can’t wait for next years game!
Have you hosted a murder mystery party before? Got any more tips? Share below!