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Sunday, April 01, 2007
Sylvia Anderson - Lifestyles Reporter, St. Joseph News-Press
There's nothing like murder to liven up a party. You could say it really gives guests something to talk about - especially when combined with a gourmet dinner and clues to who did it. Lori and Larry Zillner recently hosted such an affair at their historic home in St. Joseph using a box game called 'Murder to Go.' The guests were 1940s actors and movie producers, dressed to kill, so to speak, in furs, big hats and sunglasses. Over appetizers the group learned there had been two murders, making the evening particularly intriguing. Between bites, they were given clues to the murders, while a debonair detective posed telling evidence and questions. The murder scene also was available for inspection. (The victims were found shot to death on the Zillners' fainting couch). It wasn''t until the dessert course that anyone was able to figure out who did it. 'They were here from 5 p.m. until after midnight,' Mrs. Zillner says. 'They said they have never had such a good time and want to do it every year.'
THE GAME Murder mystery games have been around since the 1935 classic game Jury Box, says Ted Battreall, president of Host-Party.com, a Web site that features murder mystery party kits. In Jury Box, players become members of a jury who examine evidence and try to decide if the defendant is guilty or innocent. Today''s murder mystery games tend to be much more elaborate, with individual scripts, invitations, a hunt for clues, props, costumes and multi-course meals. Although the games previously were sold exclusively in box form, they now are usually Web based, Mr. Battreall says, providing custom-designed scripts and more flexibility. Most box games are designed for eight to 12 guests. The Web-based versions can be designed for any size event. 'You can adjust the characters, the setting, customize it with guest names, add their photos and do whatever you want to personalize the game,' he explains. Both forms usually provide complete instructions on what to do, including information and costume suggestions for each character, clues, evidence and invitations. Host-party.com also includes a customized pregame feature, where guests are invited to discover more about their character and the scenario, get costume suggestions and advance clues on the Web site. 'It builds excitement before the party,' Mr. Battreall says. 'Instead of saying, ''What is this?'' They are saying, ''I can''t wait to go.'''
THE CHARACTERS Guest involvement is critical to the success of the game, Mary George says. She coordinated the Zillner party and two other murder mystery dinners the same night as fundraisers for the Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in St. Joseph. The characters should be assigned with the guests in mind, she says. Much of the fun is seeing the guest transformation. One of the guests at the Zillner party was so convincing that nobody recognized her, Mrs. Zillner says. 'Everyone was coming in the kitchen saying, ''Who is that woman?''' Mrs. George also suggests adding a detective or investigator if one is not included in the script. He or she can direct the game, ask questions and provide evidence. John Kreipe did a perfect job as an investigator at the Zillner party, she says. 'He was fabulous. He prepared all day Saturday, read through every piece of information, knew everybody''s parts.' Make the investigator fit the guest and the setting. At one of the other parties Mrs. George worked on, the setting was Miami in 1975. Mrs. George''s husband took the role of Sonny Crockett from 'Miami Vice.' Or try some famous names like Sherlock Holmes, James Bond or Columbo. Also, consider your space a character, as well. Props, such as a outline of the body on the couch, matches from a nightclub used as evidence, and an autopsy report helped with creating realism in the game at the Zillner home.
THE FOOD Since the Zillner party was a fundraiser, the food was elegant!

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