Murder Mystery Party - My night at Farthingay Manor...

I was one of those kids. One of those kids who made a “carnival” with my brothers in our yard for the neighborhood to participate in (we’re talking carnival games, scheduled shows of magic, puppetry and science, and winning prizes from Oriental Trading and guppies from my parents’ fish tank). I was one of those kids who made “Summer Olympics” in August, complete with homemade flags from the countries we represented and a host of competitions throughout the week. My brothers and I made our own newspaper which we published for many years (and charged 10c a copy for—subscriptions received a discount). My mom threw the best Christmas parties with singing carols around the player piano, door prizes and playing “steal bingo” with the other kids. We decorated for every holiday, filled our lives with crafts and projects, wrote and filmed ourselves in movies, made up treasure hunts, scavenger hunts, smelling games. My mom made regular days in rural Central New York into events, and encouraged her 3 children to do the same.  I was extremely blessed to have grown up in a household of creativity before I even knew what the word meant. In fact, I never appreciated or understood how much creativity abounded in my childhood until I stepped back as an adult to view how unique and special my experiences were.  I give a huge thanks to my parents for that, and to my brothers who furthered that sense of entrepreneurship (we were always trying to make money!). I truly felt that any project we wanted to do was attainable with enough work, planning, and ingenuity.

 My dad playing a hunchback waiter at one murder mystery party-

My dad playing a hunchback waiter at one murder mystery party-

So as an adult, it was no surprise that it was my family who introduced me to the idea of Murder Mystery Parties.  And what an idea!  You get to act (always love that), be a bit ridiculous (fun!), eat (yum!) and accuse other people (inhibitions let loose!).  The basic structure consists of each guest being assigned a role (feel free to wear costumes), they receive a booklet or sheet containing points to share with others, inquire about, and try to hide from others (every character has his/her own mystery!). There might be rounds of play, where guests turn pages in their booklet to find out new information, or it might be only 1 sheet as they mix and mingle to solve the mystery. At the end, each player gets the chance to accuse someone of the murder.

My first experience was at my brother and sister-in-law’s house, retelling a distorted tale of Alice and Wonderland, sleuthing to figure out who stole the Queen’s tarts.  Alice was a “lady of the night,” there were drugs, deceit and dirtiness involved—and it was a whole lot of fun!

 My mom as Dr. Beverly Crusher in the Star Trek Mystery.

My mom as Dr. Beverly Crusher in the Star Trek Mystery.

From there, I played mysteries involving Star Trek characters, luaus, poisoned chocolate, fiestas and more.  I don’t think I’ve played as many as my parents have yet, but I’m gaining on them. I hosted my own first mystery in graduate school with the fabulous playwrights I wrote, critiqued and laughed with constantly. We had a blast.

Since then, I’ve hosted a handful of more mysteries and each one has been a fun time—primarily because the people I play with are those who are up for this challenge. They might be theatrical already (my playwright friends still attend), but even if they aren’t, they’re willing to get into their roles and let themselves go with the silliness of it.

So for my birthday this year, my husband and I hosted a murder mystery by Murder Mystery Games called Farthingay Manor. And this was probably the best mystery party I’ve participated in yet. So why should you consider giving this a try? At the risk of sounding like I’ve been asked to review this (not being paid here!), there are a few reasons why this mystery stands out above many of the others I’ve played:

1.       Characters are unique. Okay, this is true of just about any mystery party, but it’s worth pointing out. Characters are varied in mystery parties (at least the small ones), and they’re to the extreme!  This makes them fun, as if you were playing a mediocre role, what joy would that be? No, if you’re a nun, you’re going to play a judgmental nun, if you’re a singer, you’re going to have some tawdriness in your show business, if you’re a butler, you’re going to be a blackmailing one.  In most murder mysteries, you’ll be playing a character that is somehow over-the-top, and how often do you get to play like this?

2.       You have an actual chance at figuring out the murderer. Most of the boxed kits set you up to be able to accuse just about any character of the crime, and there is no real way to lean more toward one person than another. It’s almost designed to give you an equal chance of assuming any person has committed the murder. This is how all the other games I’ve played have been structured, and honestly, this doesn’t prevent us from having a good time.  It’s still fun to make up your theories and accuse. But it’s also nice, as in Farthingay, that there actually are real legitimate clues you can use to make your guess. It’s not too in depth (and shouldn’t be), but it’s enough so that you can make a real guess. Although, you can just as easily make up reasons for any of the characters to have committed the crime, and this is fun too!  Sometimes it’s hard to know what the guest is making up and what they’re conveying from their booklet!

3.       The action occurs live. Most boxed sets start the game after a murder has been committed. The guests are then briefed on the murder and the investigation starts. In Farthingay (and most of the murders at Murder Mystery Games), guests are assembled for another reason. Then once the game has already begun, one (or more) of the guests ends up dying right in front of them. Instructions are given out how to react and where to go, and from there, the investigation starts. Moving the action to the present, as any writer knows, makes it more immediate and exciting. It’s fun to watch your guest reel around as they’re being poisoned or stabbed, all in good fun.

4.       It’s simple. Nothing is too convoluted in this game. It’s easy to follow, not too much information is given. You can read it, enjoy it, convey it without having to get too complicated.

5.       It’s a good length. Probably because this has 2 murders in it, the action is broken up so that it never felt slow or drawn out. There were 8 pages in the booklet, but they went by quickly. Of course, you can draw them out to make them last if you choose to, but you could easily get through the whole story in an hour if you wanted to. But if you want to make it last over an evening with drinks, apps, entrée and dessert, you certainly can. I think ours took a few hours with the meal included, taking our time.

6.       There are several interesting twists. There are usually twists in murder mystery games, as this is what makes it exciting. But I feel the twists in this mystery were well laid out, coming at the right moments to keep you interested, and there was just the right amount.

 A 1950s Hollywood themed mystery party I hosted.

A 1950s Hollywood themed mystery party I hosted.

In short, I will definitely be going back to Murder Mystery Games to buy more mysteries. I scoured the internet for a good 6 person mystery before finally landing on this one.

In fact, I bought another mystery from Shot in the Dark Mysteries which, hands-down, has the best website of all the mystery sites (I have no idea why, but murder mystery websites are classically unappealing in their design). This girl knows how to market and tailor to her audience. She works in the “mix and mingle” category, meaning, you read your sheet, put it down and just mingle for the rest of the night, putting into play the character, mysteries, and discoveries of the sheet.  The mystery I bought from her seemed pretty much to be the classic style (like Farthingay and most boxed sets), except instead of being in 8 rounds, it was just 1 round, including all your info.  You’d walk around, talk in secret or form alliances. This is fine, and might be terrific for a large group of teens or for a holiday party (or if you just want a shorter mystery), but I didn’t think it would work well with 6 people; we might be finished with it in 20 minutes!

I am very glad that I also bought Farthingay, because it turned out to be a splendid time. And I use the word splendid because it just seems fitting for a mystery party like this.

 A surprise "murder" at Farthingay Manor...Death by chopstick...held in the corpse's hand...

A surprise "murder" at Farthingay Manor...Death by chopstick...held in the corpse's hand...

So if you’re looking for an unusual or unique way to celebrate a birthday (like me), or if you just want to offer an interesting night to some friends, consider trying out a murder mystery party. Other than my family, and the friends that I always invite to my mysteries, I don’t know anyone else who has done one. Perhaps this is more popular outside of the US?  It seems most of the companies are based elsewhere.  Maybe people are intimidated by the idea, maybe they haven’t heard of it before, or maybe they just didn’t grow up where you have to make your own entertainment in your back yard.

In any case, if you are open to giving it a try, hopefully you'll enjoy it, and regardless, you will have a story to tell about that wacky night when you all pretended that you were stuck in a 1920s haunted mansion in England, or in a chocolate factory, or on a deserted island.  Those are memories, baby.

Share your thoughts: Have you played a murder mystery game before? What kind have you enjoyed? Do you have any advice for people new to this type of game?