At first glance, one couldn’t be blamed for thinking that Clue is just about the farthest thing from a family-friendly game on the market. Everyone gathers around and watches Mom accuse Junior of cold-blooded, motivationless murder with a blunt instrument. Junior points the finger at Pops and decries him for sullying the dignity of the conservatory. Pops accuses himself of everything in the book and glows with satisfaction when someone (anyone?) proves him wrong. Yet, families around the globe have gathered to play this addictive whodunit board game for over six decades now, ensuring its rightful place in pop culture history.
In the years following World War II, socialites throughout England would often gather for dinner in one another’s expansive homes and play parlor games. One of the more popular was called “Murder,” a situational game in which guests would sneak around the house and pretend to commit a murder. This was the case in 1947 when wartime fire warden Anthony Pratt found himself walking his normal beat in Leeds. Struck by the game’s peculiarity, Pratt came up with the idea for Cluedo (as it is called across the pond). He sold the rights to Waddington Games in the UK, while Parker Brothers released it in the U.S. as Clue. The success of the game was astronomical and, over a hundred and fifty million sales later, Clue still ranks in the top-ten echelon of board games purchases.
The game of Clue revolves around five guests (and one maid) at a Victorian mansion on the night when their host, Mr. Boddy, is murdered. Each color-code-named suspect (smooth Mr. Green, starched Colonel Mustard, pompous Mrs. Peacock, bookish Professor Plum, seductive Miss Scarlet, and bug-eyed maid, Mrs. White) must travel around the house using the process of elimination to pinpoint three crucial clues necessary in order to solve the murder: The room where the killing took place (one would think that where the body was found would make this a simple deduction), the murder weapon (again, a simple examination of the corpse would go a long way), and the murderer. Six murder weapons (candlestick, knife, lead pipe, revolver, rope, and wrench) and nine rooms allowed for 324 possible combinations.
Each clue has a designated card. At the beginning of play, three cards are secretly and randomly selected and put into the “Murder Envelope.” The remaining cards are divvied up amongst the rest of the players, while rolls of the dice begin movement throughout the mansion. Every time a player enters a room, they can make an accusation, comprised of the place, perp, and weapon. At this point, other players can reveal a clue card to the accuser in order to stymie the interrogation. Players make notes in their handy notepads that come with the game. Although luck is needed to move quickly from room to room, fate can be frustrated by way of “false accusation strategy,” a crafty tactic players sometimes employ. By making accusations that they know to be false, it’s possible to throw other players completely off the scent. Clever players also carefully watch each exchange, often able to deduce the information exchanged by virtue of their own clues. When no one can trump the accuser, the player takes a win-or-go-home chance by noting his claim and taking a secret peek at the murder cards. If wrong, game over. If correct, then victory (and ultimate detective prowess) may be declared.
In 1985, the board game made a less-than-successful transition to the big screen. Starring Eileen Brennan, Madeline Kahn, Christopher Lloyd, Michael McKean, Martin Mull, and Leslie Ann Warren (with Tim Curry as Wadsworth the butler), Clue was shot with multiple endings to help keep theater audiences on their toes. Despite this interesting twist, the film didn’t fare very well at the box office. Over the years, however, it has managed to endear itself to many, thanks primarily to a great bit of casting.
Clue, which is now sold by Hasbro, is a must-have in any serious board game collection. Today, numerous licensed versions are available, including The Simpsons, Harry Potter, Family Guy and The Office editions. Perfect for parties and sleepovers, it continues to charm players of all ages, who get a unique opportunity to both hone their deductive reasoning skills, and accuse their friends and relatives of murder. After all, nothing says family entertainment like gathering the clan around the dining room table to solve a grizzly homicide.
If you spent more than a few hours of your childhood trying to pin a murder charge on Professor Plum, we’d love to hear your recollections of playing this popular board game in our comments section. Meanwhile, a tip of the hat to inventor Anthony Pratt for keeping us all happily guessing for over a half-century.