A village murder mystery gameA Village Murder Mystery
is a party game
best played with eight to fourteen people. An odd number of participants works slightly better than an even number, but it doesn't matter much.
At the beginning of each game, three special roles are randomly and secretly assigned: the Narrator, the Murderer, and the Detective. Everyone else is a Villager. An efficient way of assigning roles is to shuffle a joker, the ace of spades, and the king of clubs along with a number of small red cards equal to the number of Villagers. Those who draw the joker, ace, and king become the Narrator, Murderer, and Detective respectively.
When the roles are assigned, the Narrator reveals his card and assumes the role of moderating the round. The other players are forbidden from revealing their cards, although they may say whatever they choose, true or false, for example, "Why don't I ever get to be the Detective?" or, "Oh, goody, I get to kill everyone off!" The latter statement, however, is usually inadvisable whether or not it is true.
The objective of the Murderer is to kill all the Villagers in their sleep. The objective of the Villagers is to convict and hang the Murderer before they are all dead. The Detective assists the Villagers, but rarely declares his identity until he believes he can engineer a conviction of the Murderer. If the identity of the Detective is known while the Murderer is still at large, the former is almost certain to die next.
It is critical that the Narrator remain neutral in the struggle between the Murderer and the rest of the townspeople. The Narrator serves only to enable the flow of the game, and must not drop hints or red herrings or participate in the discussion in any way. As soon as everyone is clear on their roles, everyone takes a seat in a large circle, and the Narrator talks everyone through a "night" in eight steps.
- The Narrator says, "Villagers go to sleep." The Villagers and the Detective and the Murderer all must close their eyes and bow their heads. Only the Narrator is allowed to see what is going on.
- The Narrator says, "Murderer wake up." The Murderer silently raises his head and opens his eyes, which is the first time the Narrator knows his identity.
- The Narrator says, "Murderer strike." (It is important that the Narrator not necessarily look at the Murderer while saying this, because the direction of the Narrator's voice might be an important clue to the Murderer's identity.) The Murderer silently indicates one of the other players by pointing, nodding, winking or other means. The indicated player has been murdered in his sleep, although he doesn't find out until he wakes up dead the next morning.
- The Narrator says, "Murderer go to sleep." The Murderer closes his eyes and bows his head.
- The Narrator says, "Detective wake up." The Detective silently raises his head and opens his eyes. If the procedure has been executed properly, the Detective and Murderer are at this point still unaware of each other's identities.
- The Narrator says, "Detective investigate." (Again, the Narrator must be careful about the direction of his voice.) The Detective silently indicates one of the other players. The Narrator, who must tell the truth, either nods to indicate that the person being investigated is the Murderer, or shakes his head to indicate that it is a mere Villager. Note that the game does not end if the Detective learns the identity of the Murderer. For the Villagers to be victorious, the Murderer must be hung.
- The Narrator says, "Detective go to sleep." The Detective closes his eyes and bows his head.
- The Narrator says, "Villagers wake up," and, "X has been murdered." The player who has been murdered is eliminated from the game, and may not participate in further discussion. It is particularly unfortunate for the Villagers if the Detective happens to be killed the same night he discovers the identity of the Murderer, but it happens.
During the "day" the remaining Villagers (and the Murderer) begin to accuse one another of having done the evil deed. Evidence may take any form, including but not limited to
- He's blushing.
- I heard him pointing.
- Only Mike would murder a sweet girl like Cheryl.
- He's too quiet.
- He's talking too much.
- I'm the Detective, and my investigation was conclusive.
- No, you liar, I'm the Detective, and you're probably the Murderer or you wouldn't lie about it.
- I heard him not breathing during the Murderer's phase.
- Well, Duh, I was trying to hear something, you nincompoop!
- Look me in the eyes and swear you didn't kill him.
- I just have a gut feeling.
When the Narrator determines that there has been enough discussion, the live players (including the Murderer) vote on who they think the Murderer is. It takes a majority of votes to convict, not just a plurality, so repeated votes must be held until a majority has been arrived at. If the Villagers are lucky, they hang the Murderer and win the game. More often than not, however, our system of justice being what it is, they hang an innocent Villager, who is then eliminated from the game, and the terror is repeated for another "night".
In subsequent nights, the Narrator repeats the same eight steps, with the following two differences:
- The players who have been eliminated stay awake, so they get to see what is going on. Of course, they can't talk any more until the game is over, but even watching silently can be amusing.
- If the Detective has been murdered or hung, there is no further opportunity for him to investigate, but the Narrator must go through the motions anyway. It is important that neither the Murderer nor the Villagers know whether the Detective is alive or dead. It often happens that, in order to escape imminent hanging, the Murderer or even a Villager will falsely claim to be the Detective, so if the Detective is dead the Narrator must not indirectly reveal it.
The last "day" of the game occurs when only four or three people are left alive. If the Murderer is hung at that time, the few remaining Villagers can celebrate a victory, but if (yet another) innocent is hung, the Murderer wins.
Despite the grim subject matter, the play of the game is often hilarious, not least because the Villagers kill each other as fast as the Murderer does. Also, it is sometimes surprising to discover who is good at the game. Powerful intellects may prove easily deceived, kind-hearted social workers may display a knack for cool lies, and the intuitive face reader may be borne out in one unjustifiable hunch after another. The greatest drawback of the game is that eliminated players can't actively participate, but the unfolding drama can be interesting even to silent spectators, and the game is short enough that it can be played several times in one evening.