Neither partner has our entire range of games, but it’s striking how little overlap exists between them (and us). Our perennial bestseller, Way out West, doesn’t feature at all – but most of our customers are American, so I guess that’s not surprising.
New and updated murder mystery games
We published two games in 2023: The Roswell Incident (a 1947 alien-themed game for 10-13 players set in Roswell, New Mexico) and A Purrfect Murder (a modern game for 9-12 players set at a cat-fancy show).
(We also removed our Way out West book from sale on Amazon. It didn’t sell, so it wasn’t worth maintaining.)
Last year’s goals
We set ourselves a few goals in 2023:
Improve our website: We made a massive change by moving to WooCommerce for our shop. So now our online store looks much like other stores rather than the bespoke store we had previously. This has three benefits – it should feel like a more familiar online shopping experience for customers (particularly new customers), it is easier for us to maintain, and it has addressed many of the niggly issues we had with downloads going missing under the old system.
We also started putting more customer stories and photos onto our blog rather than just on the game stories page. That means the stories stand out better, and the stories pages will be quicker to load (they were getting rather long and slow).
We’ve also paid for dedicated server bandwidth, so our site should respond more quickly than it used to.
So, a clear success.
Updated games: We updated Way out West and Davy Jones’ Locker. That was everything we planned to do, so that was a success.
New games: We published A Purrfect Murder (as planned) and The Roswell Incident (which wasn’t). So we over-delivered there.
Shine light on our French and German language partners: We’ve been linking to them more on the blog, and I’ve included them in our review above. Maybe we could have done more, so perhaps a partial success.
With three clear successes (and one partial success), I think we achieved everything we intended to do in 2023 and perhaps a bit more.
Plans for next year
Improve our website: This is always a work in progress, but we need to let the shop settle in and sort out any teething problems that may arise. We will also move more photos across to the blog.
Updated games:Court in the Act is the last game still in the old format, so we will update this year.
New games: We’ve got a couple of games in the early stages of preparation, but nothing we want to commit to right now.
2023 was an excellent year for us. Hopefully, the changes we’ve made to the shop have given us a good foundation for 2024.
I sent in a story almost 15 years ago as we had done Court in the Act for my 21st. Since then I did Davy Jones’ Locker for my 30th and now Curse of the Pharaoh for my 35th, and I am still hooked all these years later!
This time around we had a whole new cast of people playing, and everyone had a blast enjoying Egyptian finger food like falafels and koftas, and scheming all night long. In the end, many of us were foiled in our goals, but I think we enjoyed it nonetheless.
Super looking forward to the next one!!
And here’s are photos from Kellie’s Court in the Act:
Laura Breeding recently told us about her Way out West party:
“We have enjoyed sharing murder mystery games with family and friends in the past, but our guests have made comments about having to read all night with box games – and one said maybe we can find a western!
“I went on the hunt for a western and found your Way out West, which allowed us to interact with another to create a production, versus the scripting in other mysteries. This murder took place not only in a western scene but at the silver dollar saloon and we had just added a bar to our home which was a great fit for our rowdy bunch who really immerse themselves in the role they’ve been casted for. There were challenges, moments of passion and excitement, swindling, dealings, an arrest tor two, and even a shootout at high noon! Our bunch had an amazing time on this murder mystery night – I will continue to do our murder mystery hosting through this company!
“I do recommend sending character details ahead of time, if your murder mystery, guests are used to either box murder mysteries, or never played at all.”
“We played Way out West as a fundraising event for our son’s trip to Europe with other youth at our church. It was a fabulous time! We used all 27 available characters and there were plenty of townsfolk who came as spectators. We were surprised how quickly the characters jumped into action. There was plenty of drama and everyone got into their characters! We followed the recommended timeline in the instructions for planning, which was very helpful. Folks at our church are already talking about which we’ll do next! Thank you for creating such an interactive, fun game.”
In 2017 Alex sent us their Way out West party photos – enjoy.
(Some of our pages of party photos are getting long and unwieldy, so we are moving some photos to the blog. Way out West, as our most popular game, is one of the worst culprits, so as an ongoing project we’re moving some old photos to their own blog page.)
Group photo of everyone playing Way out West – photo by Alex
Playing Way out West – photos by Alex
Hand-crafted game materials
Alex also created hand-crafted game materials (character books and so on) for Way out West, as shown below:
That’s a change from previous years, where A Will to Murder and Casino Fatale have usually been in the top three (they’re now in the top 5). Murder on the Istanbul Express was published in 2021, and we’re pleased it has been selling so well.
We were contacted by a Houston-based organisation looking for a steampunk-themed game for over 100 people. This was a one-off commission, and they were looking for a different style of game than our usual heavily-plotted murder mysteries. So we wrote a game involving rival families, secret societies, pirates and map exploration.
Last year’s goals
We set ourselves a few goals in 2020:
Improve our website – expand the game themes and bring a little animation to the book covers: While we added a little animation to the book covers (a slight zoom when you hover over them), we didn’t do as much with themes as we were hoping. We made some improvements, but only some. Maybe in 2023.
We also made numerous small changes to the website – such as adding icons so visitors can easily see which games have combat or poisoning.
Resolve the payment process glitches: These continued throughout 2022, unfortunately. Something about the Paypal payment process results in some emails ending up in spam filters. However, we made another change just before Christmas, which seems to have made a big improvement.
Continue to work on new games: We hadn’t expected to publish Vanished in Vegas and were delighted it came out ahead of programme.
Run games online: Steve ran Reunion with Death online in 2022 – he also ran Murder on the Istanbul Express offline at a games convention.
Reunion with Death – online
Change the focus of our two online games and promote them as games the host can play: We have now done this and now promote Reunion with Death and Death in Venice as games you can host and play.
So overall a successful year. We didn’t quite do everything we wanted to, but we did most of it and sometimes did more.
Plans for next year
Improve our website: Always a work in progress. We have no specific plans for this year, but it would be remarkable if we didn’t improve the website in lots of small ways.
Updated games: We’re currently updating Davy Jones’ Locker to the latest format, and then Way out West will be on the list.
New games: With a bit of luck and a fair wind, A Purrfect Murder (dark goings-on at a cat show) will be our next game.
Shine light on our French and German language partners: We have two partners who have translated many of our games in French and German: FranceMurderand Krimispiele-Seite. When appropriate, we will mention them more in our posts.
2022 represented a welcome recovery after the pandemic. It was a good year for us; hopefully, we can build on it for 2023.
“We bring complete strangers with different backgrounds, pasts, political and worldly views, sexual identification and lifestyles to the same table and stand for cosmopolitanism and tolerance with our Krimi Dinners.
“Since in every Krimi Dinner a person comes to harm and during the dinner the whole thing is seen from a playful point of view and laughed about and is also the reason for the merry get-together, we want to remind you that reality is different.
“Victims of violence and other crimes have experiences that we do not wish on anyone. These experiences are sometimes difficult to deal with and inflict not only psychological but also material damage on the victim and their relatives.
“This year, as in the last four years, we would like to remind people of the reality and do something good. That is why we are again organizing a crime dinner for a good cause. We have chosen the Weisser Ring E.V as a donation target and would like to support their work. The full-time and volunteer helpers there do great work. The volunteers sacrifice their free time to help others in explosive life situations. I was there myself and talked to the local association in Mainz to find out about their work. In a nice conversation, all my questions were answered and I have a good feeling about the work of the Weisser Ring.
“This year we collected 3000 Euros for Weisser Ring by auctioning and raffling donated games, crime dinners and other things.”
There was no iPhone, iPad, Facebook or Twitter. Google was three years old, and Amazon was nothing like the behemoth it is now. And Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 5 was the most common internet browser.
Payment over the Internet was relatively novel when we started, so we still accepted checks/ cheques. Not that checks have been popular – we’ve processed fewer than ten checks in 20 years.
Our first game was Death on the Gambia. It was initially more complicated: combat was fiddlier, you could catch river fever, and each character had a success or failure epilogue depending on how the player felt they did. We’ve simplified our games since then to make them easier to run.
In our early games, some characters had more abilities than others. In our more recent games, everyone has just three abilities.
Over time, we’ve improved our games’ layout to make them easier to run and play. We’re also more consistent with our look and feel so that when you buy a Freeform Games murder mystery game, you know what you’re getting. (Although we still have a backlog of games to update into the latest format.)
We live in the UK, and we initially expected that most of our customers would be here and in other English-speaking countries. But it quickly became clear that offering downloadable PDFs instead of physical games meant that people from all over the world would be keen to join the party.
We’ve had customers in 84 countries (at least—PayPal doesn’t always tell us where a customer is based). However, about two-thirds of our customers come from the USA—by far our biggest market.
We offered our first translated murder mystery in 2003 (Tod auf dem Gambia – a German translation of Death on the Gambia), and we offer 13 translated games. We now have two partners, Die Besten Familienspiele in Germany and FranceMurder in France.
Curse of the Pharaoh – played in New Zealand
The last 20 years have not been without their challenges.
Our biggest challenge has undoubtedly been the pandemic, where our sales dropped off a cliff in March 2020. However, as we reported in January, things have been picking up ever since and hopefully will continue to improve as we learn to live with coronavirus.
Other challenges have included unreliable web hosts (in one case causing us to lose a week’s traffic in October, our busiest period) and changes to Google’s algorithm.
We get most of our traffic from Google, and as they have been trying to weed out low-quality sites from their search results, we have occasionally been affected by those changes. But as you might expect, we only remember the changes that affect us negatively – we don’t remember the good changes!