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Mystery Mess

Oh no! Someone has made a mess, and it’s up to your team to find the culprit.

In this game, you’ll get your team to clue in on the details and solve the mystery by naming the suspect who did it, the room where it happened, and the food they used to make the mess.

This guide will give you everything you need to play a game of Mystery Mess with your sales representatives — including detailed and downloadable instructions at the bottom of the page.

Why Mystery Mess?

Key Benefits

Great for all team types
Good for monthly and quarterly periods
Flexible goal-setting options
Easy to learn, difficult to master
Luck element gives everyone a chance to win

Mystery Mess is a great game to create an air of mystery in your office. It’s possible to have reps play as individuals or split teams into smaller groups so that they can work together to solve the mystery.

When to choose Mystery Mess

Mystery Mess is your game of choice in a few specific situations. Here are a few scenarios where Mystery Mess might be the right choice:

  • The team has flexible and/or recurring weekly goals
  • The business operates on a monthly or quarterly cycle
  • Team members are usually in the office
  • Turnover and/or interoffice transfers are low
  • You need to encourage office team building

Mystery Mess excels in metrics-driven environments, where goal-setting is commonplace. Managers have some flexibility here, since earning guesses to solve the game can be a reward for any desired metric.

This means that managers can change the goals or tasks that players should aim to accomplish each week in order to steer the team toward the desired result.

Is Mystery Mess right for your team?

Unlike sales bingo, Mystery Mess may not be a great game for direct sales teams who are out of the office or for teams where rapid turnover is part of the business.

That’s because Mystery Mess takes a few weeks to play as the mystery slowly unravels over time. In order to prevent confusion and/or overlap, this game needs some room to breathe and players who are committed to unraveling the mystery.

If your team operates on short turnarounds or daily objectives that change rapidly, Mystery Mess may not be the best fit.

Gameplay Setup & Scenarios

Required Materials

Cheat Sheet & Gameplay Materials (download here)
A list of suspects
A list of food items
A list of locations
One “confidential” envelope

Creating the scene of the . . . mess

While you can find and download our instruction and gameplay sheet (which includes a list of suspects, food items, and locations), you can also create your own.

A typical game of Mystery Mess involves between six and 10 suspects, six food items, and roughly eight locations.

All three categories are required to play the game. Using two categories — suspects and food items only, for example — drastically increases the likelihood of a correct guess.

Of course, the number of items in each category can be modified to fit your play style, but keep in mind that adding additional items and characters may extend the length of the game!

In addition to determining the number of characters, foods, and locations for the game, you should also determine which metrics make the most sense for your team.

In many cases, it may make sense to stick with the usual metrics and goals that your team pursues on a regular basis. On the other hand, you may be able to encourage different behaviors by using Mystery Mess as a motivator.

It’s up to you to determine which approach will work best for your team, but remember that your goals should be achievable and that game progress is tied to goal completion. Goals that are too complex can stall progress and cause players to lose interest.

Metrics vs tasks

Striking the balance between metrics-driven goals and task completion can be a challenge.

Using company metrics is an easier way to play because game administrators can simply run a report and award top players with a chance to guess at the culprit.

On the other hand, creating an achievable task, such as making a specific number of calls in a day or closing a deal with an above-average purchase value, is a great way to motivate your team.

A good middle ground might be to use weekly metrics as a benchmark. There are two ways to accomplish this:

  1. Any rep that meets/exceeds weekly metrics earns one guess
  2. The top X performers for the week are awarded one guess

Either solution can move the game forward with relative speed. Meanwhile, you can create a list of tasks that can be completed separately by all players for additional guesses.

Consider this

Tasks are powerful motivators for your low-to-mid level performers who are unlikely to top the metrics charts. To keep tasks from overwhelming gameplay, you could limit them in a few different ways:

  1. Each task can only be completed once per week
  2. The rep must complete multiple tasks to earn a guess
  3. Teams can work together to complete tasks and earn guesses

When creating ideas, consider your objective for this game and how this aligns with your team dynamics. Be sure to include opportunities that allow every team member to participate.

You’ll also want to use objectives that can be tracked to prevent cheating. Be sure to have either a trackable metric or a validation method in place to stop spoilsports in their tracks.

Because Mystery Mess tends to run for weeks at a time, keep in mind that you’ll need to create goals that make sense in both the short and long term. Accomplishing short-term goals will move the game forward, but extra guessing options can also be space over weeks until the mystery is solved.

Choosing prizes

Prizes and rewards are a huge motivator for your sales team, but Mystery Mess isn’t a game where prizes are awarded in large quantities.

By playing Mystery Mess, you’re committing to multiple weeks of gameplay. Unlike sales bingo, sales poker, or other games in our sales game directory, Mystery Mess is difficult to play over the course of an afternoon or a single weekday.

As a result, you may want to offer fewer (but larger) prizes. Considering that the game typically takes between one month and one quarter to complete, your rewards should reflect a value that represents the sum of that hard work.

At the same time, you should also consider consolation prizes for players who played but lost, or who were closer to winning big but lost it all through a bad streak of luck.

Giving out consolation prizes is a great way to ease tensions and get everyone ready to play a new game.


Though we touched on it earlier, here are a few additional ways to mix things up and increase the difficulty.

Additional Options
By adding additional suspects, food items, and location cards into the game, you can increase the difficulty and provide additional options for guessing. This can also drastically increase the length of the game.

Missing Information
Mystery Mess relies on a player’s skill at deduction and the process of elimination to be completed.

You can add difficulty by removing some pieces of evidence from your card selection while continuing to keep those selections available on the gameplay sheet.

This means that players will have to make educated guesses without all the relevant evidence. This can be particularly effective in team play since players can compare notes and try to determine their best course of action.

Remote Play
While it may not make for the best experience, Mystery Mess can be played remotely using email and photos.

This is excellent when workers need to work from home and for teams that are entirely remote.


How To Play

Now that you’ve got everything you need to implement the game, let’s talk about how to play it. You’ll need to introduce these steps to your team and make sure they understand everything before gameplay begins.

To implement Mystery Mess, make sure that all players understand the rules and how the game is played.

While many players will “clue in” to the mystery almost immediately, you should double-check before the prizes are up for grabs.

Introducing the game

To set up the game, you’ll need to introduce it, along with all appropriate assets.

Players can watch as you do the following:

  1. Place three facedown cards (one suspect, one food item, and one location card) into a sealed envelope
  2. Split the remaining cards into equal piles (one pile for each week of the contest)

None of the cards should be visible to players.

Once you’ve done this, hand out a gameplay sheet so that players can keep track of their evidence.

Once everyone understands what happens next, discuss how players can acquire clues, earn guesses, and win fabulous prizes!

Setting the rules

This includes discussing the start and end times for any metric- or task-driven rewards, any guidelines around cheating, misrepresentation, smack talk, and anything else.

As a rule, good-natured ribbing and competition are fine, but you’ll want to draw clear lines around acceptable behavior if you think the competition might turn sour.

Resolving conflicts

Before the game begins, be sure that you have a plan in place for resolving conflicts.

Unlike other sales games, where it can be difficult for players to cheat, Mystery Mess is won through data collection and intuitive guessing.

Players may share information with others who aren’t supposed to have it, or team members without access to certain data may try to ascertain it from others in unethical ways.

If this is frowned upon, be sure to have clear and immediate consequences (likely disqualification) for those who may ruin the spirit of the game for authentic players.

While sales contests are supposed to be good-natured, it’s easy for a mean-spirited player to ruin the fun. At the same time, you won’t want to disenfranchise others who are operating in good faith.

During the “setting the rules” phase, be sure to set the appropriate boundaries so that you can refer back to them. If you’ve set a clear, evidence-based approach for your game, you’ll lower the chances that someone will try to cheat the system with a questionable accomplishment.

Celebrating wins

For players, winning the prize will be the objective of the game, but that isn’t the case for sales leaders.

Take the opportunity to celebrate wins where you see them. If a traditional underperformer meets their sales goal or a new team member figures out how to gather referrals on her sales calls in order to reach a stretch goal or task, celebrate those wins.

While Mystery Mess can provide short-term motivation for the team, it can deliver long-term results by providing opportunities for leaders and supervisors to raise player self-esteem and reinforcing best practices on an individual level.

Be sure to capitalize on those wins.

Creating coaching & feedback opportunities

As a sales leader, you also have the opportunity to focus on new team objectives and help everyone succeed.

By seeing which team members complete which tasks or achieve unexpected success in their metrics, you can better understand how your team operates and what motivates them to succeed.

From there, you can help them work toward developing long-term career skills by providing positive feedback and advice that reinforces the correct behavior.

To build trust with your team, it’s important to position yourself as a resource available to all team members. Use the contest as a talking point and discover new ways to help your sales reps succeed.

Download Your Mystery Mess Resources and Start Playing

Ready to get started?

Download a copy of IncentivePilot’s Mystery Mess assets and FAQ. Inside, you’ll find instructions, as well as a printable set of Mystery Mess cards to help you get set up and running in no time.

This is great for small- to medium-sized sales teams who want to play a fun mystery game.

If you’re trying to administer games at scale, Mystery Mess can be a serious challenge, because you’ll need to keep track of which employees have access to specific bits of information. Over an extended term, this can become extremely difficult.

In that case, consider getting in touch with our team and learning how IncentivePilot can help you run sales games and other incentive programs across your entire enterprise organization.

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