Wink Murder Rules and Gameplay

Group of young people sitting in circle on grass, elevated view
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Wink Murder is a great parlor or party game for many players. You can have as few as six and up to 30 or so people. What is great about it is you do not need any equipment to play the game, the rules are pretty simple, and your party group can have a lot of fun with it. It is perhaps best played and more manageable with about 10 players.

Just as there can be many murderers, the game also goes by many names. You may know it as Murder Wink, Wink Wink Murder, Killer, Killer Killer, Lonely Ghost, or Murder in the Dark. There are a few versions of Wink Murder, and there is a closely related offshoot of Wink Murder called Murder Handshake.

Game Objective

The objective of the game is for the murderer is to kill as many other players as possible without being identified and, if you are not the murderer, identify the killer before you get murdered. This goal is the same across all versions and offshoots of the game.

There are three common versions of Wink Murder. In one version, there is a selector who chooses one murderer and one detective. A second version, where a selector chooses one murderer and everyone acts at the detective. And, a third version, everyone plays, there is no selector. One player is secretly assigned the role of murderer. In this version, two accusers must decide on the murderer concurrently, if not, both die instantly.

Version 1: One Murderer and One Detective

One person (the selector) will not play; that person is responsible for choosing both the murderer and the detective.

All of the players sit in a circle and close their eyes. The selector walks around the outside of the circle and chooses the murderer by tapping someone on the head one time. The detective is chosen by tapping someone on the head twice.

After the murderer and the detective are selected (which can be done in any order), the selector tells everyone to open their eyes.

The detective moves to the middle of the circle. That player's goal is to determine who the murderer is as quickly as possible.

The murderer kills people by winking at them. When a player is killed, that player should lie down or leave the circle. (Many players like to make the killing dramatic by, for example, pretending they have been shot.)

The detective has three chances to guess who the murderer is. If the detective does not guess correctly, he remains the detective for the next round. If the detective does guess right, the murderer becomes the detective for the next round.

Version 2: One Murderer and All Detectives

In this version of the game, everyone—other than the killer—is a detective. Once a detective thinks he has determined who the murderer is, he can alert the selector by rocking gently back and forth and then whispering the answer to the selector. If the player guesses incorrectly, he is killed and should lay down or leave the circle.

In this Lonely Ghost version, a player may challenge the murderer (the Lonely Ghost) by approaching them and asking them directly. In another variant of the basic game, a player may simply point to their suspect and call out their accusation. If the accuser is correct, they win the game, otherwise, they are eliminated. In some variants, a wrongly accused player is also eliminated.

Version 3: No Selector, Everyone Plays, Two Accusers

In each round of play, one player is secretly assigned the role of a murderer, perhaps by handing every player a playing card with a particular card signifying that the recipient is the murderer. As in the other versions, the murderer kills other players by winking at them. If a player is winked at, they must count silently to five, feign sudden death, and either lie on the floor where they died or leave the playing area.

If a player suspects they know the identity of the murderer, they may announce "I accuse," without naming their suspect. At this point, the game pauses. The accuser asks for somebody else to second their accusation, again with neither naming a suspect. When there is a second accuser, both of these players must simultaneously point to the same suspect. If they do, the game ends. If they are pointing to different players or an innocent player, the accusers are both murdered and eliminated from the game. All players are forbidden from communicating their thoughts on who the murderer might be, and players who are not the murderer are not allowed to wink.

Murder Handshake (or Deadly Handshake)

In the variant known as Murder Handshake, the murderer kills by using a special handshake determined before the game begins. It is usually a scratching or tickling of the victim's palm as they give a handshake.

This variation starts with players walking around and routinely shaking hands as though greeting one another at a party. The murderer strikes by using this predetermined special handshake. It is recommended that victims do not "die" immediately, but take a few steps or shake hands with one or two other people before feigning death.