It doesn’t take much detective work to discover that many people enjoy mysteries. For example, I can vividly remember being enthralled when I first read Agatha Christie’s novel And Then There Were None. I know I’m joined by millions who eagerly follow the crime-solving exploits of Christie’s hero, the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. Certainly Poirot could easily deduce the lure of the board game Clue, with its mysterious mansion where someone has committed murder and the players must sleuth out clues to the crime in order to solve it.
The game’s story began in 1940 during the dark days and terrifying nights of the London Blitz, when English solicitor Anthony Pratt and his wife created a game for Londoners to play as they sat in underground bomb shelters during the lengthy air-raid alerts. Post-war material shortages prevented the release of Pratt’s game—called Cluedo at the time—until 1949. Renamed Clue for sale in North America, the game made its debut in the United States later that same year thanks to collaboration between Waddingtons, the game’s English publisher, and Parker Brothers of Salem, Massachusetts. And Clue has sold well ever since.
Clue players assume one of six roles—Miss Scarlett, Colonel Mustard, Mrs. White, Mr. Green, Mrs. Peacock, and Professor Plum—all recognizable names because of the game’s enduring popularity. The goal is to determine the location, weapon, and perpetrator of the murder of a seventh character called Mr. Boddy. As players visit the mansion’s rooms on the game board, they collect clues by asking the other players questions and eliminating possibilities. Part of Clue’s popularity derives from its relation to crime fiction’s whodunit novels, which supply the reader with pieces of evidence that may lead to solve the mystery before the book’s end. Like most popular board games, Clue’s appearance has changed over the years. The American version has undergone eight major design revisions, although the game play has remained largely the same. In recent years, countless special Clue editions have commemorated everything from Disney to Juicy Couture fashion. But Clue’s influence and brand don’t stop there. A feature film appeared in 1985 and current publisher Hasbro recently licensed Clue to Universal for another film version. Clue’s varied incarnations have included a stage play, a comedy musical, an English television game show, and a mini-series on The Hub cable network. And Clue is now available in multiple electronic versions from an iPhone app to an arcade game, as well as versions on nearly every gaming platform. Clue is here to stay.
Only one mystery remains. The National Toy Hall of Fame at The Strong selected Clue as a finalist for induction to that honor in 2012. Was it a crime that Clue wound up being edged out by Star Wars action figures and dominoes? Will it remain on that short list for 2013? Who has a clue?