Only a few board games ever reach worldwide fame and notoriety. The world is vast and humans play in such different ways that it seems rare a game could reach all corners of the world. However, some do make it pretty far, selling 150 million copies in 15 different languages during its existence. Can you guess the game I’m talking about? Maybe you need a hint…or perhaps a clue?
Clue (or Cluedo worldwide) is a murder mystery game that has 3-6 players competing against each other to figure out which guest killed Mr. Boddy. The gameplay consists of travelling through Mr. Boddy’s vast mansion and making guesses in order to eliminate suspects, rooms, and weapons from your trusty notepad. Its simple gameplay makes it easy to pick up and a great choice for young kids and adults alike.
Clue is a game so well-known that it spans across all mediums of entertainment, including cinema, video games, and even the stage. We’ll take a quick dive into the various forms Clue has taken since its inception over 70 years ago to try and uncover what makes this game so treasured after generations of play.
A Classic Is Born
The humble origins of Clue begin during World War II, where air raids on the city of Birmingham, England had musician Anthony E. Pratt trapped in his home (sound familiar?). Pratt had played murder mystery games at private music gigs and was a fan of detective fiction, particularly Agatha Christie who was a master at the genre. His patent on the game (originally called Murder!) was granted in 1947, though scarce resources after the war had the game release in the UK in 1949. Its worldwide name, Cluedo, is a combination of the word clue and Ludo, which is Latin for “I play.” Parker Brothers gained the licensing for America and were the ones who renamed it to simply Clue.
Pratt’s original version had several interesting differences to it, such as 10 characters instead of the classic six most people know: Professor Plum, Miss Scarlett, Mrs. Peacock, Colonel Mustard, Reverend/Mr. Green, and Mrs. White. Pratt also considered 11 rooms and nine kinds of weapons, which goes to show that any type of project goes through revisions, even board games.
Knives (and Pencils) Out
If you’ve never had the pleasure of playing Clue, we’ve got you covered. The rules are straightforward, as Clue is intended to be a social party game. To start, one suspect, one weapon, and one room card is chosen at random to go into the secret envelope. These cards are the solution you’ll be trying to figure out during the game. Afterwards, the cards are all shuffled together and distributed evenly amongst all players.
Everyone then chooses one of six characters to play as and places them in their unique starting positions around the board. The player who chooses Miss Scarlett will always go first, though some modern versions of the game use the highest roll rule instead. You’ll roll 2 standard dice to move across the board and access the various rooms in the mansion, such as the grandiose Ballroom or the cozy Library. Within a room you can make a suggestion to what the solution is. This entails stating a culprit, room, and weapon (e.g. “Professor Plum in the Study with the Knife”.) Players can only suggest a room that they are currently in, which makes moving around the board vital.
Clue is interesting in that it involves both competition and cooperation, albeit forced cooperation similar to Go Fish. Once a suggestion is made, the other players must then disprove it, starting with the player to the left of the suggester. If they have any of the cards mentioned in their hand, they must show one of them to the player. This is how cards are eliminated during the game. Once you’re certain you’ve figured out which three cards are the answer, you can make an accusation, but be warned! Making an accusation that turns out to be incorrect will mean you lose the game and have to sit quietly on the sidelines for the remainder.
As you pick up the basics of the game, you’ll start to note certain strategies within the game, such as the positions of the character pieces or hiding as much information as possible from other players. The general idea is to never reveal more information than you have to. If a player asks about a card you’ve already shown them, show that same card to them again! Additionally, suggesting cards from your own hand can help you suss out a particular card you’re looking for from other players. Because Clue is easy to learn and fun to replay, you’ll be able to develop your own strategies after playing just a short while.
Beyond The Board
Having stood the test of time throughout the decades, it was only smart to create other products and media related to a best-selling intellectual property. From paper to the silver screen, Clue got its fingerprints everywhere. Over 30 board game spinoffs were created, one such spinoff being the Clue VCR Mystery Game in 1985, where players would analyze an hour of footage of the Boddy Mansion to determine who the killer was. Another notable spinoff is Cluedo: Discover the Secrets, marketed as a reinvention of the game which changed names/backgrounds and added new features to the gameplay itself. Interestingly enough, this reinvention was received poorly by fans, who saw the changing of an iconic franchise as unnecessary.
Kids who grew up in the 90s may recognize the Clue books series created by A. E. Parker, which featured short comedic stories that had readers solve a specific crime while reading. Each character in the books is given their own comical personality: Mrs. Peacock can’t stand anything dirty or improper, while Colonel Mustard constantly challenges everyone to a duel. They’re fun mini-puzzles to solve and are worth checking out if you prefer reading mysteries (and that’s not even mentioning the Clue comic books from 2017!)
If you thought Clue could use more musical numbers, you might be surprised to hear that’s there a Clue musical. Also comedic in fashion, audience members would choose three large cards at the beginning of the show that would determine the solution for the musical, giving it a unique interactive element. It ran Off Broadway in 1997 for 2 years, panned by critics then but becoming a cult classic with theatre nerds in the modern day.
On the digital side, plenty of video games have been created for Clue, most notably versions released on the Apple Store and Nintendo Switch will allow online play with players around the world. No longer do you need to have friends to play your favourite board game! If you’re most of a retro gamer, though, Clue had releases on both the Super Nintendo and the Sega Genesis back in 1992.
Of course, you’re probably waiting to hear about the most famous adaptation of Clue there is: the 1985 movie. This film was actually criticized upon release and didn’t make back its budget. Nowadays it’s consider it a cult classic, another one for icon Tim Curry (known also for The Rocky Horror Picture Show.) It’s got so much to offer: slapstick, sexual innuendo, Christopher Lloyd, and an all-around goofy atmosphere that is charming to watch.
Its best feature is undoubtedly its multiple endings; the film has three different canonical endings, and movie-goers couldn’t know which ending they would see in theatres. This undeniably caused quite the stir back in the pre-internet days where nobody could go online and argue about movies with strangers. Overall, Clue has never been a franchise to take itself too seriously, and this levity has helped it stay enjoyable for so long.
What Keeps Roping Us In
Humans are wonderfully predictable. No matter how far we get into adulthood and careers and the responsibilities of life, we strive to find joy with others, seek out patterns in our surroundings, and exercise our mind and imagination. For those reasons, it’s no surprise that Clue became as popular as it did: It’s easy to learn, has high replayability, and satisfies that puzzle-solving urge within us all.
Furthermore, having archetypal characters makes the game instantly recognizable and iconic to a wide audience, from the intellectual Professor to the refined lady to the uptight Colonel. This is perhaps why there was so much backlash towards Clue: Discover the Secrets’ reinvention of the game. Why fix what isn’t broken? Games that span generations can bring people together through shared experience and nostalgia, and few games have the history and renown that Clue does. So if you’re feeling stir-crazy with a need for some friendly competition and brain-teasers, why not try solving a murder or two?
You can pick up a copy for your friends and family from Funny Bones to ensure a night of fun sleuthing shenanigans!
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