Under the Big Top


Under the Big Top is a 1950s circus-themed murder mystery game for 12 to 15 guests and one host. Written by Mark Schaefer. Recommended for ages 15+.


Under the Big Top is a 1950s murder mystery game for 12 to 15 guests and one host. It is set in Bo Bennett’s Big Top Bonanza and characters include stars and performers of the circus, plus the circus staff and invited guests.  Download the free introductory pdf file.

Under the Big Top is a thrilling evening of betrayal, deceit, treachery and circus mayhem. Your guests will be in the middle of the action, and it will be up to them to wheel and deal to get what they want. Will they achieve their goals, keep their secrets hidden, and survive Under the Big Top?

“I’ve been hosting murder mystery parties for years, but Under the Big Top was the first freeform I’ve tried and I LOVE it! Am planning another one in February for a group of 30. ”
Alaina Robertson, United States

See stories and pictures from Under the Big Top. Click here to read the Sarasota Star.

It is 1952, and Bo Bennett’s Big Top Bonanza has reached Sarasota, Florida, for its final show. With a successful nine-month tour behind them, the performers and staff of the Bonanza are making plans for a restful and rewarding off-season.

As the curtain falls on the final Big Top performance, a select few gather in JoJo Bones’ Exotic Emporium of Enigmatica (part of the Bonanza). To celebrate the successful tour, JoJo will host a night of revelry, food, drink and, this year, what JoJo has promised to be “startling revelations”.

Tragically, however, JoJo was killed last night. His body was found early this morning in the lions’ cage, mauled by lions Gladys and Mountjoy. Since JoJo’s body reeked of alcohol, preliminary reports are that he wandered into the cage in a drunken stupor.

But, the show must go on and the post-season party will continue – and so the selected performers and staff of Bo Bennett’s Big Top Bonanza assemble to remember JoJo and celebrate the successful season. This may be their last chance to seal their fates for the future…

Under the Big Top lasts for about four hours and is suited to an evening. It is often played over a meal – a finger buffet if possible, to allow guests to circulate and talk in private.

Under the Big Top was the first that any of us did a murder mystery party and it was seriously the best party that I’ve ever had!! We all had said much fun. A great time!! Everyone went all out.”
Shanna Tonelli, United States

No combat, no poison.
No combat, no poison.

The free introductory pdf file contains an introduction to the game and a cast list of all the characters.

Cast of characters

Bo Bennett’s Big Top Bonanza

  • Bo Bennett: Owner and ringmaster of Bo Bennett’s Big Top Bonanza.
  • Marvin Mancuso: The daring high wire performer and juggler par excellence! A veteran and star performer of the Bonanza.
  • Burt Butler: The fearless and intrepid svengali of the beasts! Another veteran and star performer.
  • Dana West: Floppsy the Clown, our winning, whimsical and puckish prankster.
  • Dimitri Korchencko: Flyer for the Flying Korchenckos, gravity-defying, soaring hawk of the trapeze!
  • Vladimir Korchencko: Dimitri’s brother, and catcher for the Flying Korchenckos, the mighty oak upon which Dimitri alights!

JoJo Bones’ Exotic Emporium of Enigmatica

  • Stella Sue: Beguiling consumer and tamer of nature’s most feared and destructive element – fire! (ie fire-eater)
  • Svetlana Yuri: The human pretzel, a mind-bending contortionist beyond compare.
  • Quinn Bones: The human pincushion whose body endures the points of needles, daggers and swords! (JoJo and Roxanne’s sibling.)
  • Roxanne Bones: The Blind Seer will peer into your future and foresee your death. Do you dare? (JoJo and Quinn’s sister.)
  • Mischa Korchencko: Astounding charmer of snakes, mesmerizing asps, rattlesnakes and copperheads! (Dimitri and Vladimir’s sibling.)


  • Frieda Laing: Assistant manager and mistress of the rides and games of chance.
  • Alex Marbles: Our wizard of numbers (our accountant)

Invited Guests

  • Lt. Morgan Caine of the Sarasota Police Department
  • P.T. Connelly: Provider of edible delights.

Under the Big Top is for 12 to 15 guests:

    • 12 guests (4 male, 4 female, 4 any)
    • 13 guests (4 male, 4 female, 5 any)
    • 14 guests (4 male, 4 female, 6 any)
    • 15 guests (4 male, 4 female, 7 any)

You also need a host – someone to organize the party and ensure everything runs smoothly.

How Freeform Games murder mystery games work

Under the Big Top is unlike other murder mystery games. Although the game starts with a murder, each character has several goals they must try to accomplish. While they may want to solve the murder, Under the Big Top contains plenty of other plots and secrets to keep everyone busy. Under the Big Top isn’t scripted, and lets the players decide how to achieve their goals and thwart their enemies..

“I couldn’t help but think that I, as the host, was entirely unprepared for the Under the Big Top night. It seemed to me there was far too much to remember. Luckily, that wasn’t the case at all, everyone really took to their goals and went fully for it. I kept having people tell me “don’t end the game yet! I’m so close to achieving such and such goal.” Even my shy friends picked up on it right away. It was an incredible way to spend my 30th birthday!”
Alyssa Stratton, United States

On the evening of the game the guests are met by the organizer, the Circus Hand.

They then receive their detailed backgrounds – including dark secrets, objectives and money. Some are hatching schemes. Others harbor nasty and unbridled ambitions. The players can form alliances, blackmail each other, steal items and decide what they plan to do next season.

Along the way they may solve some of Under the Big Top’s mysteries. Who will be appointed the new Manager of JoJo Bones’ Exotic Emporium of Enigmatica? What is the real story behind JoJo’s death? All will be revealed Under the Big Top.

Recommended for ages 15+

We recommend Under the Big Top for those aged 15+ as several characters are romantically involved with, or interested in, each other.

Extra characters

Sometimes you have too many guests and need more characters. Under the Big Top comes with free extra characters (written by us or previous hosts) that are included in the download when you purchase the game.

    • ‘Ginger’ Roberts – freelance reporter in search of the Big Story. (Any)
      (by Freeform Games)
    • Denny McFly – stagehand and prop manager. (Any)
      (by Kathi Bonallo)
    • Hoxie Trainer – apprentice lion tamer. (Any)
      (by Kathi Bonallo)

Please note that we haven’t always tested these – and they may not tie in exactly with our games.

“Thank you for a great site, fantastic games, good service and very quick reply. Keep up the good work.” Ole Martin Brodwall, Norway

Cast Iron Guarantee

We offer a Cast Iron Guarantee on all our murder mystery games. If you’re not completely satisfied with Under the Big Top then please let us know within 30 days and we will refund you. See our full terms and conditions, and our refund policy.

Trouble downloading? If you have trouble downloading the game files, please first check your spam folder. If you still can’t find the download email, drop us a line at info@freeformgames.com with the name of the game and the email address you used to purchase it, and we’ll resend it.

4 reviews for Under the Big Top

  1. Jill Davis (store manager)

    I donated this Under the Big Top murder mystery party as a fundraiser for our local animal shelter. I have done this before. This time I got $3,700 for my murder!

  2. Dominick Martens (store manager)

    This was the second game I hosted and played as a group. The year before, we played Way Out West. Everyone had so much fun ans asked us to host and plan another game the following year. My wife and I began thinking about what game we would play next and found Under the Big Top. We partially chose it due to the costumes and varied roles that everyone could play. It was much easier hosting a second game. The flow of the evening, planning, casting, decorating, preparation, and character management was much more easier once I knew what to expect. These are great games to play and use as an alternative to a ‘standard’ Christmas party with friends. We had people all over our house and at times had as many as four people crammed into a small laundry room for a ‘secret’ meeting! The game was a hit and have had requests for next year’s game.

  3. Nick Eccles (store manager)

    I hosted (on my own) again for the first time since 2008 Under The Big Top last Saturday and it was really good! I created Jo Jo’s Emporium and added freaky props and fake spiders web to the walls plus playing cards tacked to the wall for an extra mini-game 😉 I dressed as a mime as the circus-hand and very nearly won the best costume which I was very glad about! Well, that’s six down and people are already talking about the seventh on the way… Thank you once again Freeform for a great murder mystery! 🙂

  4. Claudine Combrie (store manager)

    We played Under the Big Top on New Year’s Eve — it went brilliantly! I was quite nervous at first in case I had made a mistake preparing the envelopes. We were 16 players (I had downloaded the extra character) from 10 years old to 74 years old — the 10 and 12 years old were brilliant doing the dirty deals with their fake money! We almost forgot midnight, so busy everybody was talking about the various plots (we had finished the game at 11.30pm!)

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Q & A

How soon will I get my game? asked on 13 May 2020

You can download your game immediately after making your purchase. We will also send you an email message containing a download link and password so you can download your game later.

answered on 12 May 2020 store manager
(0) (0)
Where's my password? asked on 11 May 2020

Please check your email (including your junk folder). If you're sure you haven't received it, then please get in touch. It helps us if you tell us when you purchased the game and what email address you used.

answered on 10 May 2020 store manager
(0) (0)
How do freeform murder mystery games work? asked on 9 May 2020

Most of our games have an impartial host who organizes the party. Hosts don't solve the murder with everyone else – they have already read the game and instead watch the game unfolding.

Guests use their wits and negotiate, scheme, and plot with other guests to get what they want. Nobody needs to learn complicated backgrounds or memorize lines – character backgrounds are little more than a side or two of paper – which can be kept to hand for reference during the game.

answered on 8 May 2020 store manager
(0) (0)
Have you got any games for beginners? asked on 7 May 2020

Yes! If this is your first time hosting a Freeform Games murder mystery, we suggest choosing one of our more straightforward games. Click here for our 'games for beginners' page.

answered on 6 May 2020 store manager
(0) (0)
Do you have any games suitable for all-male or all-female groups? asked on 5 May 2020

Yes! We have several games where all the characters are ungendered and can be played by anyone. Click here to see our ungendered games.

answered on 4 May 2020 store manager
(0) (0)

Ask a question

Your question will be answered by a store representative or other customers.

Thank you for the question!

Your question has been received and will be answered soon. Please do not submit the same question again.



An error occurred when saving your question. Please report it to the website administrator. Additional information:

Add an answer

Thank you for the answer!

Your answer has been received and will be published soon. Please do not submit the same answer again.



An error occurred when saving your answer. Please report it to the website administrator. Additional information: