Ghost Ship Murder Mysteries – Murder in the West Wing [Review]

Government jobs are murder.

Location:  at home

Date Played: November 15, 2019

Team size: requires exactly 6

Duration: about 90 minutes

Price: $40 per player

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

Murder in the West Wing was our third journey with Ghost Ship Murder Mysteries. We aren’t huge fans of murder mysteries in general, but we love doing them with Ghost Ship. Interestingly, we all took Murder in the West Wing very seriously and the result was that we kind of broke the game in an amusing and strangely fun way.

We played these characters realistically by present-day American politics standards. We were all laughably partisan and not a %^&*ing one of us ever openly admitted to wrongdoing (even when confronted with evidence). We all dodged, denied, and generally employed the Shaggy defense (which has a well-developed Wikipedia page).

Left to right, David, Lisa, Amanda, Lindsay, Mike, Andrew - all dressed well and looking silly.
Yes, I did in fact commission that painting… and it is a brutally accurate description of what went down.

The world was burning and we were all protecting our reputations and interests. Each one of us was far more concerned with our own careers and saw the murder as more of an inconvenience. None of us cared about the victim (which was the only significant flaw with the script). It was legitimately weird when we all claimed to know nothing, but we were all so busy covering our own asses and hoarding one another’s secrets to ever confront truth. By the end of the game we had all unwittingly turned Murder in the West Wing into a giant prisoner’s dilemma, and collectively lost in spectacular fashion… which was kind of amazing.

I think that there is a much tighter game within Murder in the West Wing than we allowed, had we followed the prompts more directly. That said, I love that we unintentionally turned this immersive game into an on-the-nose nihilistic microcosm of present-day politics.

If you like the idea of hosting an intimate murder mystery for 6 people, Murder in the West Wing is great… and I have a sneaking suspicion that you will have a different experience than we had – probably because your friends will take this a little less seriously than we did.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Sorkin fans
  • Aspiring detectives
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Ghost Ship takes all of the labor and annoyance out of hosting a murder mystery gathering
  • To experience an unusual tale of political intrigue
  • Fantastic facilitation that pushes just the right amount to keep things moving

Story

Five government officials – each embroiled in their own scandals – and a mysterious stranger were summoned to the West Wing to meet with the President.

No one knows why they are all present.

Closeup of an Old Fashion with an orange.
If you’re looking for the right drink to pair with calamitous political decisions, the Old Fashioned is the drink.

Setting

Murder in the West Wing was set and structured exactly as Ghost Ship Murder Mysteries’ Space Smugglers. You can take a look back at that review to learn how they went about bringing a crime to our home.

This time, instead of dressing as space cowboys and space wizards, we wore suits.

Gameplay

As with the setting, you can reference our past review to get a handle on how Ghost Ship Murder Mysteries works.

Left to right, David, Lisa, Amanda, Lindsay, Mike, Andrew - all dressed well and looking very serious.
Serious face.

Analysis

➕ The tale of political intrigue was a fun, approachable theme with easy costuming.

Murder in the West Wing was a 6-player game (no more, no less). This was noticeably smaller than the other games we had played with Ghost Ship. As a result, it felt a lot more intimate. The trade-off was that it didn’t have the same scope, scale, and chaos of the other mysteries we had experienced.

➕ The first act was a gentle lead-in. It was a soft, approachable scene that let us all get comfortable.

➖ For us, the biggest flaw was that none of the characters had a great reason to care about the victim as a human being. The stakes were misaligned. We all had intrinsic motivations that felt generally greater than the murder in question.

➖ Too much of the hidden information was found too early and by the wrong people. This led to character breaks and some general holes in the story.

➕ Our facilitator did a great job of prompting and gently pushing for scenes to unfold… which was good because each and every one of us was slippery and evil. In our case, we didn’t do what was expected of us given those prompts.

➖ In our game, the information just didn’t flow. We didn’t necessarily know when to reveal certain information, and we were all so busy blackmailing or leveraging one another that we were tight-lipped about each other’s secrets even when they were revealed.

➖ Every handwritten note looked like a woman’s handwriting, which threw us for a loop.

➕ The use of cell phones in the game was great.

Tips For Visiting

  • This can be played in a small space. A larger space is better but not necessary.
  • It’s a good idea to tidy up your home before hosting.
  • A little bit of alcohol goes a long way in terms of loosening people up.
  • It’s fine to invite people who aren’t outgoing, but don’t invite people who are too cool to play.
  • Your home needs adequate cellular service to play Murder in the West Wing.

Book your hour with Ghost Ship Murder Mysteries’ Murder in the West Wing, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Ghost Ship Murder Mysteries provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Ghost Ship Murder Mysteries – Space Smugglers [Review]

Mighty good shindig.

Location:  at home

Date Played: June 29, 2019

Team size: requires exactly 8

Duration: about 90 minutes

Price: $40 per player

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

Ghost Ship docked in our home once again and put on an incredible murder mystery for us and 6 of our friends.

A group photo.

We deceived and deduced our way through a shockingly expansive game world that merged elements of popular science fiction including Firefly, Battlestar Galactica, Blade Runner, and Star Wars. It was a ton of fun to interact with one another as these characters.

It’s my opinion that Ghost Ship Murder Mysteries are among the most under-appreciated immersive experiences in New York City. Some of this reputation is that they aren’t broadly known. Among folks who have heard of them, however, I believe there is an underlying assumption that murder mystery games are generally junk. While most are, this was the exception.

I have zero interest in doing another boxed murder mystery; they are awful. However, I can’t get enough of Ghost Ship. I am incredibly eager to play their Murder In The West Wing soon.

If you have a group of friends who aren’t too cool to do a little roleplaying, I highly recommend bringing Ghost Ship Murder Mysteries into your home.

Lindsay posing with a strange item, David photobombs in a Jayne hat and holding a wooden cooking spoon.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Sci-fi fans
  • Aspiring detectives
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Ghost Ship does nearly all of the work of setting up and facilitating a high quality murder mystery
  • A story with depth that enables players to explore their characters and the world
  • Masterful facilitation that doesn’t step on toes and doesn’t let people fall out of the game

Story

In a galaxy torn by war between the dominant Regime and the rebellious Coalition, Captain Jay’s crew didn’t have a side; they were just trying to get by. To make some money, they took a few passengers aboard. Deep in space, a member of the crew had gone missing… and so our mystery began.

Mike Anderson dressed as a jedi, in a heated conversation with Therea and someone off camera.
“At me you will come, bro.”

Setting

Ghost Ship co-founder Dylan Zwickel surveyed us about our guests and cast each of them into 1 of 8 different roles based on how we answered. Some roles were more involved for more eager players; some roles weren’t demanding at all.

We each received a secret email with a little backstory about our character. We chose the extent to which we wanted to costume for the experience.

Dylan came to our home an hour before the game, hid items, and set everything up. We told her which rooms, closets, cabinets, and drawers were out of bounds, and she marked them appropriately.

Once our guests arrived, she introduced the story and things rolled on from there.

9 character envelopes, each with a different name on it.
I was Ezra. I had a whole lot of fun playing Ezra.

Gameplay

Ghost Ship Murder Mysteries’ Space Smugglers was a murder mystery game with a variable level of difficulty. Your group could commit as much or as little as desired. Last time we invited a group of people with mixed levels of interest and it worked very well. This time, we only invited people who we knew would commit and it took on a life of its own.

Core gameplay revolved around role-playing, searching, deception, and deduction.

Lisa and Theresa looking dubious in a conversation.

Analysis

➕ Ghost Ship Murder Mysteries created a robust world for us to explore and treated us like adults. We were able to dive deep or wade in the shallow waters as we each desired.

➕ The story mixed overt elements of Firefly, Battlestar Galactica, Blade Runner, and Star Wars. No knowledge of any of these was required, but those who got the references weren’t disappointed.

➖ There were more factions than we were expecting. It was difficult for us to connect with any of these because we didn’t really know their politics and motives. A little more world-building would have rounded this out.

➕ Dylan was a master of light-touch facilitation. She played a role on the ship that made it easy for her to converse with any other character and used that to spice things up or help a player who needed a nudge in the right direction.

Theresa's cyborg arm
Some of us got more serious about our costumes than others.

➖ The role distribution of 5 crew and 3 passengers was imbalanced. This stilted the politics of the game a little too much.

➕ Ghost Ship Murder Mysteries worked some clever game mechanics into the experience. These were generally low key and continued to put the focus on the interpersonal interactions of the experience.

➖ There were some mechanics that we never really had a grasp of.

➕ In our game, the killer got away with the crime. We chose wrong. It truly didn’t diminish the experience because we had so much fun on the journey. (That said, the killer was quite proud.)

➕/➖ We loved the ending of the story… and we felt that there was a little room to improve the delivery of said ending.

➕ The Space Smugglers never dragged for us. Not once.

➖ We would have appreciated some costume suggestions or ideas (both easy and complex).

Space Smugglers was a ton of fun, reasonably priced, and vastly superior to any boxed play-at-home murder mystery. We’re eager to play again.

Tips For Visiting

  • This can be played in a small space. A larger space is better but not necessary.
  • It’s a good idea to tidy up your home before hosting.
  • A little bit of alcohol goes a long way in terms of loosening people up.
  • It’s fine to invite people who aren’t outgoing, but don’t invite people who are too cool to play.

Book your session with Ghost Ship Murder Mysteries’ Space Smugglers, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Ghost Ship Murder Mysteries provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Ghost Ship Murder Mysteries – Western [Review]

Howdy stranger.

Location: at home (either New York City or Boston area)

Date played: July 30, 2017

Team size: 10; 5 Women, 2 Men, 3 Any Gender

Duration: 90-150 minutes

Price: $40 per guest, $30 per guest student/ artist

Story & setting

Eleven folks from all walks of life found themselves in the same Old West saloon right after a murder was committed.

Ghost Ship’s Western was not an escape room. It was an Agatha Christie-esque murder mystery game filled with tawdry scandal, plot twists, and betrayal… and all acted out by our friends in our small apartment.

Ghost Ship's logo of a ghostly white galleon set against a black background.
I really like that logo.

Ghost Ship co-founder Dylan Zwickel surveyed us about our friends, assigned roles, sent each person their backstory, and then showed up at our home in character bearing 3 large pitchers of mixed drinks. She set up everything for us.

All we had to do was clean up our home and get into character.

Interaction

The game proceeded over the course of 3 acts. It concluded with a vote to decide whodunit and send them to the gallows.

Each person was given a backstory, a secret, and an objective. From there, the game was a fairly free-form improv experience. Dylan played a character within the game. She provided information to each character at critical times as well as approached players who were struggling to engage, bringing them back into the narrative.

There was also a searching component. During the setup, Dylan hid evidence in our home.

Standouts

The story was engaging. Every character had their own arc and each person was consequential to the narrative.

The gathering of our friends post-game. Each person's costume has varied level of detail.
Sadly some of the best costumes are hidden. We may not have thought this photo through.

The mystery was complex. In the end, we “hanged” the actual killer, but only by a plurality. Not everyone had gathered enough evidence or made the proper connections to conclude what had actually happened.

Ghost Ship kept the backstory lean and manageable for all players.

Dylan’s role facilitated the gameplay effectively without breaking the narrative. The player-gamemaster helped pace the game and keep everyone engaged.

The included mixed drinks were pretty damn fantastic. We’d bought liquor to serve and forgot to even take it out.

As a couple who regularly hosts stuff, it was amazing to not have to worry about the logistics of running the game.

Our apartment is now incredibly clean because we had to make every room presentable for gameplay. I’m not sure that this is really a standout of Western, but it was a great byproduct.

Ghost Ship had a simple series of indicators to mark things and spaces in our home as out of play.

We had a fantastic time. Ghost Ship’s Western is a game where you get out of it what you put into it…

Shortcomings

Our friends who struggled with the roleplaying aspect of Western still had fun, but absolutely didn’t get the same level of enjoyment.

On that note, the person who was the killer in our group truly did not want that role, but was stuck with it. There were other people in our group who would have embraced being the killer, but this individual would have had a lot more fun without having to lie. Ghost Ship could easily fix this by emailing every participant a one question survey: “Would you feel comfortable being the killer and lying to your friends for a couple of hours? Y/N.”

Most of the characters had some level of history with at least one other character and were frequently confused when they learned something about themselves from another player. Ghost Ship did a great job of keeping the backstory lean, but a little more detail could smooth out some of the “Oh… I didn’t know that we did that together” moments that made many of our friends break character.

The searching component got a little strange because all of the items were hidden in our bedroom. This meant that Lisa and I were the only ones who were truly comfortable rummaging. I found things just because I could easily recognize what was out of place.

Should I play Ghost Ship Murder Mysteries’ Western?

We’ve hosted boxed murder mysteries in the past and been disappointed in them. Ghost Ship’s Western did not suffer from the many flaws and shoddy storytelling of those boxed games.

Western was a fun engaging game that gave each participant the freedom to make their character their own.

$40 per player felt more than fair for a multi-hour experience, including great drinks, all of which was delivered to our door.

Since each character is important, it’s key to gather a group of people who are ready and eager to be their characters. There is no passive play in Ghost Ship. Additionally, the game requires exactly 10 players. Remind your friends that flakiness is weakness of character. If someone bails last minute, you’re screwed.

We had a ton of fun playing Western and would eagerly invite Ghost Ship to dock in our home in the future.

Book your session with Ghost Ship Murder Mysteries’ Western, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Ghost Ship Murder Mysteries comped our tickets for this game.