This episode we take apart the classic boardgame Clue, looking at its history, development and try to understand our indifference to it. And pause to consider how the 1985 movie might have better achieved the desired effect.
While Clue, or Cluedo as it was originally known as and still is in Britain, does not have a backstory drenched in intrigue and murder, it is still a curious one.
Conceived by musician Anthony E. Pratt while he was making tank parts as a machinist during the second World War, he and his wife Elva designed the game. Elva even did the art for the original that they submitted to British game manufacturer Waddingtons.
So what made Pratt invent a murder mystery game? Pratt, in his capacity as a musician, would work at events where a murder mystery was often part of the evening. The actors and guests would participate in a game where one or more of the guests would be “murdered”. As well, crime mystery from the likes of Agatha Christie was very popular at the time (and enjoyed by Pratt). This is the perfect environment for Pratt to be inspired to design a game with his wife in 1943 originally titled “Murder!”
In 1944 he files a patent on the game under ‘Improvements in Board Games’, which he is granted in 1947, and through his connections sells the game to Waddingtons in 1945. But now that the war is wrapping up it is not so easy to manufacture a game – due to wartime shortages it takes two more years for the game to go into production. The game would be known as Cluedo to the British market, and later as Clue to the American market. The name Cluedo was based on both the combiantion of the words Clue and Ludo (Latin for ‘I Play’) as well as a play on the British game Ludo. In the U.S. Ludo is better known as Parcheesi – Cluecheesi does not have the same ring.
In 1953 Waddingtons buys him out for £5,000 (equivalent to over £105,000) for him to essentially retire.
Made to create a home experience of a murder mystery game with a limited number of players.
It’s like making a board game version of an escape room or simulating any kind of social gameIt’s always going to be a pale imitation of a visceral experience.
The board suggests a lot of exploring and movement, but that never seems to be how it goes.
Playing with my family this week reminded me of what feelings the game conjured. There’s a small amount of guessing, a little bit of board movement, but largely a feeling of bored helplessness.
What I wonder is how much this has to do with the excellence of contemporary board games? But then even in the mid-80s I recall being underwhelmed. Yet I never hated the game as some people do. It doesn’t conjure strong feelings of any kind. Perhaps it would be a more interesting game if it provoked a strong reaction rather than indifference.
You can’t talk about Clue the board game without talking about Clue the 1985 movie.
I saw this on video at a birthday party shortly after it was available. Then I watched it again this week. It is an odd movie. It holds up about as well as I had hoped.
How do you translate a game that is representing a social murder mystery experience into a movie? You do it with a great cast and some snappy writing. Broad comedy with a dash of suspense. Essentially it’s the Tim Curry Show. In some ways the film might be closer to the murder mystery experience than the game is. It’s a film of the 80s. Drenched in it. But Tim Curry. His frantic one man crime recreation sequences at the end absolutely make the movie.
Why Do People Hate It?
Clue is a game that promises suspense and intrigue and the opportunity to employ your cleverness as an investigator. They wanted the Sherlock Holmes experience. But it does not provide that. It’s this failure that may be part of the bad feelings this game conjures. Plus seasonal family get togethers. Drunken relatives. Festive exhaustion. Perhaps the combination of all that is a fatal mixture.