Parties with a Twist of Murder!
Parties with a Twist of Murder!
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How to Host Pirate Murder Mystery

Party Organisation, Menus, Decorations And More

Pirate party food, dining table decor and table with guests
Pirate party desserts - treasure island cheesecake and treasure chest cake

Hosting a Pirate Murder Mystery - Other Helpful Ideas

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See how we hosted our "Pirates, Plunder and Murder" mystery game for 12 friends and family - while still playing major characters in the murder mystery and enjoying the evening.

1 Some General Pre-Party Organisation

1.1 Deciding Which Version of the Mystery to Run 

Before deciding which version of the game to run, we phoned round different friends and family members to see who was free on a few weekends. We advise customers to do this BEFORE purchasing a game as it can be amazing how different diaries can sometimes clash. We settled on the 10-12 player version as some friends were on holiday, one requested a minor role and one of our teenage sons was happy to have a minor or a major role.

1.2 Allocating Characters and Sending Invitations

We matched up our guests with the characters in the 10-12 player version of the mystery (drunken pirates, fearsome pirates, sassy pirates/tavern wench, mysterious Guardians and English Admiral, Parson and aristocratic lady). We were able to give each player a character they were happy with. (To make life easier for hosts, the game's Host Instructions have an outline of each character and the relationships between characters so that you, too, can assign the right role to the right guest.)

Once we'd allocated guests, we sent each guest their themed treasure map invitation and their character's pre-party booklet. We did this about 3 weeks in advance of the party to allow guests time to prepare or order costumes. At this point, we also asked for any food allergies/dislikes so that we would be aware of this when planning our menu. We also included a polite note with the invites for major characters saying that "your character is essential for the evening to run".

Our treasure map-themed pirate invitation and first page of Pre-Party Booklet
Party invitation and the first page of the Pre-Party Booklet

Note - a few days before the party, we sent an email to each guest with the menu choices. This meant that we knew exactly who was having what food before the night - and also served as a (just as important) reminder to each guest.

1.3 Printing and Other Organisation

The week before the party, we used the material supplied with the game to print the following essential items:

and also to print some nice extras:

Most printouts we put on a bookcase next to my seat (for easy access throughout the game). The name tags, however, we put in a dish made out of a coconut half.

Name tags in a bowl made out of a coconut half

We also asked our teenage sons to create a pirate playlist and to ensure that the game's Introduction and Solution audios could be played across our surround sound.

1.4 Party Organisation

We have found over the years that our parties run best with the following format:

2 Our Pirate and Caribbean Themed Party Menu

For our launch party, we wanted something that combined the taste of the Caribbean with a pirate theme. We also needed to cater to some friends who don't like spicy foods and some who are Pescatarian.

Most importantly, we needed a menu that could be prepared largely in advance of the party so that we could both play a major role alongside our guests without disrupting the game with constant trips to the kitchen.

Our pirate party food and drink page gives lots of other food and drink ideas that other hosts could use instead.

Food for our pirate murder mystery party. From top-left: cornbread, mango salsa in a pineapple boat, chocolate treasure chest cake, Caribbean spicy coleslaw, tropical treasure map cheesecake.
Food for our pirate murder mystery party. From top-left: cornbread, mango salsa in a pineapple boat, chocolate treasure chest cake, Caribbean spicy coleslaw, tropical treasure map cheesecake.

2.1 Caribbean Starters

For starters, we offered our guests a choice of Caribbean sweet potato, coconut milk and chili soup or pate served with mango and ginger chutney, plum chutney and salad. We teamed both options with cornbread. (As we live in the UK, cornbread can be hard to source and so we bought a Betty Crocker Cornbread and Muffin Mix. One of our sons made this on the morning of the party using an eight-inch round cake tin. A single packet was enough to give each guest a small slice of cornbread - although we did also make some plain bread in the breadmaker so that guests could help themselves to other bread as they chose.)

We made the soup the day before and put it in the oven just before the start of the party; by the time the starters were served at the end of |Round 2, it was nicely heated through. The salad and pickles were added to the plates before guests arrived leaving the paté to be added just before the starters were served. One of our guests helped us slice the bread and cornbread as other guests were taking their seats and sorting refills for drinks.

2.2 Caribbean Main Course

For the main course, we offered guests a choice of jerk chicken or salmon - or plain roasted chicken or salmon for non-spice lovers. We served simple roast potatoes. Guests had a choice of spicy Caribbean coleslaw and mango salsa served in a pineapple boat - or hot peas and baby sweetcorn.

We marinated the salmon and chicken the night before the party. We pre-boiled the potatoes on the day of the party and had them sitting in a roasting tray with oil before the party began. The potatoes were put in the oven just before the starters; the chicken was placed in the oven as we were clearing the table at the end of the starters; the salmon was placed in the oven just before we sat down to Round 3.  The kettle was also boiled at the end of the starters so that the peas and sweetcorn could be cooked in boiling water after Round 4 had finished in order to reduce the cooking time.

Admission: John did pop to the kitchen after Round 3 just to turn the potatoes and non-marinated chicken.

Note: we cooked large slices of a side of salmon and so they took longer to cook than had we chosen small salmon fillets.

2.3 Pirate Desserts - Arrgh-mazing!

We served dessert at the end of the evening (after the Final Audio Solution had been played and after the awards had been presented.) We offered two desserts.

Our treasure map cheesecake had a tropical taste - we used the BBC tropical cheesecake bars recipe but chose to make it in an eight-inch round cake tin rather than in the oblong tin they suggest. This recipe has a lovely moist crumb base, pieces of mango cooked into the cheesecake, and a tangy lemon curd and passion-fruit topping. Important for us, it could be made the day before the party and then stored in the fridge.

For the lemon curd and passion fruit topping, we used less passion fruit juice than the recipe suggested (approximately the juice of 1-2 passion fruit) so that the mixture would not be too runny. We spread this mixture in the middle of the cheesecake to form an island shape and then surrounded it with whipped cream colored with blue food coloring to represent the sea. We then used fruit to make a zig-zag path and to form an "X marks the spot".  For the palm trees, we used Hawaiian Tiki Paper Honeycomb Trees on food picks (supplied by Ginger Ray Store on Amazon).  We made the lemon curd and passion fruit mixture, whipped the cream and washed the fruit before the party and then simply assembled it just before serving in order to make sure the colors didn't run into each other. However, when we looked at the remains of the cheesecake the next day, we noted that the colors had not run together and so some hosts might  feel safe putting the cheesecake decorations together in advance of the party.

Note: on a previous test, we used blueberries to form the path and pieces of raspberry to form the "X marks the spot". On the night of the party itself, we used small black grapes and cherry pieces as we thought they were more tropical. The blueberries and raspberries gave a more appealing finish.

Our wonderful friend Sharon and her daughter Connie bought a superb treasure chest cake. They made a chocolate cake in a loaf tin, cut the top off and then created a hollow inside which they filled with "edible treasure" such as chocolate pearls, Gulyian chocolate shells, and pirate puff pastry coins. They iced this with chocolate buttercream and then created the chest hinges with brown fondant icing. The cake was surrounded with crushed digestive biscuits to represent sand, different fish-shaped sweets, and more chocolate shells, edible pearls and pirate puff pastry coins. The pirate coins were round puff pastry cutouts topped with sugar and cinnamon; they were delicious by themselves!

We served food on palm-leaf plates to add to the authenticity of the evening. As a bonus, they are eco-friendly and save on washing up! To serve, we used a selection of earthenware dishes and wooden breadboards, cheeseboards, and trays.

3 Pirate Murder Mystery Decorations

We decided to go all out to create the atmosphere of our fictional town of Port Plunder with lots of emphasis on treasure maps, a pirate ship and skulls and skeetons while also creating a feel of the Caribbean. For other ideas, see our 79 pirate murder mystery decorating ideas page.

3.1 Treasure-Themed Dining Table

For our dining table, we chose to mix a treasure theme with a dramatic skull and crossbones sail. We added the threatening words "Tell No Tales" above the skull and crossbones and then added a personal link to our mystery game with "Be Loyal to Hook-handed Hal" beneath it. (Hook- Handed Hal is the feared King of the Caribbean Pirates in our game.)

Skull and crossbones flag is a dramatic table backdrop
Homemade skull and crossbones flag makes an impressive backdrop to the dining table; words were painted on a black sheet and the edges were then cut and frayed

For the black skull and crossbones sail, we used a flat black sheet as the canvas. We used several coats of acrylic paint to get the depth of color for the words and for the skull and crossbones. Then we cut some tatters and tears into the side of the sheet.

As a fun spooky touch, we added a skeleton in a pirate outfit to the head of the table, just underneath the flag! (Had we done these decorations again, we would have created an "I be Billy Blood" sign for the skeleton; Billy Blood is the game's murder victim.)

For the tablecloth, we used a roll of hessian cloth with half a roll of red and white striped cloth for the table runner. (The other half became the sail for the boat in the lounge.) We then bought a second-hand treasure chest via Facebook Messenger, filled it with scrunched-up newspaper, and then used some creepy cloth to hide the newspaper. Then we propped it open with several "gold" candlesticks and hung different necklaces and pearl strings from the candlesticks. A few gold-covered chocolate coins completed the look.

Treasure map place setting
Treasure map place setting for One-eyed Shark; napkin folded into a boat shape and hessian loot sack.

For each place setting, we covered an old table mat and coaster with part of a red sheet then topped the place mat with the character's treasure map place setting. (These are provided with the extensive game kit.) We folded the red napkins into a boat. (See this easy tutorial for folding napkins into boats.) Just for fun, we added a SHATCHI skull and crossbones cocktail stick flag to the top of each napkin. Then we filled a small hessian party favor bag with scrunched-up newspaper and added a gold-covered chocolate coin to the top of each bag so that each guest had their own "treasure bag" with a chocolate to go with coffee.

3.2 Sea Dog Treasure Tavern Decor

For other areas of the dining room, we created an impression of the tropical "Sea Dog Treasure Tavern" where the interrogation part of the mystery game is set.

 

Sea Dog Treasure Tavern - reed fencing, skeleton, pirate's skull and hat, parrots, netting, cardboard crates and reed fencing
Reed fencing was placed above the fireplace to make a stunning backdrop to the "Pirates Only" sign.

We bought 4 meters of reed fencing to simulate the bamboo that can be grown in the Caribbean. (I would advise you to buy slightly more than you think you are going to need as I ended up with 3.7 meters rather than 4 meters.) We put a strip of cardboard on top of the mantelpiece and sideboard in order to protect our furniture from being scratched.

We bought three natural unbleached cotton twill dustsheets to cover walls and unsightly modern furniture; these could also be used to simulate sail cloth. We also bought a mix of white and blue decorative fishing nets from different online party suppliers. 

We covered cardboard boxes in brown paper (to remove wording on the boxes) and then used the crate labels supplied with the pirate game kit to turn these boxes into "crates" of supplies that could be found in a buccaneer's tavern such as grog, rum and gunpowder. We also covered a selection of bottles with drinks' labels from the game's decoration kit.

To give the tavern a suitable piratical feel, we used the reverse of a weathered sign on which to write "Pirates Only: Ye Be Warned". (We used an approximation of the Black Flag font for this.) We used two printouts from the game's decoration kit (the Pirates' Code and the Sea Dog Treasure Tavern sign) and made them look more visually impressive by mounting them on a large piece of cardboard covered with pieces of the same red sheet used to cover the table mats. Then we added a miniature skeleton and a pirate hat sitting atop a skull.

Then it was just a matter of arranging items together with some fake parrots, sea shells, coconuts and an old rope to form an attractive display.

3.3 Piracy Printouts

For a sideboard display, we again used reed screen, burlap cloth, netting, rope and printouts from the game's decoration pack to create a feel of the inside of the tavern. This time we added a selection of old-fashioned candlesticks and a vintage storm lantern. We also added different printouts that referred to the action of the game - the reward that was being offered to capture Hook-handed Hal and the other Caribbean pirates and the threats that Hal was making to any "scurvy dog" who thought of taking this reward.

Tip: by covering a large piece of cardboard with some of the same sheet used to cover the table mats, and then using this as the frame for the printouts, we made each printout stand out far more than it would have done. This also helped to tie the different elements of the dining room decorations together visually.

Printouts about Hook-handed Hal together with reed fencing, rope, netting, burlap cloth and an assortment of candles and a storm lantern
Reed fencing, natural cotton dust sheet, rope and decorative netting; posters framed on cardboard covered in red napkins.

3.4 Pirate Boat Decorations

For the main focus of our party space, we were lucky enough to find a second-hand outdoor children's pirate ship via Facebook Messenger. We cleaned it and coated it with a brown wood preservative.

Pirate ship forms centre part of our murder mystery decorations - skull and crossbones atop the mast, skeleton in pirate outfit firing the canon, hand-painted palm tree backdrop
Pirate ship with skeleton manning the cannon; an anchor is made out of cardboard covered with tin foil; a hand-painted tropical backdrop adds interest.

Instead of the traditional black skull and crossbones flag, we created a crossbones shape out of cardboard and added a few coats of white Acrylic paint. Then we screwed this to the top of the mast and stuck a polystyrene skull into a nail so that the skull sat over the crossbones. We used the same red and white striped material that we had used for the dining room table runner for the sail. Decorative fish nets (ordered online from TakFree) simulated the boat's rigging and a few decorative foam parrots added a touch of color.

We made an anchor shape out of cardboard and then covered it with silver foil. For the anchor chains, I cut strips of black card and sellotaped them into interlinking chains, and then threaded this through the top of the anchor.

Tip: some sections of the foil will likely have a less-than-smooth appearance after sculpting them around then different edges of the anchor; therefore I found it best to scrunch up all of the foil so that I had a uniformly crinkled and shiny appearance all over the anchor.

I created a tropical island backdrop using two double-sized sheets as my canvas.  This was actually surprisingly easy to do as I simply created a few island shapes to separate the sea and sky and painted two palm trees on either side.

Tip: use blue sheets so that you have a base background color for the sea and the sky without using so much paint.

Tip: the secret for making a mural like this look good is to layer different shades of colour. For example, for the palm tree trunks, I had a light shade of brown towards the sun, a medium shade of brown in the middle of the trunk and then a darker shade of brown on the side of the trunk furthest away from the sun. Likewise, with the palm leaves, I simply drew in lots of lines hanging down from each branch using various shades of green and yellow. The ones nearest the sun had more yellow tones; the ones furthest from the sun had darker green lines. I used several different shades of blue and turquoise to create the sea and several different shades of blue and white for the sky. 

Tip: allow time to enable several different coats of paint to dry as this will give you a richer set of colors than a single coat.

Finally, we found a wooden cannon that a local amateur dramatic group was selling and put this on top of the ship's deck. For fun, we added a skeleton dressed in a pirate outfit, a cutlass, and some chocolate coins. For cannon balls, I covered tennis balls in black material. (I found that using black thread to sew the black material over a tennis ball gave me a smoother, rounder appearance than using sellotape.) An alternative would be to spray-paint the balls grey or black.

I had intended to create a ship's wheel out of cardboard but decided it was neater to paint over the small plastic ship's wheel that came with the ship.

Skeleton dressed in a pirate's costume firing a wooden cannon
Skeleton dressed in a pirate's costume firing a wooden cannon. Cannon balls = tennis balls covered in black material. Coins = gold-covered chocolate coins.

Our Murder Mystery in Progress

Sword fight
Contact-free (for safety) sword fight.

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Important Disclaimers

These ideas are provided for your inspiration only. Any recipes or recipe ideas should be tested before your party. Ideas for party recipes, decorations or costumes should be adapted as you wish. It is YOUR responsibility to follow any necessary safety precautions.