Tag Archives: Way out West

Freeform Games’ review of 2023

2023 was Freeform Games’ most successful year in sales since we started in 2001. Growth has continued strongly since the end of the pandemic, and our sales have finally beaten our pre-pandemic best.

We’ve been doing these reviews since 2013 – you can read them here.

Best-selling games

Our best-selling games for 2023 were Way out West, A Speakeasy Murder, and Casino Fatale.
These three, along with Murder on the Istanbul Express and A Will to Murder, are consistently our best-selling games.

As for our French and German partners:

FranceMurder’s bestsellers were Réunion Mortelle (Reunion with Death), Istanbul Express (Murder on the Istanbul Express), and Mort à Venise (Death in Venice)

Die Besten Familienspiel’s bestsellers were Mord in der Flüsterkneipe (A Speakeasy Murder), Hollywoods Lügen (Hollywood Lies), and Eiskalte Geschäfte (Snow Business)

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 updated Davy Jones’ Locker and Way out West to our current format.

(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

Cover to the Court in the Act murder mystery game

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.

Summary

2023 was an excellent year for us. Hopefully, the changes we’ve made to the shop have given us a good foundation for 2024.

Way out West party photos

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.”

Great ideas for costumes and decor here!

Click here to learn more about Way out West.

Way out West is also available in German and in French (as La Ruée vers Cactusville).

Updating Davy Jones’ Locker and Way out West

Our ongoing project to update our games to our latest format continues with Davy Jones’ Locker and Way out West.

Davy Jones’ Locker

We completed this earlier in the year but forgot to mention it here on our blog.

Davy Jones’ Locker is our shipboard game of pirates in the Caribbean. The Libra is sailing from Tortuga to Florida – but with so many scoundrels aboard, it will be an eventful journey.

Apart from updating it into the new format (and correcting the odd typo), Davy Jones’ Locker hasn’t changed as a result of this update.

Way out West

Way out West is our best-selling game set in the Old West in 1884. The railroad is coming to the sleepy town of Cactus Gulch and brings trouble with it.

While we’ve not changed the plots or characters, we’ve simplified how we present Way out West. Previously, Way out West came in two versions – a version for adults and a version for kids. The kids’ version was the same as the adults’ but with references to elements like saloon girls removed (they’re now waitresses).

We’ve combined the two versions – there’s just a family-friendly version now. It’s the same game with the same plots and characters, but it’s now easier to include younger players as everyone is using the same version.

We have also now folded the expansion pack into the main game – so there’s no need to buy the expansion pack if you have more than 14 guests coming.

Getting updated copies

If you have an older copy of Davy Jones’ Locker or Way out West, you can get the updated versions by using the download instructions you received when you first bought the games.

Way out West photos

Rachel Foyst recently told us about her Way out West party:

“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.”

The jail got lots of use, as you can see…

Click here to learn more about Way out West.

Way out West is also available in German and in French (as La Ruée vers Cactusville).


Way out West party photos from Alex

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

Hand-crafted game materials

Alex also created hand-crafted game materials (character books and so on) for Way out West, as shown below:

Click here to learn more about Way out West.

Way out West is also available in German and in French (as La Ruée vers Cactusville).

Looking back at 2022

2022 felt like the pandemic was finally behind us. While COVID-19 is still around, it’s not the terror it once was, and the world (or at least, our part of it) is on the road to recovery.

From our perspective, that means people are gathering in groups – and where there are gatherings, there are murder mystery parties!

The recovery that started in 2021 continued in 2022, and it looks as if 2023 could be one of our best years ever.
We’ve been doing these reviews since 2013 – you can read them all here.

Best-selling games

Our best-selling games for 2022 were Way out West, Murder on the Istanbul Express, and A Speakeasy Murder.

Way out West

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.

New and updated murder mystery games

We published one new game in 2022, Vanished in Vegas by Jennifer Vals.

We also updated Curse of the Pharaoh and Happy Birthday RJ to our current format.

An unusual side project

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: FranceMurder and Krimispiele-Seite. When appropriate, we will mention them more in our posts.

Wrapping up

2022 represented a welcome recovery after the pandemic. It was a good year for us; hopefully, we can build on it for 2023.

Freeform Games’ review of 2021

As you might expect, the pandemic dominated 2021 for Freeform Games, but we slowly started to recover from 2020.
We’ve been doing these reviews since 2013 – you can read them all here.

Online and offline play

While 2020 showed a strong interest in playing our games online (using Zoom or similar), in 2021 we sold fewer copies of our online games (Reunion with Death and Death in Venice). Instead, our smaller games continue to sell well (a trend that started in 2020).

Playing Way out West in 2021

We suspect that’s because although many restrictions have been lifted with the vaccine rollout, many people are still wary about large gatherings. However, smaller groups (maybe family and close friends) appear to be okay, hence the popularity of our smaller games.

And while October and November had strong sales (compared to 2020), December’s dropped back. This was presumably due to the Omicron variant and fewer parties being held. (That’s not surprising – our own party season was quiet, too.) We’re keeping a close eye on how Omicron plays out, but early signs are looking promising.

Best-selling games

Our best-selling games for 2021 were Way out West (10-24 guests), then A Will to Murder (6-9 guests), then Casino Fatale (15-30 guests). Casino Fatale sold half as well as the other two, demonstrating the popularity of games for smaller groups.

As mentioned above, Reunion with Death (6-9 guests) and Death in Venice (5-9 guests) didn’t sell well, despite being for smaller groups. I think this is because we promoted them for online play. Both can be played in person—and because they are simpler (no combat or items) they are suitable for the host to play. So we are thinking about promoting them differently.

Our new game, Murder on the Istanbul Express (7-11 guests) has started strongly, although time will tell if that’s just because it’s the new game.

New and updated murder mystery games

We published one new game in 2021, Murder on the Istanbul Express. It’s been on our to-do list for ages, so this year we knuckled down and pushed it over the finish line. We’re really pleased with it.

We also updated The Night Before Christmas and Dazzled to Death to our current format.

We also updated the covers of all our games to make them more striking and obvious.

Scratching an itch

We created a page on itch.io for our games. Itch is ‘an open marketplace for independent digital creators with a focus on independent video games.’ It also has roleplaying games and larps, and we thought we’d add some of our games.

Our itch.io page

We’re not expecting sales through our itch.io page, but we have our free version of Way out West there and it gives us a little exposure to the indie gaming scene that we might not otherwise have.

Last year’s goals

We set ourselves a few goals in 2020:

Improve our website: We made a few improvements this year:

  • We added a banner made up of lots of customer photographs.
  • As described above, we changed all the cover photos for the games, making them brighter and clearer.
    We created theme pages for bestsellers, Christmas games and Halloween games.

Publish Murder on the Istanbul Express: Published!

Another new online game: We talked about another online game, but given the drop in sales of Reunion with Death and Death in Venice (as noted above), we didn’t push that.

So that’s two out of three goals achieved.

Plans for next year

Improve our website: Specifically, we have plans to expand the game themes and bring a little animation to the book covers.

Resolve the payment process glitches: We’ve had a few payment glitches lately—customers not receiving the download email (or it going straight to the spam folder). So we’ll investigate and fix that.

Continue to work on new games: We have a few new games in the pipeline, but realistically I don’t think we’ll be ready to publish any in 2022.

Run games online: We will try something new and run an occasional game online. We’ll promote this using our Facebook page.

Games the host can play: Change the focus of our two online games and promote them as games the host can play. As they don’t include items or money or the complicated rules that require an independent host, they are ideal if you want to host and also play in a game. (Steve ran Death in Venice this way back in 2020.)

Summary

Although 2021 was bad, we weathered the pandemic and released a new game. Sales are slowly recovering and as normality returns, hopefully we will return to playing our games in person.

Our games by year…

Following on from our birthday post last month, I thought it would be interesting to show when we published each game. I’ve excluded translations to keep things simple…

2001

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

2009

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

2018

2019

  • Christmas Lies (the festive version of Hollywood Lies) by Steve Hatherley

2020

2021

2022

2023

One of the things that amazes me is how my memory has changed everything. I think of A Speakeasy Murder as one of our newer games, but it’s now over seven years old! And was it really in 2009 when we published The Karma Club?

Additional Way out West character and Zoom tips


We have received a great story from Rosie about her Way out West Zoom party.

Way out West on Zoom

I ran Way out West via zoom for a group of old school friends last weekend and it was so much fun! The players said it was one of the best evenings they’ve had all year.

I wrote one extra character. My husband played it and said it worked really well- in fact he got quite a few murder accusations (is that a mark of success?!)

(I wrote the character so that it could be played by male or female as I’ve noticed there seem to be fewer female parts in the murder mysteries I’ve seen- but then saw you’d given the stable hand a name already so he is Pete.)

Zoom worked pretty well as a medium, I only have the basic account so we had to restart the call every 40 minutes which wasn’t as annoying as it sounded as the game broke fairly neatly into 40 min chunks. A word of advice to others to check out their breakout room settings- they need to tick the box to allow players to exit breakout rooms themselves!

Thanks for a lovely evening.

You can now download Rose’s extra character, stable hand Jay Sidwell, with the other extra characters in the same place you download the main files.

Her note about gender balance is interesting – we try to be even in the genders across our games and include a good number of genderless characters to keep things flexible, obviously we can always do better.

In fact originally her character, the stable hand, was male. That’s because the stable hand, Pete, is mentioned once in Way out West – they’re the poor soul who finds Zeke’s body. So we’ve changed Pete to Jay and made them genderless.

Way out West now has three extra characters, and you can see the full list of extra characters for all our games here.

Freeform Games in 2020

Unsurprisingly, 2020 was all about the pandemic for Freeform Games.

2020 had started well, with sales in January and February building on 2019 (which was a good year for us). And then in March the pandemic properly reached the UK and USA and our sales dropped off a cliff…

We’ve been doing these reviews since 2013 – you can read them all here.

Learning to play our games online

With lockdown, our amazing customers started playing our games online—using Zoom or Discord or Google Hangouts or whatever system they found easiest.

That inspired us to both create games specifically for online play, and also to learn how to play our “normal” games online.

Playing our games online in 2020

So for most of 2020 that’s what we’ve been doing – learning to play our games online. And also sales dropped off a cliff in March, things picked back up. Not to 2019 levels, but our sales for 2020 were similar to those in 2017.

Best-selling games

2020 brought a change to our best-selling games, with new online game Reunion with Death coming third (close behind perennial favourite Way out West). A Will to Murder topped our best-sellers list in 2020.

Reunion with Death – our third most popular game of 2020

Overall our top three games accounted for a hefty 35% of our sales. It’s noticeable that in 2020 our smaller games have been more popular, which is I think a reflection of the smaller games being easier for online play.

Three new games

We published three new games in 2020.

Reunion with Death by Mo Holkar. Written specifically for the lockdown, and set in a hotel where everyone is locked in their rooms. We also produced a festive version, Christmas Reunion with Death (but I’m not counting that as a separate game).

Death in Venice also by Mo. Another lockdown murder mystery, this time everyone is locked in their cabins aboard a luxury yacht.

The Food is to Die For by Anastasia Kulpa, set in a restaurant. This has been close to publication for a couple of years now, and in 2020 we finally rolled up our sleeves and published it.

We also updated Under the Big Top, to bring it into line with our newer format.

Last year’s goals

We set ourselves a few goals in 2020:

  • Improve our website: We made a few improvements this year:
    • We improved the look and feel by as increasing the overall type size and line spacing
    • We improved the right-hand menu on the games pages to make it easier to see new and best-selling games.
    • We changed the style of our game cover graphics for our new games – we’ll update our earlier games as we go along.
    • Our blog became more important as we posted lots of stories and advice about how to play our games online.
  • Publish The Food is to Die For and Murder on the Istanbul Express. So a partial success as we published The Food is to Die For. Murder on the Istanbul Express will have to wait for 2021.
  • Finish updating Under the Big Top: This was originally planned for 2019, but we updated it in 2020.

Plans for next year

  • Improve our website: Our website is key to our business and so we’re always looking to improve it. I don’t think we’ll ever not have this as a goal.
  • Publish Murder on the Istanbul Express: With The Food is to Die for published, we’ll concentrate on Murder on the Istanbul Express. And after that, we’ve got Death at the Derby lined up.
  • Another new online game: Even if the pandemic disappears (and I think that’s for the long-term), it seems there’s a space for online murder mystery party games and so we’d like to publish another.

Summary

So although 2020 was bad, we weathered the pandemic and have learned more about playing our games online.

As the vaccine is rolled out and normality returns, hopefully we will return to playing our games in person.