June 30, 2017
Lucia Edna P. De Guzman
Cover art Samantha Gonzales
“Are you all right with being the ‘real estate agent’?” he asked, handing me the paper that details the role that I’m about to play that night. I was alone. I didn’t know anyone. The friend who was supposed to go with me to that jazz‑era themed Murder Mystery party at Ludo Boardgame Bar and Bistro, in Makati that night of June 15 was stranded in the flood and couldn’t make it.
I was already at the venue. I had already paid the fee and I’ve had my second refill of iced tea. What choice did I have but to take the role?
Art Samantha Gonzales
My name is Mrs. Wakefield. There is no Mr. Wakefield, there was never a need for one. I am a self‑made woman who has made my fortune in “real estate.” My largest apartment is the most popular one—plenty of rooms, plenty of service—and yet no gentleman has come to stay for too long. And my girls, they love it when they come. The apartment is all a titter whenever we have visitors, with their gifts and their pleasantries. Sometimes the girls end up carrying gifts of their own. They could keep them if they want to, of course. And if they don’t, I make sure that they end up with someone who could take care of them in their stead.
In fact, I remember, some sixteen years ago, I had helped darling Sammy Semia find a good home for her child.
But enough about the past. I'm here to attend the party of Frederick and Dorothy Marks. I don’t know Mr. Marks, I could say for sure that the weapons magnate is not one of our clients, but his business partner Marcus Elliot is quite sweet to Sammy. I know less about his wife, a frail and gentle woman, but she seemed to avoid her husband all throughout that night. She would sometimes cast shy glances at John Fisher, that knave can act his way out of any situation faster than Houdini can. A frequent client of mine, Mr. Fisher says his favorite season is winter and no woman is immune to his charms. No woman, except Dr. Mary Lyons. What an admirable woman Dr. Lyons is, and she seemed to admire me too, to a greater extent. Perhaps that's the reason for Mr. Fisher’s failures. There’s Jacob East, the rich activist, what a paradox of a man. Dear Bethany Reed is here, just having entered high society, wide‑eyed and innocent and curious about my work. Her odious Aunt Cadence is also at the party, gracious enough to take the time off from her seven charities to talk about her seven charities to anyone who would care enough to listen. The detectives, who also need a break every once in a while, are nowhere to be found, perhaps too busy trying to capture the Snow King, a notorious drug lord known only by his name. The servants are also here—Marks’s stalwart butler, Cadence’s poor driver (who I hope, for his sake, has gone deaf), and Ms. Reed’s young maid.
There’s something about the maid...Molly Aimes, was it? I should talk to her when I find the time….
And so the game started, with me playing the “real estate mogul” (a.k.a. brothel owner).
The rules were simple: get in character and socialize with the other players. As the party went on, in the middle of gossiping servants and socialites trying to one‑up each other, Mrs. Marks died of poisoning. The player was taken out of the game and can drink her tea in peace as the rest of us; while staying in character, she tried to piece together the clues as to who did it. Information was exchanged, information was hidden. After two hours, we had to vote on the identity of the killer and the identity of the drug lord who was also the subject of gossip that night.
The pressure to remember everything about Mrs. Wakefield and acting perfectly was quickly forgotten. Jay Mata of Ludo served as our very approachable mediator, who facilitated the game without giving the story away. Rachel and Jun, who played the doctor and the rich activist, respectively, showed me that it’s okay to forget my role and it’s okay to pause for a laugh. After all, the bearded young man who played Aunt Cadence was hilarious, as was Dr. Lyon’s spurning the advances of Mr. Fisher. I can’t count the number of times we burst into laughter, as if we were all hanging out with old friends.
When it was time to vote, I wrote Mr. Marks down for the killer (because his wife was having an affair, and the player would cross his arms every time he was asked about his wife's death) and Aunt Cadence for the drug lord (for no apparent reason other than my character hates her). This is where acting comes in. No one voted for the maid as the drug lord. I didn’t and I had all the clues—one of my prostitutes and Marks’s business partner has a daughter about her age, Marks’s business partner was running an underground business, Marks’s business partner is dead and would leave his business to his next of kin—but I didn’t vote the maid. The player was just so cute and innocent‑looking, keeping her head down shyly as she spoke in this affected cockney accent, and I couldn’t bear to think ill of her. And she was selling drugs under all our noses. The murderer got away too, because a majority of the players chose to vote the doctor as the killer instead.
We all lost, but we all had fun. And that’s what’s more important in a party, isn’t it?
I spoke to Mr. Mata again after the game and asked him why a board game cafe decided to hold Murder Mystery parties, which requires nothing more but a few props and a well‑crafted framework of a storyline.
“We’re trying to get the Philippine market to embrace different kinds of ways to party,” he said. He added that parties in the Philippines usually involve alcohol (“and there’s nothing wrong with that”, he quickly followed up). “What we did was a shorter version of a Murder Mystery party, but in the United States this game would be the entire party. We’re trying to introduce that idea.”
“The idea of a Murder Mystery is a little hard to market but so far we’ve had loyal customers,” said Mr. Mata. “We’re also researching other concepts that we can introduce to the Philippines.”
Will I attend a Murder Mystery party again? Sure. I owe that one friend (who couldn’t make it that night despite having a complete flapper get‑up ready) another shot at playing a rich young lady from the jazz era. I also enjoy video games, escape rooms, and Mr. Fisher’s Murder Mysteries so this seems to be a natural next step for me. I look forward to their next event!
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