Way out West in book form

I’ve wanted to publish our murder mystery games in book form for a long time now, so I’m particularly pleased to be able to say that Way out West is available from Amazon.

Way-out-West-bookOne of the problems with publishing a murder mystery game in book format is that you can’t actually play the murder mystery without destroying the book. So that means either providing a CD with the character files on, or providing a download link, or asking customers to buy the downloadable version as well.

None of those are particularly satisfactory; the CD is more complexity, the download means coming up with a way for a secure password and makes VAT more complicated, and nobody wants to buy two versions of the same game.

But our free version of Way out West (which you can get simply by signing up to our newsletter) solves those problems. Now you can have the book and downloadable files at the same time.

CreateSpace

We used Amazon’s CreateSpace self-publishing system for Way out West. This is a print-on-demand service that means we don’t have to keep any expensive stock, or become involved in shipping.

We chose Amazon over Lulu for two main reasons. First, Amazon is the online retailing heavyweight, and by having one of our games on Amazon we might attract new customers. Second, Amazon Prime members get free shipping on a CreateSpace book, which is an added bonus.

I have to say that I found CreateSpace a bit fiddly to use. If we ever use it again I suspect it will be much easier.

Contents

We’ve had to think about the contents and layout of Way out West compared to the downloadable files. With the downloadable files, while we expect you to read the instructions first, you can read the other files in any order you like.

With a book, though, we needed to decide an order for everything. So here’s the contents:

Introduction

  • Welcome to Way out West: This section.
  • What the host does: A brief summary of what the host of a Freeform Games murder mystery does.
  • Cactus Gulch Gazette: The front page of the local newspaper, containing background information.
  • Cast list: A brief summary of all the characters in Way out West, including the extra characters that come with the purchased edition.
  • Casting: Tips for casting Way out West.
  • About the Author

Timetable

  • Before the game: Our suggested timetable leading up to your murder mystery party.
    Invitations: What to include in your invitations.
  • Your Venue: Advice on preparing your venue.
  • Preparing Way out West: Printing characters and getting everything ready for play.
  • On the day: Our step-by-step guide to hosting Way out West.
  • Solution: Every murder needs a solution.

Characters

  • Introduction: An explanation of how the characters are presented.
  • Characters: The detailed backstories for each character, including goals and a list of the characters that they know.
  • Tips for players: Playing one of our murder mystery games can sometimes be a bit confusing for some people, so these are our tips to help them get started.

Rules

  • Player rules: The basic rules for Way out West.
  • Detailed rules: The detailed rules that the Host needs, covering things like gunfights and arrests.

Afterword

  • Buying the main game: What you get if you purchase the full version of Way out West.
  • Questions: Where to go if you have questions about Way out West or any of our other games.
  • Our other games: A selection of our other games.

Pricing

Unfortunately we can’t offer this book for free, as there are costs involved in producing a physical product. However, we have kept the book as cheap as possible and it is on sale for $5.99.

Available on Amazon

You can purchase Way out West on Amazon here (US) and here (UK).

Way out West on Kindle

Another advantage of using Amazon means that it’s pretty easy to create a Kindle version. Easy, but not seamless. We found we had to make a few changes to the layout to suit a Kindle, in particularly removing anything complicated (such as the three column layout for the newspaper) and the boxes for item cards.

To be honest, a Kindle version of Way out West is a bit of experiment. It’s not as easy to use as a book, and I don’t think anyone would ever be able to actually play Way out West from the Kindle version. It’s for those who really like their Kindles…

You can see Way out West Kindle Edition here (US) and here (UK).

Adding eight pirates to Pirate Island

We’ve just tweaked Pirate Island so that it now works with up to 32 pirates. I’m going to explain the how and the why of doing that.

The why

Pirate Island had been bugging me for a while – because it’s actually a bit fiddly to prepare.

Pirate Island

Scout Master Richard running Pirate Island – and on his 50th birthday as well!

Pirate Island is a team game, where the pirates are all members of a ship’s crew, trying to be the best pirate crew. To be the best, they have to enter contests, track down treasures and trade items with each other.

Everyone in Pirate Island plays a pirate. Either a Captain, a Gunner, or a Crewmate. And in keeping with our other murder mystery games, each of them has a character sheet.

A full game of 24 pirates has eight ships, each with three crew. However, with only 23 pirates, then we use seven ships with three pirates, and one ship that has only two pirates. That two-pirate ship is functionally the same as the one it replaced, except that it has a different name and only a Captain and a Gunner. By having four such ships (with two and three pirate versions) Pirate Island is fully flexible for 6-24 players.

But it’s a bit fiddly to prepare. Unless you are absolutely certain of your numbers, you have to print out all the ships just in case someone drops at the last minute. Or you get an extra unexpected pirate. Pirates can be so unpredictable!

When we came to Trick or Treat / Monster Mash, we simplified all this by creating team envelopes that didn’t require specialised roles. That way a team can be two or three (or more!) monsters – and there’s no extra printing required.

So one of the things that I wanted to do, given time, was to do the same with Pirate Island and tweak it to make it simpler to print and run, along the lines of Trick or Treat.

That’s not what happened, though.

What happened next – the Cub Scouts

Instead, I was contacted by a friend, Richard Salmon, who had purchased Pirate Island and wanted to run it for his Cub Scout group (the 1st Nork St Paul’s Scout Group). The problem was that he had over 30 cubs coming, and that would mean an awful lot of the generic extra Crewmate character. We had written the additional Crewmate to allow for one or two extra pirates – not nine!

Could I sort something out?

So rather than my original plan, I made the more-or-less identical ships more unique. The main change I made involved the pirate quests.

Questing for Treasure

In Pirate Island, each ship has a map to a Treasure mappirate treasure (such as Blackbeard’s treasure, or the wreck of a treasure ship). To find the treasure means solving three puzzles, and the answers are scattered amongst the pirates – so they have to team up to solve them.

The more-or-less identical ships had the same treasure map, so I made them all unique. Instead of writing brand new clues, I simply re-used existing clues from the existing quests. (I had to choose the clues carefully to make sure that I didn’t accidentally give them all to one ship.)

Other changes involved tweaking item cards a little and checking that I hadn’t messed the game up anywhere else.

Feedback

So how did the new, expanded game go? I asked Richard for feedback and was told that:

“It went very well – they all seemed to have a good time.

“Took a bit of time to get started and the motto and performance contests were less popular. The quests all seemed to work out and there was a flurry of trading of items at the end. The winning team got nearly fifty doubloons, but some only collected a dozen or so (mainly because they didn’t do the contests).

“With cubs if something not engaging them; they start chasing one another about and generally messing; we didn’t have any of that for the hour they were playing; so that means they were really quite into it.”

Here are some photos from the scout group’s Facebook page. And here.

Overall

So while we’ve adjusted Pirate Island, we’ve taken it in a different direction than the one I had originally expected. I’m very happy with the way this has turned out, and maybe now that Pirate Island is bigger more groups will think about giving it a try.

And it really works for cub scout groups!

Help with hosting

In our larger games we recommend an assistant host to help run the game. For ex
ample in Spellbound, it can be particularly useful to have another host run the library
while the “main” host deals with the rest of the game.

Similarly with the larger games having another host to help with pickpocketing or combat can be helpful – particularly if the several players need the host at the same time.

However, some rules can be managed by the players themselves (perhaps overseen by a trustworthy player). For example, combat doesn’t require secret knowledge, or an awareness of the plot, and so could be something that the players manage themselves. On the other hand, I wouldn’t recommend allowing players to manage pickpocketing – that’s something a dedicated host needs to do.

Tips for players managing combat

Death on the Gambia

Death on the Gambia

Here are my tips for getting your players managing combat.

First, I wouldn’t get everyone to manage combat. Not everyone needs to know anything about combat – generally only the “dangerous” characters need to know something about it. so I would choose a small number of trustworthy players to become helpers. Id
eally they would be playing characters that I didn’t think likely would be involved in combat to keep the relatively neutral in the conflict they are overseeing.

Second, I would share our standard combat rules with those players.

Third, I would encourage them to practice the combat rules before the party itself, so that they understand how they work and any problems and misunderstandings can be ironed out. Ideally I would do this a couple of days beforehand, but if that doesn’t work you could simply schedule a training session before the party. I would also explain that I wouldn’t expect them to adjudicate combat that they are involved in themselves – they should either find me or one of the other helpers.

Fourth, during my introduction I would ask the helpers to identify themselves. That way the other players know that they can ask them for help if I am busy.

Fifth, I would just keep an eye on combat during the game, just in case there are problems.

Sixth, as part of my debrief speech I would thank the helpers for their help.

Other standard rules

We’ve also included other standard rules, including capturing player and poison, but I think that it’s combat that has the most potential for getting other players to help with hosting.

Looking back at 2015

It’s the start of a new year and that means it’s time for us to look back and reflect on how we did last year. We did this last year, and for 2013 before that.

Sales overall were up 7% on 2014, and it was our best since 2012. Sales might have been even higher, but for some website problems – more on that below.

Hopefully this trend will continue into 2016, and we will continue to improve our website to make sure that it can be found by the search engines.

Best selling games

Our best selling games for the year were Way out West, followed by Casino Fatale and A Speakeasy Murder.

Way-out-West33

Way out West – our best-selling game of 2015

I predicted last year that A Speakeasy Murder would outsell Hollywood Lies, and sure enough that’s exactly what happened. It’s pleasing to see a new game in the top three. And Way out West’s popularity is boosted by it being our free game.

Overall the top three games accounted for 28% of our sales.

New and updated games

In 2015 we published Death on the Rocks and we updated Hollywood Lies.

Website improvements

We also made changes to our website in 2015. The main change was to make the menu more responsive on smaller screens – tablets and phones. This had been on the to-do list for a while, but Google announced last year that it would be prioritising sites that worked well on smaller screens, so we moved it up the to-do list.

Looking at our traffic, it seems that while we get a healthy volume of traffic from smaller screens, purchases tend to be made from laptops or desktop PCs. We believe that our visitors are browsing our site with a mobile device before purchasing a game with their “main” computer.

Speakeasy-PT1a

A Speakeasy Murder

Website problems

We had two big problems last year. We had a few outages in the first part of the year which led us to change our hosting provider (which is always a challenge). And then in October (the run up to our busiest time of year) our new hosts updated their database software, and that meant we had to update our site.

Our plans for 2015

We set ourselves some goals for 2015. This is how we did:

  • Continuing to improve the website, and keep an eye on its performance: Website improved, performance good but would have been better without the problems described above.
  • Publish Death on the Rocks. Achievement unlocked!
    Update Hollywood Lies: We finally published the updated Hollywood Lies in December. The update took us longer than we though and you can read about that here.
  • Publish our standard rules. Stretch goal reached! We snuck our standard rules into our games last year, and talked about it here.
DotR Group

Death on the Rocks – our new game for 2015

Our plans for 2016

  • Improve the website, again. Maintaining a website is a bit like painting the Forth Bridge. By the time you finish, you need to start over. So we still have a few things that need sorting, and we want make it as attractive to visitors as possible.
  • Improve sales by exploring reviews or advertising.
  • Get the free Way out West in front of more people. We think seeing our games is a good selling point, and we’ve got some ideas for that.
  • Update Death on the Gambia and Curse of the Pharaoh. They’re both popular games, but they need an update to the new format.
  • Publish new games if possible. We have some games in the pipeline, but none of them are that close to publication right now. So we’re not making any promises for 2016 (we want to concentrate elsewhere). If it happens, it happens.

Our standard rules

We use some standard rules in our murder mystery games to cover situations such as combat, poisoning, death and the like. We’ve now made these available in pdf form so that you can share them with your players.

(Note that we have more rules than this, but these are our most commonly used rules.)Derrenger item card

  • Basic rules – these are our basic rules that apply to all our games.
  • Combat – there are our full combat rules. We use these in a lot of our games – they are quite simple, but can be deadly. These rules include healing and death.
  • Poison – some of our murder mystery games include rules for poisoning others. This is how they work. These rules include healing and death.
  • Capturing another player – sometimes it’s important to be able to capture or restrain another player. This also includes our Arrest rules.

You can find these rules on this page, which also includes some ideas for using the rules.

Rationalising the rules

It’s taken us a while to get to the point where we can publish our standard rules because for a long time they weren’t actually standard. Our games have evolved over time, and we’ve incorporated tweaks and improvements as we’ve gone along. But what we haven’t been very good at is going back and updating the older games.

Poison ability card

Now that we’ve published our standard rules, we’ve gone back to our old games and made sure that they are consistent. After all, we don’t want to confuse anyone with different sets of rules.

The rationalising process has resulted in quite a few discussions here at Freeform Games HQ, as it hasn’t always been obvious which is the best version to use. Our rules for arrests and poison in particularly needed quite a bit of looking at. Overall, however, our approach has been to use the simplest version.

We’re happy with them now, and standardising our rules will make it easier for our future games.

Let us know what you think: have you shared our standard rules with your players? And if so, did it help?

Developing Hollywood Lies: Part 2

In Part 1 I talked about updating Hollywood Lies – bringing it into the modern format, making it completely kid-friendly, making all the characters gender-neutral, and including the extra character pack in the main game. In this post I talk about how I did it.

Preparing the character booklets

Hollywood-Lies

Detective Chase (right) investigates the murder.

The first thing I did was to prepare the character booklet format. When we first wrote Hollywood Lies our character sheets were on two pages – story on one side, goals and people on the reverse.

Our current format is an 8-page booklet:

  • Page 1 – Cover, including a few words setting the scene (the same for each character)
  • Page 2 and 3 – Background and goals
  • Page 4 – Other People and tips for beginners
  • Page 5 – Abilities (previously on a separate card)
  • Page 6 – Secret and Clue (previously on the same card as the abilities)
  • Page 7 – Rules
  • Page 8 – Cast list for our shorter games, blank otherwise. (Blank for Hollywood Lies because the cast list won’t fit unless the font is microscopic.)

Once I was happy with the format, I then cut and pasted the character text from the original files into the new format.

(An aside, Mo and I do this differently. Mo has all the characters in a single document, while give each character their own document. I do this because I’m often switching from one character to another, and I haven’t found a way that works for me when everything is in one document. The downside is that if I need to make a change to a piece of boilerplate text, then I need to open every single document whereas Mo can just do find-and-replace.)

The character spreadsheet

With the characters all in the new format, I then created a character spreadsheet that did two things: ranked each character, and tracked changes.

Character ranking: I ranked each character numerically based on things like the number of goals they had and how much background text they had. This resulted in a score, and those with a low score compared to others needed more work.

This was particularly an issue because at this point while I’d deleted plots (such as affairs and the photos discussed last time), I hadn’t replaced them with anything. So some characters were definitely weaker.

(I didn’t completely rely on the ranking, but it was a good start to identify those characters that needed more work.)

I has used a similar system for for Murder at Sea, which I wrote about here.

Tracking changes: I also used the spreadsheet to track the changes. For example, I changed the introductory text and I used the spreadsheet to ensure that I changed every character booklet.

The spreadsheet included a tab with all the secrets and clues on them, so that I could check that the murder trail worked. (I didn’t want to make it easy, but it needed to be possible.) Other tabs also tracked who knew who, so that I could fill any gaps.

Changing plots

As I said previously, some plots were removed and I replaced these by fleshing out some of the other existing plots and writing two new plots.

Other changes

Other changes arose due the the new format. Our previous format had the Other People section before the Goals, the new version puts Goals ahead of Other People. That meant that there were sometimes goals that referred to information that the player hadn’t read yet (because it was now further down the character sheet in the Other People section).

In our view goals shouldn’t add new information but instead they should summarise the background and act as a reminder. So in those cases I moved the Other People information into the background so that the character sheet flowed from start to finish.

I also checked that the balance of Other People was about right – that nobody was left out and that nobody knew too much about one particular person.

Remaining files

Once I was happy with the characters, I then updated the other files such as the instructions, quick reference sheet, and the cards file.

Then followed a thorough proofread, and that was it!

On reflection

Updating Hollywood Lies seemed to take a long time – but I think I was being a bit ambitious. The two big changes (making it gender neutral and kid-friendly) made a significant impact that I then needed to address, and all that took time.

However, I do believe that the game is better as a result.

Developing Hollywood Lies

So for much of 2015 I have been spending my spare time updating Hollywood Lies and bringing it into our current format. We finally released it in early December.
As well as re-formatting it (to bring it up to our current standard, as I had done recently with Murder at Sea), we had a few other ideas for developing Hollywood Lies:

  • To make Hollywood Lies gender neutral.
  • To make the game kid-friendly.
  • Incorporate the expansion pack into the main game.

I have talked previously about making Hollywood Lies gender neutral, but the last two deserve a bit more explanation.

Kid-friendly

Hollywood LiesOriginally Hollywood Lies had an “adult” version and a “kids” version. That’s because when we wrote it we didn’t think that our customers would want to run it for their kids – we should have thought that through!

Having two versions made it clunky for our customers, and harder for us to update when we find an error.

And to be honest, wasn’t much difference between the two:

  • The nude photos plot in the adult version (which was inspired by a plot in Notting Hill) were replaced with embarrassing photos.
  • The affairs were changed to “secretly seeing” (but no change in the actual plots).

And that was about it.

As the changes were just cosmetic, some parents were understandably concerned with their children playing characters who are in affairs (whether ‘secretly seeing’ or otherwise). With the new changes all these affairs are removed, and anyone can play, and it will still be lots of fun for everyone.

The expansion

We also incorporated the expansion into the full game. While we like the idea of having optional expansions for our games, practically they present a couple of problems.

  • First, they end up more complicated as there’s a second set of instructions and more bits of paper everywhere.
  • Second, the characters in an expansion never seem as fully embedded in the game as the original characters. (Although that might just be my perception rather than reality.)

So for Hollywood Lies we’ve included the characters in the main game. If that proves a success, we’ll do it with our other games as well.

So that’s what we’ve done. Next time I’ll talk about how I did it.

From the author: Jessica Andrews

Here’s the third in our occasional series of author profiles. This time it’s Jessica Andrews – author of our 1930s murder mystery Death on the Rocks.

Jessica Andrews

Jessica Andrews

Jessica is a freelance history book editor from south east London. She‚ adores a good mystery as much as a good party, and ever since she discovered that the two could be combined, she was sold. She has been forcing her friends to play murder mystery games with her since the age of twelve, and she is not averse to donning a false moustache when the need arises.

Her love of history makes her inclined to write murder mysteries set in the past, and her particular obsession with the Golden Age of Detective Fiction of the 1930s is what led to the creation of Death on the Rocks.

Jessica wanted to create a game inspired by Agatha Christie, her favourite detective fiction writer, and her game was particularly inspired by the spooky, claustrophobic atmosphere of And Then There Were None, where the characters are also stranded on a small island off the coast of England, unable to escape when murder strikes.

Death on the Rocks

Playing Death on the Rocks

She decided the 1930s was the perfect time period for her mystery, as pre-war innocence and glamour was fast becoming complicated by shifting political currents and the fear of impending war. She was also interested in recreating the poisonous, gossipy atmosphere of small village life, where a hotbed of secret passions and scandals might exist behind the picture perfect cottage doors.

In pre-war days, it would not have been uncommon for glamorous nobility in a big mansion house to necessarily co-exist with those poorer folk working in the village, and this gave her the chance to explore a wide range of colourful characters.

Jessica really enjoyed writing her game, but couldn’t have done it without the patience and encouragement of her editor, Mo.

Jessica can be found on Twitter @deadnightgames, Pinterest and Instagram, both @redsequin.

Writing a murder

As part of this year’s Hollywood Lies update, one of the changes I have made was to the murder plot. The original murder plot involved a love affair, and that was no longer appropriate as I was making the game more kid-friendly and gender neutral.

So this is what I did.

Plotting a murder

The first thing I needed to do was work out the basic plot – and most importantly the motive. I didn’t change the murderer’s identity, nor did I change how the murder was committed (the means). But I needed a new motive, and I needed to change when the murder was committed (the opportunity).

Obviously I don’t want to say too much about it here, so the rest of this post is about how I developed the plot rather than the details of the plot.

Once I’d worked it all out, I wrote it down in bullet points.

Hollywood Lies death scene

The Hollywood Lies death scene – but is it murder? (Probably.)

Clues and red herrings

With the murder outline in hand, I wrote down the clues that I needed that would lead to the murderer.

I also needed some red herrings, and other suspect. Our victim, Tom Speed, was a nasty enough character that he had a number of enemies.

I used a table (along the lines of the one below) to keep track of the murderer and suspects (and to make sure that one of the suspects didn’t have too many clues pointing to them).

murder-suspect-table

Writing the plot

Then I wrote the murder plot out in full, written from the murderer’s perspective. One of the challenges I find of writing the murder plot is that if it’s too involved, then there’s no space left for the murderer to have any other background or goals. So I made it concise enough to leave space for other plots, but detailed enough that the murderer knew what they had done.

Then I worked through the other characters.

I concentrated on the ‘core’ characters first. These are the characters that are always used in the game – the ones used when you’re playing with the minimum number. The clue trail has to work with them, so I made sure that all the clues were spread amongst the core characters.

Incidentally, this is why it’s difficult playing with fewer than the minimum number. You have to be really careful who you drop, in case the character you drop has a key clue that you can’t solve the murder without.

The denouement and other handouts

With the core characters done, it was time for the denouement, or the solution to the murder mystery that’s read out by the detective at the end of the party.

I like writing denouements. I imagine Poirot making a speech in front of all the suspect, and it’s about the only space in our games for a little dramatic flair.

With the denouement finished, my next task was to write the murder plot handouts that are needed during the game. In Hollywood Lies, this consisted of a few timed handouts relating to new information provided by forensics.

A fake body lies at the bottom of the stairs

Another death scene – this time from Snow Business

The other characters

With the core characters, the denouement and the handouts finished, I wrote up the remaining characters.

For the remaining characters, I repeated the clues that I had already used for the core characters. The reason for this is that with more characters in the game, it’s possible for an individual clue to be overlooked. Multiple copies of that clue makes it less likely that that will happen.

Murder all wrapped up

That’s how I updated the murder plot for Hollywood Lies, and it’s pretty much how I write any murder plot, whether I’m starting from a clean sheet or adapting an old game.

Adding Skype and cryptography to The Spy Who Killed Me

We’ve got something a bit different this time – a story from customer Mark Lemay about adding Skype and simple cryptography to The Spy Who Killed Me.

Here’s Mark:

When I ran The Spy Who Killed Me I created two additional characters who were only contactable by Skype. The players playing the characters were remote from the party, and I had two hidden laptops at the party.

The two characters were spymasters – the Soviet Heracles, and the British ‘S’. They joined the party 30 minutes after it started (which allowed the other players to start playing properly). Neither knew about the murder (until they were told about it by their agents).

The Spy Who Killed MeI wrote full character sheets for the two spies, with background, goals and information about other people. The main difference between these characters and the other characters is that they would have to do everything remotely, through their agents.

Heracles’ contacts were given a telegram that said: “Comrade, We have established a secure line of communication. In the back of the kitchen there are stairs to the basement. At the bottom of the stairs go right. At the back of the of the basement I will be waiting. Don’t arouse suspicion. Be sure you are not followed. Heracles”

(Those players who needed to talk to ‘S’ were given a similar note.)

I also sent Heracles the telegram on page 17 of the cards file when the party started. The two agents texted me messages that they needed to send to their ‘agents’. The only way the agents to contact Heracles or ‘S’ was by Skype.

I set the Skype ringtones to the appropriate national anthem, and Heracles set his Skype up so that only a silhouette could be seen. Neither ‘S’ nor Heracles knew that there was another spy Skyping into the party, and none of the players (with the regular characters) suspected that their out-of-town friends would be making an appearance.

At about 9pm I gave Heracles’ contact details to ‘S’ so that she could try and trick some information out of him.

It was fun for the people involved, and went surprisingly unnoticed by the people who weren’t. The biggest issue I had was not making the strict deadlines of the party clear to the remote players. Also, if I did it again, I’d give ‘S’ a few clues as to how to trick Heracles (such as pretending to be an Indian spy).

Feedback from Heracles

My friend who played Heracles was nice enough to write up his thoughts on the experience:

It was always clear that my participation would be more limited than that of guests physically attending the party, but I still enjoyed my role. Like a normal character, I had secret knowledge, relationships with characters, and abilities. Despite my separation from the party, I felt that Mark gave me enough choices that I could still employ strategy and influence the course of events. I had a means of contacting other guests at the party, and an incentive to strategically hide certain information from some of my associates, which was fun to roleplay.

There were a few things that could be improved. I was slightly discouraged from speaking with guests too frequently, because Mark was worried that I would give away information too quickly and take them away from the rest of the guests. It turned out that I probably could have spoken to more guests, and more frequently. Because I was isolated I wasn’t entirely in the loop about the timeline, and when the party was ending.

Cryptography challenge

Instead of using the mechanics suggested in the instructions, I modified the item cards to have an actual encoded message – the message encoded with the reverse alphabet. I added an additional book to the library that had an explicit key.

This was the perfect level of difficulty and while one person solved it quickly, nobody took longer than ten minutes. Instead of disengaging from the party to solve the problem, the players could work together in small groups. It was also one less thing I had to referee.

swkm_book_160The encoded journal

I tried a similar puzzled with the journal, but I didn’t want it to be too easy. I used a different substitution cypher on each page (but following a simple pattern) and left out spaces. I modified the key so it contained the information to decode the text.

A group of ‘student’ worked together to try and decode the journal. They became invested in solving the puzzle. Unfortunately, it was a little too hard (especially after all the drinks) and I had to give them the solution after 15-20 minutes. I think It would have worked out if I had left the spaces in the journal.

(A note from Steve and Mo: We don’t usually include codes like these to our games because it can be very difficult to judge player expertise. We also know how frustrating it can be to play an expert in codes but not be very good at it yourself. So we make sure we have other rules for dealing with codes. However, we’re always delighted when our customers change their games for their groups and incorporate these kinds of details.)

Staging the scene of the murder

I designated one small room as Beth’s room (the victim). This was mostly decoration, but the guests got pretty into it. First I thoroughly cleaned the room so there was nothing distracting – just a bed and a desk. On the floor, I made a roughly human shape out of (clean) laundry and covered it with a blanket. I put the description of the body under the blanket in case anyone looked. I decorated the room according to the description in the instructions. On the desk I put an assortment of math textbooks, and small photos of the boyfriend and best friend character.

At the beginning, after the introduction I announced that, “Beth’s room is up the stairs in the second room on the left… the police have asked the scene not be disturbed. So don’t go up there and try to investigate.”

It was good because even though only a few people would have thought to ask about the details of the room, everyone went up to see the room. Except the murderer, who purposely stayed away from it the entire night.

The Russian memo

I used Google translate to make a very Russian looking memo with the names and addresses in English and the names in bold.

I hid the telegram in a book and added its location into the encoded journal.