A murder mystery is a game and interactive story played out by a group of friends. The stage is set, the characters are provided, and then you and your friends act out your roles as you try to tell the story. Usually this story is about murder (hence the name "murder mystery"), and your goal as players is to discover who the murderer is by interacting with your fellow players, discovering clues, and following leads. The actual mechanics and story vary from game to game and there are many different styles, but the core of the game is socializing as a character with other characters usually with the help of drinks and food in the form of a "murder mystery dinner party".
Example of play
Sabotage Adrift is a story about the crew of The Epsilon, a trading vessel amid a galactic civil war. While on a trading mission the ship is sabotaged and is left stranded and someone is murdered. As the players in the this game, you act out the story and try to discover the saboteurs and the murderer by talking to the other suspects and investigating props that are provided with the mystery. The online purchase includes PDFs of character packets, name tags, voting sheets, scripts, props, instructions for running the game, and tips on decorating and preparing the venue. Each player has been given a character sheet that includes his background, motives, and means and their goal is discover as much as possible about the other players. After arriving, they begin telling the story by reading the opening script to set the stage and playing some audio files that were included with the download. Then they interact with each other for as long as it takes, about 2 hours in the case of Sabotage Adrift, and review maps of the ship, the ship's navigation and communication logs and other props to work out the rest of the story. Sabotage Adrift is a "secret murderer" style mystery, so it means that in that game even the murderer does not know that he or she is the murderer. Once time runs out or people feel like they have worked it out, they cast their votes on who the murderer is and the host tallies them up and announces them. After that the game is over.
Each murder has unique stories and characters, but unifying some mysteries is a shared set of mechanics. These are different styles of play that you might want to consider before purchasing a mystery. It is as important a factor as game time or number of players. You may want to find mysteries that match the style you have played before, or you may want to try something new. The styles below are not always mutually exclusive, and each mystery is tagged with the styles that apply to it.
In this style of mystery, no one knows who the murderer is, including the murderer themselves. The host of the game and the murderer are just like the other investigators and spend the entire duration in he dark trying to discover who committed the murder. In the end, the murderer would vote for themselves if they think they did it, and they don't gain anything for keeping their identity a secret. This style helps keep the playing field fair as one person doesn't get specially chosen for the role of murderer. It also removes the burden of bluffing and keeping a secret throughout the entire game. A simpler style for a more streamlined and low-tension game.
The opposite of secret murderer, in murderer knows mysteries he/she is aware that they are the murderer. They either find out at the beginning or at some point during the mystery. This allows for there to be some deliberate deception going on, and it creates a high stakes, high tension game. In some cases the host might know as well before hand to make it possible for the host to make an educated decision about who gets to be the murderer.
Games with an administrator require that there be one person, usually the host, who doesn't get to play a full character. He or she must spend a portion or all of their time running the game. This includes determining events, making decisions about the outcome of the game, revealing props or clues, and other things that a character with a normal level of involvement in the story wouldn't have time or otherwise be able to carry out. This doesn't necessarily mean that the admin doesn't participate in the game or even know the outcome, it just means that his or her role is separate from that of the other players. These games usually have a unique game mechanic that make it more interactive.
Games without an administrator are more typical games. They still have a host, but he or she is another one of the characters, having no special duties beyond that of the host. Typically the game can be set up without the host accidentally gaining knowledge about the mystery, but in some cases assistance might be required to assemble character dosiers or put together clues so that the host can remain in the dark.
Game-like games are still murder mysteries, but they also involve a little bit of physical gaming to add to the fun. They have additional rules ranging from simple to more complex. You might be required to hide clues without anyone seeing you, or sneak aroudn the venue without getting caught where your ability to do so will actaully impact the outcome of the game. Imagine a murder mystery that might have a tag or hide-and-seek component in it. These rules are different for each murder mystery and add to the difficulty of the game.
The following mysteries haven't been made yet! Some are at different stages of development, but you can push them along by showing your support and providing feedback to vote for which you'd like to see first.