I’ve never played a Murder Mystery game before, but having heard some good things from friends over the last year or so, we planned to give it a go with some friends on New Year’s Day. We plumped for Murder at the Manor Murder Mystery Flexi Party. We needed a game that would cater for 13 people, and funnily enough couldn’t find any specifically for that number, so went for this option which allows you to have up to 14 players. You can discard characters without consequences if you don’t have enough players to do them all.

Inevitably, what you gain in flexibility you lose in narrative control and direction. Because the game is created to be playable with a different number of players and you can’t guarantee which characters are in the game, there is no ‘set’ villain. Instead, the villain is chosen by everyone drawing a secret card at the beginning of the game. I actually drew the murderer card, which gave me a unique perspective on the game: although it meant I wasn’t trying to deduce the culprit, I was able to try and cover my tracks and also observe other people’s reactions as they tried to figure out whodunit.

Players were allocated their characters a couple of weeks ago, meaning everyone had ample time to sort out a bit of an outfit. Inevitably, some put more effort into their costumes than others; I confess that my costume was one of the less coherent, basically consisting of a moustache and a camo du-rag leftover from my days in heavy metal bands. My character was General Custard, an ex-military security contractor. The moustache really helped me inhabit my character and I had a lot of fun role-playing a belligerent and chauvinist upper-class British archetype. Some of the characters provide more scope for entertainment than others, and the Clousea-esque French Inspector and the cop who moonlights as a Strippogram in her spare time were particular highlights. Of course, a lot is down to your own imagination and your desire and ability to put your character across, but on the whole, everyone seemed to have a good time.

The structure of the game is that, after the murderer has picked their card, you play an audio track via CD which establishes the setting and provides some background evidence to facilitate the first round of questioning. There are three rounds of questioning, which are read out from a reference sheet; everyone answers two questions per round, answering from a private answer sheet and adding humorous embellishments to taste. Each character has a different answer if they are guilty, and you are supposed to pay attention to see if there are discrepanices in the different stories. I did think that perhaps there could be a little more room for doubt, as by the last round it seemed to me pretty clear that my own story was the only contradictory one.

That said, when it came to voting at the end, I only received three votes as the culprit, another character getting four (although a few who didn’t vote for me nevertheless felt I was under suspicion). The game took about three hours to play, but 13 is a big group and we also had a couple of 10-15 minute breaks during the game. It was a lot of fun role-playing the characters, and I definitely enjoyed it. It’s really down to the players, though, and the game would be much less enjoyable with a group that’s not prepare to get into it. The writing is adequate and sets the stage, but the entertainment value in something like this is utimately up to you and how much you are willing to put into it. Alcohol helps too.

The three evidence tracks from the CD, which are read by a woman, were fine, but the introduction at the beginning is read very badly and quickly by a man who doesn’t enunciate his words clearly and it’s very easy to miss things, which is odd. It sounds like he did it in one take. The whole package consists of fourteen reference sheets, fourteen character sheets with answers for three rounds, fourteen ‘secret’ murderer cards, and the audio CD. The set retails for £20 which is reasonable value I suppose but perhaps a little on the dear side for what you get. Because the murderer changes each time you play, there is theoretically plenty of re-play value; but the fact you give different answers depending on whether you are guilty or not means it should quickly become clear who the villain is if you have played it before. As such, it’s really a one-shot game and you want to make sure you have a good time the first time you play it. I suppose if you play two games with only six or seven players you’ll get two games out of it, but I can’t comment on how well it works with that number of players.

Overall, we had a great evening playing Murder at the Manor and I’m very glad we picked it up. I do think that’s more because we had a great group of people playing it, with the game just providing the structure, but it did a good job. With that in mind I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a murder mystery game to play in a similar setting.

Game 7/10; Our party 10/10