On August 24, 1957, families across America may have spent Saturday night gathered around the first floor of Mr. Boddy’s mansion playing one of their favorite board games, Clue. Was it Miss Scarlet in the dining room with the knife? Was it Colonel Mustard in the conservatory with the candlestick? Which character, room, and weapon cards were in that little black envelope?
Clue first got its start in 1944, when Birmingham, England solicitor’s clerk Anthony Pratt filed a patent for “Murder!” and offered it to Waddingtons, a British game company. Waddingtons snapped up the murder mystery deduction game and trademarked it under the name “Cluedo“, a combination of the words “Clue” and “Ludo”. The British public had been playing Ludo since it had come to England during the British Raj, around 1896. Based on Pachisi (we know it as parcheesi), which originated in India in the 6th century, Ludo was a simple step board game in which players raced their tokens around a patterned board following the roll of dice. Cluedo added fun mayhem and intrigue as players scurried from room to room of a mansion floor plan laid out on a playing board, trying to detect who had killed who, and where, and how. Pratt’s patent was granted in 1947 and, after wartime shortages eased in 1949, Waddingtons released Cluedo simultaneously in Britain and in the United States, by license to Parker Brothers, who renamed it “Clue”.
Pratt’s original game was slightly different from the 1949 version. Ten characters – one of whom would become the victim by random drawing – would allow for eight players and nine total suspects. Eleven mansion rooms were available for the dastardly deed, including a gun room and cellar. The weapons cache went through the greatest overhaul. Pratt came up with nine murderous household objects, six of which weren’t retained. The world forever lost the chance to guess, “The axe? The bomb? The syringe? The poison? The shillelagh? The fireplace poker?” Pratt’s design also handled cardplay differently by distributing them in the rooms for players to retrieve, rather than dealing them out. Players also had to land directly on a character using special tokens in order to accuse them, and the amount of tokens was limited.
Clue has gone through eight editions in America: six with Parker Brothers, and two with Hasbro, who purchased both Parker and Waddingtons in the early 1990s. Changes over the years mostly involved redesigns of the mansion and character artwork to reflect current style trends. Many spin-off games and special editions have been produced. Clue has inspired a movie, television game shows, a play and an Off-Broadway musical, books, puzzles, video games, and loads of branded merchandise. Versions of Pratt’s “Murder” are sold around the world, including South America, China, and Japan.
I think it was Professor Plum, in the billiard room, with the lead pipe (nice and messy).
Image Credit: Parker Brothers/eBay