What is a Murder Mystery Party? A Beginner’s Guide

So you’re all fired up to host a very special kind of surprise party: your very first murder mystery! But do you even know what a murder mystery party is?


You’re throwing a party. You invite friends, family, and colleagues. But when your uncle arrives, he is not himself. Instead, before you stands the mafia godfather Don Corleone, wearing a suit and bowtie with a red rose pinned to his jacket. Your uncle, now a mafioso, is well prepared and immediately slips into character, hiding his excitement and anticipation behind the grim, husky façade of this legendary gangster.

Just as you usher him inside, your co-worker knocks on the door. She, too, is transformed. One glance at her glittering ball gown and you know her as the Opera Star. She sweeps into your home; haughty, aloof, expecting someone to offer her champagne and take her coat.

One by one you welcome guests into your home. The whole place looks different – golden banting hangs from the ceiling, a scrumptious buffet surrounds the bootlegger bar. What was once your living room is now the setting for a 1920s murder mystery party.

The air tingles; everybody knows: This will be a night to remember.

There’s a palpable sense of tension between the guests. A murder most foul is about to take place (or already has!) and the killer lurks amongst the people present in this room! There is only one question on everybody’s mind: Who dunnit? It might even be you! Throughout the evening, clues and evidence will be put forward, and you’ll flex your detective skills.

Will you catch the killer, or will they get away with it?

How do murder mystery parties work?

There are many different murder mystery party publishers. Each publisher puts their own twist on the core game mechanics, but the general idea is always the same:

  1. Invite your guests and pick a theme.
  2. Decorate and prepare some food.
  3. Guests arrive (in costume, as their character)
  4. Murder! (The murder either happens before the game or happens during the game)
  5. Guests receive clues and evidence. They discuss the clues and evidence, unravel secrets, and try to find out who the murderer is. (So much fun!)
  6. Accusation round (Who do you think did it?)
  7. Read out the Big Reveal, finally letting everyone know who did it (and how)

While this is a very common game format, there are all sorts of variations out there. Check out our article on how to find the best murder mystery party game for your group.

What do you need for a murder mystery party?

To host a murder mystery, you need:

  • Anywhere between 4 – 200 guests. Most murder mystery parties range from 4 to 20 guests, but there are some extra-large games, too.
  • A theme. It’s a themed party, so choose a game with your favorite theme – roaring 20s, chocolate, Christmas, an Abbey in Scotland, a Masquerade in Venice, an 80s prom – and many more.
  • Buy the game. Prices range between $15-$100 depending on the number of players.
  • A good location. Most people play at home, but you can rent a community hall or any other venue.
  • Prep time. At least 2 hours, but likely closer to 4 hours.

What you can do to elevate your party to the next level?

Try the following:

  • Serve delicious food and drinks
  • Decorate your home to transport your guests to this other reality
  • Dress up (and ask your guests to dress up too)

These points are optional.

It’s your party, after all, and you decide how much effort to put into it. That said, you can make the night unforgettable if you put in the effort!

You decide what your event will look like

Here are some examples. There’s no real right or wrong, murder mystery parties are very flexible – you can throw the party you want to throw. Often, people start simple and progressively get more perfectionistic 🙂

Nobody dresses up.Everybody chooses some stuff from their wardrobe, asks to borrow something from a friend, maybe buys an accessory or two to fit their role.Everybody rents a costume from a costume shop.
No food, or just order some pizza.You serve a buffet that you prepared beforehand and maybe ask your guests to contribute (“Please bring along a salad”).A themed menu, served by yourself or a chef you’ve hired for the evening.
No decoration.You put themed labels on the wine bottles and decorate the walls.You set up a photo booth, the camera is ready, and the whole house is transformed to fit the theme.
Oh, what shall we do tonight? Let’s have a murder mystery party! (Ok, let’s go!)Give notice 1 or 2 weeks in advance.Inform your guests well before with a “save the date” so they have plenty of time to prepare.

Again: No matter if you keep it simple or go crazy. It’s loads of fun either way!

You can also simplify some parts and go all out on others – everybody dresses up a little, but you love food, so you prepare a whopper of a buffet that’s both delicious and a perfect match with the theme. As for decoration, well, that’s not your cup of tea so you just spruce up the buffet table a bit.

FAQ: How does a murder mystery party work?

How long does a murder mystery party last?

Between 1.5 and 4 hours, depending on the game and how quickly your guests play.

Where can I buy a murder mystery party?

See our article on the best murder mystery party companies. Every company has their own style, price, and number of guests. Most games are downloadable, others can be bought as boxed games.

How about kids, teens, and seniors?

In our experience, kids below 12 years aren’t yet ready to act as a different character. If you play with younger ones, be aware that most murder mystery games feature some adult content: murder, betrayal, drugs, or alcohol. But there are many family-friendly parties, too. Check out our article on murder mystery parties for kids, teens, and young adults.

Can the host play too?

Sometimes yes, sometimes no. It depends on the company and their game mechanics. See our article on finding the best murder mystery for your group to see an overview of which companies allow the host to play.

Pros and Cons of hosting a murder mystery

Still unsure? See this handy table for a breakdown of the pros and cons.

The game will energize your guests and leave them with a night to remember.Doing something new or different is scary and takes courage.
A different (and therefore exciting) way to throw a party.You’ll have to buy a game. However, the costs are roughly $2-5 per person if you split it.
Guests get information beforehand – enough time to prepare and build anticipation for the murder mystery party.You’ll need some time to organize the event. (Minimum 2 hours, plus time for food preparation. For the Ideal Murder Mystery Party Menu, check here.)
Your guests will get to know each other – it’s excellent for team building. Young guests now have a reason to overcome shyness and talk to older guests.You’ll see your friends and family in a totally new light. The game brings out all sorts of interesting behaviors: acting, misleading, questioning, deductive thinking, and a huge helping of good humor and wit!

Personally, I find that the success of the evening comes down to how “into it” your guests are. If you’re planning a murder mystery party, you can probably already guess which of your guests will have a blast and go all in, who will be only mildly amused, and who you don’t think will enjoy dressing up or playing a role.

But this isn’t a problem!

We’ve found that there’s a magic tipping point: when two thirds of your guests start getting into the game, everyone else is swept up and suddenly it all comes together.

Now that you know the basics, why not take a deep dive into our ULTIMATE GUIDE to hosting a murder mystery party (an article packed full of info about the location, guests, food, and useful tips to ensure your party is unforgettable).