Honky Tonk Homicide – Session Report
(Does not contain spoilers)
Last year, as a going-away/birthday party, my girlfriend, my house-mate, and I hosted a murder mystery party using the Honky Tonk Murder game.
My house-mate at the time worked for a theater company, so we spent a few hours in the theater basement gathering wigs, costumes, and props. From hats to saddles and period whiskey bottles, I doubt I'll ever be able to create a setting for a game as authentic-feeling as this. We spent a day setting up the basement into the game's Western bar-themed murder scene.
The game comes with recipes included, but they didn't look very appealing so we made Tex-Mex food instead, bought a number of kinds of in-theme beer, and made cheesecake for desert.
The players arrived in character (people also had time to come the day before to get theater costumes/props).
The day itself was great. Even with one of the tables collapsing in the middle of supper (luckily there was lots of extra food) we had a winning combination: decent actors, good friends, costumes, food, and a fantastic setting. Everything was set for a fantastic game. And we had an incredible time--but not because of the game.
The game was, well, flat. I have only played a handful of murder mysteries, but in my experience, you have good clues to follow up on, and each character has real contributions to make in building a story. In Honky Tonk Murder, many of the players would have rounds with basically no new information, while a couple had a ton of new info each turn. This made the game feel uneven, and it was annoyingly obvious who was reading a few lines of text, and who was reading almost a page between turns. This created a discouraging imbalance for players.
While people enjoyed making fun of me (my character was going to the town of Marfa, and my girlfriend's name is Martha) we all were disappointed with the story-line. It just wasn't as interesting as other murder mysteries that we've played.
The ending was anti-climatic. There was no evidence that lead directly to who-dun-it. Or rather, there was evidence to show that any character could have committed the murder. If you've played murder mysteries before, you may say “oh, they're all like that.” That's true to an extent, although many games have clues, that, if the players find them all out, can piece together a logical culprit. But in this one, you really could have rolled a dice and been as likely to figure it out as you could from the in-game clues given. That is not my experience of other games in this genre.
Being a group of gamers, we took the books from all the characters afterwards and put them together to see if we had missed something. Even reading through the books, there was no missing piece, no way to tie the story together without information from the answer. You could have had any of the characters as the murderer, and the game would have made just as much sense. In other games I've played, taking the books afterwards and reading them would have you say “oh, that makes sense” (if you didn't actually solve it in the game itself from figuring out the hints and clues). In this one, it just didn't make sense. We were all so disappointed.
We wanted a game. We got an activity. We had fun dressing up and playing characters in a provided story-line. But there was nothing to solve. The ending seemed random, and the revealed answer relied on information that wasn't provided in-game.
This frustrated us. When I buy a game that I will likely only play once, I and my friends put a lot of effort into it. I expect the designer(s) to provide an interesting puzzle to figure out as the game progresses. They didn't.
If you like the process of solving the murder, I'd strongly suggest staying away from this one. If you just want a setting and character suggestions around which to build an evening (and don't mind if the ending is simply random) Honky Tonk Homicide may be fine.
Even though I had fun playing, I ranked it as my soul "1". I consider the game broken, and the fun I had was due more to the effort we put in then the game itself.