Last Saturday I hosted my first ever Murder Mystery Dinner Party. I was nervous about how it would go, but I am happy to say that it was fantastic. Everyone dressed up and we ate and drank and merrily tried to solve a murder. The game we played is called A ‘Sharpe’ Distinction by A Murder of Crows – Murder Mystery Games. They are relatively new and had a successful Kickstarter campaign where they launched A ‘Sharpe’ Distinction and coming soon ‘The ISS Constantine’. They graciously offered me a copy of the game to review and I am so glad I tried it.
The game is played with 10 guests choosing 1 of 10 characters. This can be done ahead of time as you send out invitations or you can choose at the start of the game. Each character has a sheet that describes their back story as well as characteristics that you can use during the game to sharpen those acting skills. Each character receives an envelope that contains additional information on your character, your alibi and motives surrounding the murder, your goals for the game, two ability cards, and your character’s secret. This should all remain confidential until the end of the game or you reveal them to the other characters. You can lie, eavesdrop, trade information, or use other techniques to piece together the story and ultimately solve the murder.
One of my guests had played two other murder mystery games before. So, although I am unable to compare this game to others, she gave some insight on how murder mystery parties usually go down. Typically, there will be a script and several rounds of dialogue. Everyone will sit around a table and read aloud their parts for the first round and discuss everything freely as a group. You will move on to round two and continue the game in this fashion until everyone is finished. If I compare this game to that description, I would say that ‘A Sharpe Distinction’ is much more dynamic and livelier. Each character knows one tenth of the story and it’s your job to gather that information. I can see the merits of both gameplays, but this game suited our party much better. It made it feel more like an actual party where you are free to wonder and talk to whomever you choose. The only things you need to accomplish are your goals. Where this might put some people off is very little direction is given. You may think you understand the story only to realize you were deceived or there was a whole other narrative going on that never came up in your line of questioning. It also made for a slow start as everyone needed 10-20 minutes to read through their character sheets and understand what was expected of them. Once we got past this initial crawl, everyone was off and having a great time.
The ability cards help push the game forward if you’re feeling stuck getting information from a particular character. Each character seemed to have one ability to gather someone’s secret and one to hide their own secret. You can only use the ability once for the game although several in our party forgot this and just kept using them. It didn’t help them a whole lot so it wasn’t a critical rule to enforce. The secret should remain a secret for as long as you can keep it. Once another character has this secret, they are free to tell anyone they choose for their own purposes.
There was 4-5 pieces of evidence that everyone can rustle through. This was a nice touch as it allows you to take a quick break and gather some additional clues for your investigation. One of the papers included a cipher which I thought would be a little difficult during the game. Only 2-3 guests were interested in solving it so it might be something not every gamer is willing to try. I knew it had to be simple since ciphers are generally time-consuming. One guest brought up a clue which I immediately knew was the key. One of the characters saw what we were doing and acted nervous and tried to distract us by offering us drinks. It’s the fun little interactions like this that made the game really pop.
Choosing the location for your party is important. Most of our party was located outside on the patio. We also had the kitchen where the food was served and the living room where the bar was located. I was mostly in the kitchen or living room for obvious reasons. Everyone agreed that having multiple rooms and areas to have private discussions made the game more fun and easier to prevent pesky eavesdropping. Finish off the atmosphere with some decorations or some prohibition era music and you’re golden.
Choosing your friends is another important decision. Picking a group that is willing to be in character and actively participate brings the story to life. My group all dressed up and some even went all out. My brother was packing some heat with some BB guns and shoulder holsters and one of the ladies playing Dina came with dark eye shadow and a goth look. Everyone looked great as you can tell from the pictures.
For food I followed the suggestions by the game as well. I had shrimp cocktails, deviled eggs, a cheese and meat platter with crackers, and several other finger foods. I ended up having way too much, but it allowed everyone to grab what they wanted or just continue their conversations into the kitchen. You could have a sit-down dinner but I think it would slow down the game or stifle your progress. It would also allow everyone to hear other’s conversations which might spoil the game if you are trying to keep secrets and discover other’s secrets.
The game says that it will last for 1-3 hours depending on the diligence of the participants. You can take breaks if you wish but because the game allows you to roam freely, we didn’t need one. We easily played the game for 3 hours before I decided to make a last call for everyone to achieve their goals and start the endgame. As host, it will be your job to judge the progress of your guests in the game and decide if everyone is getting tired or no longer playing. The conclusion starts when the host reads the final speech. Before the speech, our party came together and discussed all our findings and theories. From there I began reading the final speech which brings to light everyone’s secrets and ties all the narratives together. It’s only two pages but it was easily my favorite part of the night. There were several revelations that got everyone excited and laughing. As we covered what each character was up to, they had a chance to explain themselves and laugh about their difficulties trying to stay in character or keep a secret. We then concluded with the finale of the murderer’s identity. I think only two were able to guess correctly apart from the murderer of course. We all joked that it would be a crazy twist if the murderer didn’t even know.
I think a testament to how well the game was written is that our murder mystery party veteran was able to guess correctly. She told us that in the other two games she played, nobody was able to solve the murder. It’s very difficult in murder mystery stories to keep enough secrets and throw out enough red herrings to keep the mystery exciting. It’s extra challenging to make the game solvable. Everyone at the party had a motive and possible opportunities to murder the victim. As you sift through all the alibis however, there can only be one murderer, unless you’re on a train or something.
One possible issue that could arise is the fact that you need exactly 10 players for this game. A Murder of Crows said they can send you a modified version if you could only muster 8-9 or had a no-show. There’s also a version now with 12 characters that’s available if you can manage it. One way the game says you can get around this issue is to invite more people than needed and only have 10-12 play. You must be actively playing your character for a good 1-3 hours so that might not be very fun for the additional people. Those people might even get bored and sabotage your game a little since they have no stake in keeping secrets.
There are 4 female characters and 6 male characters in the 10-player version. The additional 2 players for the 12-player version are both female I believe. Two of the characters can be either gender and the art is simply an interpretation of that character. A Murder of Crows has stated that they can change any character to use genderless language if anybody feels uncomfortable playing a character of the opposite gender. One of our guests had to play a male character and she was a good sport about it. This cannot be helped unless you pick guests with the exact female to male ratio and you should just roll with the roles.
I believe the way A Murder of Crows has structured the game will make murder mystery parties much more appealing and inclusive. It’s dynamic and exciting to be forced to interrogate your friends or try to weasel information from them. The game releases that stuffy stigma that might come with a murder mystery party and really opens it up to several types of personalities. If you’ve ever played a murder mystery party before, this is a great game to change things up a bit. If you’ve never played one before, this is an awesome game to start with. I feel very accomplished to have my first murder mystery party to be such a success. This game helped make that happen with their great suggestions and well written story. Thank you A Murder of Crows! Never leave a murder mystery party unsolved!
-J.C. Mystery Detective
Check out their website to see other fun content like The ISS Constantine! https://crow.black/