Τhe air was crisp on that November evening, in our desolate little town. Howling winds raged in the darkness and barren cottonwoods swayed in the furor. A cluster of fallen leaves straggled across the street like a gang of miscreants, and a dog barked in the distance to the rhythmic sounds of footsteps crunching across the newly fallen snow.
Out of the blustery umbra a bristly figure appeared in the moonlight, undaunted by the fierce weather around him. He approached the old house, mounted the rickety front porch steps, and lumbered towards the entrance, making the windows of the dwelling shudder with each quaking stride. An abandoned cob web snagged against his cumbersome wool coat as he reached to open the door. Grasping the tarnished brass knob in his strong clutches and turning it slowly, the heavy, weatherbeaten door screeched open on its hinges. A tiny mouse squeaked and scurried beneath his feet as he stepped across the threshold into the darkened room.
A mysterious, persistent smell invaded his nostrils and wafted in the air eventhough an eerie silence hinted the old house was empty. Gloom hung thick in the room. Lurking silhouettes hunched as ominous obstacles throughout the quarters making it hard for him to set a course. Beyond the menacing shadows he glimpsed a faint light from an outside street lamp peeping through a kitchen window, illuminating a meager corridor into the next room.
Pursuing the glow, the stalwart man drew near to the entrance of the kitchen, where the narrow rays of soft yellow light exposed a dreadfully macabre scene and what appeared to be a bloody knife left precariously behind on the countertop.
Was he too late? Had someone beat him there?
His heart throbbed in his chest. He reached for a weapon. His mind raced for what to do next. All-at-once the looming silence was broken by a shrill screech from a far-off room, and then a startling crash.
The man lunged in the direction of the racket, adrenaline pulsating in his veins. Goaded by masculine fortitude, he felt his way along the walls as he slithered surreptitiously down the staircase. His eyes were pinned open as he scanned the darkness for any slight movement. Struggling to control his erratic breathing he bravely decended to the bottom step where suddenly, out of the obscurity, a boney, emaciated figure crashed into him and groaned. The man gasped in surprise…
Did I have you going? Did I? Wringing my hands and cackling a wicked little laugh. Hee hee hee hee hee hee hee. Oh, how fun. Alright, here’s the reality behind this teaser. The intruder was actually my husband coming in from work. The house was dark because, well, it’s November, and I’d been on the computer most the afternoon since putting supper in the crock pot earlier in the day and hadn’t noticed that the sun had gone down, so none of the lights were on in the house upstairs, and unfortunately for husband I had rearranged all the furniture that morning as well, so that’s why the room was hard for him to walk through.
When I heard his footsteps upstairs it was right about at the same moment I had just discovered the perfect idea for my mystery-loving Mom’s birthday party, which sent me bolting to my feet and squealing with delight. In the chaos my chair fell backwards to the floor with a deafening crash. I just left it lay and hurried to greet my loving man. That’s when our bodies collided at the bottom of the stairs. And there you have the inspiration for my little attempt at fictional writing. How did I do? Meh…don’t quit my day job, right? 🙂
How to Host a Murder is a long-running series of boxed murder mystery games published by Decipher, Inc. Players take on the roles of suspects after a murder has occurred, all attempting to expose which one of them is the murderer.
Decipher Games may be out of business now, but their games live on and are available at Amazon.com, eBay, and several online game stores like Funagain Games. I have also found them at garage sales and thrift shops. If you Google the titles (I’ve listed most of them below), several buying options should come up. The games first came out in the early/mid eighties, and most have been revised and updated. Definitely look for the newer versions. They are just so much better written, and the very newest ones will include a CD instead of a cassette.
Your game box should include:
A cassette tape (or CD)
A host guide with instructions
A sheet of secret clues
8 Guest invitations and envelopes
8 Name tags
8 player manuals, containing secret information
A diagram of the crime scene
Optional dinner and costume suggestions
This is how your party will basically play out:
You choose your guests (you’ll need seven of them plus yourself makes eight), send out the invitations (included) at least a couple weeks in advance, and provide the meal and beverages. Each guest’s invitation includes a leaflet about the character that they will be playing. Your guests will be searching second hand stores, vintage clothing shops, Salvation Army, and costume stores for the perfect outfit to wear, and they will be studying up on their character so they can get their part just right for the night of the party. Participants are to come to the party in costume and in character. Give your guests suggestions for where to find costumes, and give them time to round them up.
As the host you also will have your character to play, and therefore will need the same preparation. In addition, you will be serving a suggested three course meal (usually fairly easy), which you will need to prepare ahead of time. You might choose to decorate as well, and have some sort of music to lend atmosphere while guests are reading their scripts and eating. The cassette or CD will also include some background music, and it will have all the narrative to explain the game to the guests. All you do is press the play button.
The game comes with booklets for each character, which you hand out at the start of your party. They resemble play scripts. You will gather your guests around and play the cassette/CD at the beginning of your party. It will explain everything, instruct everyone on what they are to do, and set the scene. You and your guests will play the game in three acts (each act being made up of one part: reading scripts, so everyone knows what their character did and did not do, and then the second part: aggressively interrogating the other guests, and being aggressively interrogated, in an effort to piece together the mystery). A course of supper will be served at each intermission.
THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE GUILTY, because it takes place in the little Wyoming Territorial town of Roadkill (on July 2, 1881). In response to a warm invitation from His Honor, Judge Waylon Payne, I invited my guests to be gathered in his home beside the courthouse, in the heart of town, for a sumptuous dinner. Dinner was to be followed by the hanging of the infamous, formerly elusive Malevolent Seven – a villainous gang of criminals rumored to have secretly victimized our fair territory for many years. Although no one knew the identity of the Malevolent Seven, my guests and I spent the evening figuring it out. Assuming the role of an Old West Character we solved the murder that occured just before the festivities, by using the clues provided, the crime scene diagram, etc., and in the process exposed the many secrets of Roadkill, Wyoming.
I set the scene of my party by decorating the living room and dining room with western theme decorations I found at our local party store. They had a swinging saloon door that I hung in the doorway to the kitchen, and another in the doorway to the bathroom. I decorated my table with gunny sack material covered with a clear plastic table cloth, and used bandanas for napkins, and piled the center of the table with a couple of old revolvers, some spent bullet casings, and a vase of roses. I threw some saddle blankets over the couches and draped a lasso off the back rest. I also found a great CD of old west wagon train music that I had playing when guests arrived.
Legendary Butch Chastity is the first lady of outlaws. Her all-woman gang are the Amazons of the American West. There’s nothing coy or dainty about Butch. She can drink her fellow outlaws under the table; she can hold her own in a game of poker; she can rob a stagecoach in record time; and she can kill a man just as soon as look at him-and often does. In her secret hide-out, a place called the Hole in the Mud, Butch plans the most daring of heists, including her many famed train robberies. It has been rumored that Butch has gotten away with more gold than any outlaw alive. Costume Suggestion: Dungarees or jeans, boots, suspenders, gun belt, pistol, holster, bandanna and cowboy hat.
When a mysterious lone gunslinger rides into some dusty western town, it’s usually P’elvis Swagarin. Solemn, poker-faced, bowlegged-he’s a cowboy’s cowboy. Born Peter Elvis Swagarin, he’s P’elvis to those who know him. He’s a man with no belongings but the shirt on his back, his gun and his saddle….a man who sleeps beneath the icy stars, a horse his only companion. P’elvis appeared out of the prairie heat just two days ago, and ever since he arrived, the whole town of Roadkill has been whispering in hushed tones, wondering who he is and what he wants… Costume Suggestion: Dungarees or jeans, chaps, boots and spurs, suspenders, gun belt, pistol, holster, bandanna and cowboy hat.
Matriarch of the Handcart clan, Helena is the mother of the Handcart boys: all thirteen of them. Billy-Bob, Bobby-Rae, Little Ricky, Martin and Lewis, Harpo, Groucho, Sleepy, Sneezy, Manny, Moe and Jack. Oh-and, of course, the Beav. Unfortunately, she had to bury all thirteen of her sons after they were tragically killed in a shoot-out at a dairy farm. The now infamous gunfight at the Parkkay Corral left her with nothing but memories. A strong woman, she has been able to survive, although most of the time she remains secluded on the sprawling Handcart Ranch, managing the family cattle business. Helena owns half the territory and never lets anyone forget it. Costume Suggestion: Long black skirt with matching blouse, brooch, gloves, bonnet.
CHIEF BREAKING WIND
Chief Breaking Wind is the distinguished leader of the Cowpai tribe-an honorary position these days, since the entire Cowpai tribe fell victim to a mysterious disease several years ago and perished. Still, the stoic chief keeps his traditions alive, trusting that, with his help, the Cowpai will rise again. Unwillingly relieved of his tribal responsibilities, the chief has since opened a successful barber shop in town and, ignorant historical references notwithstanding, hasn’t scalped a soul. Still, no one ever angers the chief. Costume Suggestion: War paint and a breechclout for the truly adventurous; loose-fitting trousers, tunic with embroidered or painted symbols, native-design blanket, moccasins or soft, slouchy boots, black braids, feather headdress. (I also brought along a woopie cushion).
Elvira-Lynn is the consummate soiled dove and makes no bones about it, so to speak. She’s known throughout the territory, and there’s even that famous saloon song written about her- My Heart Burns for You, and Other Places, Too. She’s the proud madam of the Pigeon Ranch, the best little you-know-what in Roadkill. Since Judge Waylon Payne is one of her steadiest clients, the law does a good job of looking the other way. To look at her now, you’d never guess she was born in the gutter and suffered a sickly childhood, battling everything from consumption to bubonic plague. But now she spreads, among other things, sunshine wherever she goes. Costume Suggestion: Low-cut blouse, corset, garters and patterned hose, be-ribboned bloomers, fancy hat with feather plumes, cigarette holder.
Wyatt Hertz is by far the most famous lawman in the West. He kept the wild frontier town of Roadkill under tight control, keeping the locals in line with an iron fist of fear. That is, until a shotgun blast caught him in the tender parts. Legend has it that Wyatt was ambushed by the vicious Partridge Family gang, and he didn’t stand a chance. That was a year ago. Since then, he’s retired, letting Judge Waylon Payne reign as both sheriff and justice of the peace. Now Wyatt runs a lucrative rent-a-horse business. He never lost a gunfight, and some folks believe he could take out a whole gunslingin’ gang with a single round from his six-shooter. Costume Suggestion: Dungarees or trousers, full-cut white shirt with black scarf or bolo, brocade vest.
DEE ADELA MUERTE
She is known as just Adela to her friends. Adela is a Mexican beauty with the most pious of spirits but is plagued by bad luck. She’s been thrice-widowed-each time as a newlywed. Her first husband, a local politician, died shamefully during one of his secret outings to the Pigeon Ranch. Her second husband, the town pastor, died while preaching, and her third husband, the town undertaker, keeled over from exhaustion while planting the thirteen Handcart boys. Now poor Adela is left to deliver Sunday sermons and forced to become town undertaker. Still, she knows that she will rise above her misfortune. Until then, she’ll continue to wear her black mourning veil. Costume Suggestion: Black blouse and long skirt, black gloves, large hat heavily draped with black net or tulle.
Young Elias is an up-and-coming heart-throb gunfighter. He can dazzle spectators with his quick draw and a spin from his guns, and when he’s not showing off his slinging skills, he’s demonstrating his pugilistic prowess. He’s known as the best brawler west of the Mississippi and comes out of every fight with nary a scratch. Orphaned as a boy, Elias was raised under the firm, wise hand of Judge Waylon Payne. After a patriotic stint with the U.S. Cavalry, Elias returned home to Roadkill and to the women who adore him. Costume Suggestion: Tight dungarees or jeans, half-unbuttoned plaid shirt showing genuine or applied chest hair, sideburns, mustache, bandanna tied at neck, gun belt, pistol, holster, boots and cowboy hat.
Not knowing what we were doing at first, we started out a little slow and timid, but in the end had a total blast!!!! The weather was the worst it could have possibly been outside with heavy snow and burly winds, but all my guests showed up, dressed charmingly, in character, and all were excited to play. If I’d have given out awards, Karen would have won the Emmy for her character performance of the saloon girl. She was a riot. This particular title suggested that the host make a roast chicken for supper (super easy – most grocery stores have these available in the deli), but having played the game I would suggest that you make a nice beef stew instead, and that is easily accomplished in a crock pot. I won’t tell you why the stew. You’ll have to just trust me.
I would also like to make this little warning. These games are a little racy. Especially the saloon girl’s part, and Wyatt and Butch’s parts as well (in this version we played). It’s not X-rated or anything like that, I wouldn’t say even R-rated really, and there is no explicit language that I remember, but the subject matter is maybe a little PG-13. The box warns that you need a sense of humor and a light-hearted attitude toward deceit, larceny, sex, and murder. But, the box also says, How to Host a Murder is so much fun, it’s almost criminal, and it really is.
If you or your guests would be offended at some of the “adult” themes, there are some teen mysteries you could try instead. Decipher has created three teen versions.
Some titles in Decipher’s How to Host a Murder (Adult) line-up are:
The Watersdown Affair (…finds you at the Watersdown Mansion, a 1930s English mansion and the elegant home of Sir Roger Watersdown. This colorful narrative includes characters such as Dr. Malcom K. T. Praktiss, the personal physician, the actress Miranda T. Shetes, the mystery author, the attorney, the socialite and more! Theres no shortage of suspects, glamour or scandal in this winding tale of murder, sex and deceit! This boxed game even includes invitations, a CD with period music, menu suggestions and more! Bring the game to life with costumes, props and theatrical flair for a party everyones dying to attend!
Powar and Greede (in this title players are guests of the producer W. Anton Powar. At a gala, guests find out that 1936 is curtains for a mutual friend).
The Grapes of Frath (set in June 1925, aboard a yacht in the Mediterranean. The Fraths have invited several “friends” for a cruise. In a secluded bay of a Mediterranean island, murder is discovered and the passengers must decide who amongst them has committed the crime).
The Last Train From Paris (Players role-play their parts, to figure out the murderer while dining in a train car during World War II).
Archaeologically Speaking, It’s The Pits (Arthur E. Faxe, the eccentric entrepreneur and amateur archaeologist, sails this month for ancient Mesopotamia in search of human fossils and in the hope of proving the Darwinian Theory of Evolution. Faxe has chosen a region of the Tigris-Euphrates Valley known since ancient times as Vages for the site of his expedition. This area is distinguished by an immense and prominent boulder that can be seen for miles and is known locally as the Rock of Vages. A small cleft, or opening, at the base of the rock is the site of an unusual collection of fossils. The cleft, discovered in 1854 by French archaeologist, Henri Formie, is described in scientific literature as Rock of Vages, Cleft Formie. By arrangement with the local government, Faxe and his entourage will establish an extensive camp in an abandoned military fort near the archaeological site and overlooking the Tigris River.)
Hoo Hung Wu (I have heard that this is a hard one. Some loved it; some hated it. The setting: The Autumn Moon Festival in eighth-century China, celebrated between two families).
♥ The Chicago Caper (This is a fun one that my crew has also played. Loved the costumes for this one!!! It is September 1928 in Chicago. Guests receive an invitation to S.P. Keasys place, a private club near the headquarters of notorious gangster Hal Cappone. Upon arriving, Hal is discovered murdered).
The Class of ’54 (Join the Roley High class of 1954 as they celebrate their fifth reunion with a performance by their most illustrious graduate, Rock N. Roley. You and your guests can enjoy burgers, fries and a cherry coke or malt (ambitious hosts can stick with the suggested menu of brandied pot roast) while you investigate the murder of a beloved rock star. The cassette tape, features a malt shop atmosphere and Sargent Joe Flighty’s tough-cop narrative, goes a long way toward setting the mood. Solve the murder of Rock N. Roley and expose the truth about the tragic death of Becky Sue Lamour on that fateful Homecoming night. A four-hour mystery dinner party for eight people).
The Duke’s Descent (You are invited to Airesborne Castle, family seat of the Dukes of Airesborne. Assume the role of one of the potential heirs to the title. Imagine your home is an English castle as you and your dinner guests enjoy hours of suspense and intrigue).
Tragical Mystery Tour (The Tragical Mystery Tour finds you among the tuned-in and turned on, off on a cross-country road trip to Beefstock with one of the hippest rock singers of all time. While you’re hanging out at her love pad, an explosion rocks the house. The psychedelic bus has been turned to dust with someone on board. This one got lots of good ratings on Amazon).
Maiming of the Shrew (It is the Twelfth Night of Christmas, and you’ve been invited by renowned playwright William Sheepsheare and his beloved Lady Katheter deVane to dine like kings and queens at the Glib Theatre. But, when you arrive, there are blood stains upon the stage).
Roman Ruins (Roman Ruins blends history and mystery for a hilarious and captivating evening of devilish delight! Having mentioned your name in his Roman epic, the renowned poet, Flabbius Corpus, invites you to a banquet for the premier recitation of his historical work. When you arrive, you discover theres been a murder in the garden and a priceless statue is missing).
An Affair to Dismember (One of the newer releases. Set in the Castle Von Morgue in Deadbolt, Transylvania on All Hallows Eve. Written by award winning author Neil Shusterman, the guest list includes: The Mummy of King Aldrinktotat, a Rogers and Hammerstein monster, a kosher cannibal, a deadly dentist, a flamboyant clairvoyant, a wicked witch and more! You assume the role of one of these ghoulish characters and solve the murder mystery on a dark and stormy night).
(There may be others)
So get you a box and a fun group and a good meal and a rockin’ costume and go have a blast!!!!