Last night we had a few couples over for dinner and murder.
Well, no one was actually murdered in our home last night, but we did have a very fun time playing How to Host a Murder: The Chicago Caper.
The How to Host a Murder games are a series of games that hit the game scene in the 1980′s. They’re murder-mystery, role-playing games where players take on the roles of potential murder suspects. Everyone arrives dressed, and in character, for a fun night of intrigue and accusations.
The few times we’ve played a How to Host a Murder game, we’ve had a great time. And last night was no exception.
How to Play How to Host a Murder games
How to Host a Murder games are fairly simple to understand and play. However, because it’s essentially a role-playing game, there tends to be some trepidation at diving in – both for the hosts and the players.
The game comes with almost everything you need to set the stage for the night. It includes a Host Guide book, character bios, character player manuals, secret clues (such as evidence and/or maps), invitations, name tags, a cassette tape (yes, it’s an older game), and even a sample menu plan. I say “almost” everything only because it leaves the food and attire up to the players.
That’s right, it’s up to all the players to get into character. And that starts with the attire.
The brief biographies of each character include suggestions for the type of attire for that character. When you send out the invitations to the guests, you’ll want to include the bios so the guests can properly prepare for the evening.
Once all the guest have arrived, the game begins.
Everyone gets their name tag and character player manual and turns to the first page. The host then reads through the brief rules of the game (such as no lying) and the scene to set the stage.
Players then turn the page to read their personal Dossier – which includes information that they may not want to reveal – and take turns introducing themselves to the group.
Then the host plays the tape (or CD if a newer game version), which gives the details of the case at hand, and Round One begins.
For each of the 4 rounds, players turn to the next page and read 2 sets of information. The first set is information they’ll try to conceal. The second set of information contains things they’ll need to reveal during the round.
After the Round Four, everyone names the character they believe to be the murderer and how it was done.
Once all the guesses are in, players hand their manual to the person on their left. Then everyone turns to the last page – the Solution – and take turns reading aloud the solution of that character, beginning with Solution #1. (Players don’t reveal what number they have until the appropriate turn.)
And of course, the dinner courses are served and devoured throughout all the pleasant/revealing/accusatory rounds of conversation.
The Chicago Caper
When I got a copy of How to Host a Murder: The Chicago Caper earlier this year at SaltCon, I had intended it for a game that our teen sons could play for a date night with friends. However, with Halloween approaching and not having had a couples game night for a long time, we figured now was the best time to just play it ourselves.
So we confirmed the dates, selected the roles for each guest, sent out the invitations, and went costume shopping.
And like with so many other costume needs, hitting a donation/thrift center is a great way to go.
The Chicago Caper roles include a district attorney, a club singer, a club owner, a bootlegger, a driver, a baseball pitcher, a reporter, and a deal broker – all with something shady to hide.
Since we don’t live near Chicago, it’s not easy to get Chicago Deep Dish pizza, so we got as close as we could with stuffed pizza for the main dish and sparkling cider.
Without spoiling the plot, let’s just say that similar to other How to Host a Murder games, everyone is suspect, has a motive, and an opportunity (or two). And even though we have our own dossier and character background info, we find out a lot about ourselves from other players.
It’s fun watching the surprised expressions when accusations are thrown about and players have to come up with answers that they may not yet even know the details about themselves.
Can the whole family enjoy How to Host a Murder?
While the theme of murder may not sound wonderful, the light-hearted nature of the game and getting dressed up and in character with friends, is a lot of fun.
When we told our kids what our dinner gathering of friends was about, they said, “Oh, like a live game of Clue.”
And that’s a pretty good description.
Clue is an extremely popular family board game, and it too centers around the theme of murder. Yet, have you ever thought of it as being a morbid game? We haven’t.
Instead we think of Clue as a fun family deduction game.
But with the name “Murder” in the actual game title, How to Host a Murder may be off-putting. And we completely understand that.
And you’re right that How to Host a Murder games are not for the whole family.
The first concern of ours with The Chicago Caper was regarding the content. Was there going to be salacious content that we wouldn’t want our teenage boys and their dates exposed to? Playing with other couples gave us a great opportunity to find out exactly what was in the game.
This particular game centers on Chicago rival gangs of bootleggers, gamblers, night club proprietors. So you can imagine why we might pause.
I’m happy to report that the game can be played without diving into such paths.
No one in our group drinks alcohol or gambles (or are lounge singers), but we had a great time with plenty of laughter as we played our various roles.
The game provides some information about what happens amongst the characters, but the rest is left up to the players to fill-in. So you can embellish as much as you want and take it the direction you’d like along the way.
What we enjoy about How to Host a Murder games
We’re not big role-playing game players. But we definitely enjoyed getting together with friends for a little bit of light character fun for The Chicago Caper.
Playing around Halloween time is awesome. Costume ideas are already in the air as parents and kids plan out what they’ll be for Halloween. Now I don’t have to worry because I’ve got a fresh costume with my argyle socks, sweater, and cap.
All of the names of characters in the game are very creative and tie in well to the theme. For example, the District Attorney S. Treighton Harrow, Molly M. Awbster, and Ernie G. Ambler were all part of the fun.
The toughest part of the game is trying to think on your feet with creative responses. With the big game rule of “no lying”, it’s sometimes hard to expound on something you’re cornered on, because you may not yet know the real answer. Of course, that’s also a lot of the fun seeing what someone will come up with and then catching them on it later and squirming.
The one major downside to the How to Host a Murder games are the single-play limit. Once you know the outcome, the draw just isn’t there to play again.
Sure you could play it with a different group of friends, but a lot of the fun will be missing for you if you already know the solution.
Which makes a How to Host a Murder game a great game for game trades. That’s how I got our copy of The Chicago Caper. And that’s most likely what I’ll trade away for another game at SaltCon next year.
If you haven’t tried a How to Host a Murder game before, we suggest you give it a shot.
Even if the thought of acting or role-playing scares you, when you’re among friends, it can be a lot of fun.
Who knows which or when, but we’re sure to play another How to Host a Murder game when the opportunity strikes.