Out of the rubble – Winnipeg Free Press
Philosopher Carl Jung once said that “In all chaos there is a cosmos”.
For Anthony and Elva Pratt, who lived in Birmingham, England in the 1940s, chaos was simply a daily occurrence. Birmingham was one of Britain’s most industrial areas and a prime target for the German Air Force during World War II. The Luftwaffe continuously bombarded the city with the aim of destroying the many factories that made tanks and military equipment for the Allied forces.
Over time, the Blitz has transformed Birmingham into a city of fire, rubble, hysteria and chaos. Each morning, the Prattts made their way through the destruction in order to report to work at a military factory for the day. Even though they were resigned to their fate, they decided to make something despite it – a board game whose popularity has survived to this day. The game is Cluedo or, as it is called in the North American market, Clue.
Anthony Pratt was in fact a musician by trade. He got the idea for the game from his evenings spent playing the piano in hotels where murder mystery games were a regular form of entertainment. Actors and hotel guests played characters in a plot involving the fictitious murder of one of the guests. The setting was often a mansion with many sprawling rooms, and the group had to cleverly piece together clues in order to solve the mystery. This, along with Elva’s love for detective novels by writers such as Agatha Christie, would become the perfect inspiration for a board game adaptation.
Stuck at home and driven by boredom, they decided to create something that would offer them an emotional escape, may the war be damned. At night, they huddle over a candle-lit kitchen table and create a prototype with pen and paper. Their goal was to create a game that would play out like a murder investigation, similar to the novels they both enjoyed so much.
The main challenge was to create a mechanic that would offer a different solution to the crime in each game. After all, it was meant to be a murder mystery and not a predictable outcome. This, of course, has become the very reason this game has survived for so many decades. Like all popular board games, it offers a different outcome each time it is played. What would be the fun if not? Mathematically, there are 324 possible outcomes for a game of Clue.
The painting itself depicts nine rooms inside a country house or mansion, connected by hallways. There are six characters, each a potential suspect, and six weapons that could have been the cause of the victim’s death. The object of the game is to find out which three cards (one from each character, weapon, and piece) are hidden in the solution envelope. The remaining 18 cards are dealt to the players. The trick is to find out what cards your opponents are holding before they do the same with you. The players roll the dice, move the tokens around the halls and offer a “suggestion” when entering a room. The other players, clockwise, refute a suggestion by privately revealing a named card to the active player. As the game progresses, players check off more and more suspicious cards until the last three remain. Whoever is able to deduce the correct cards first wins. Most editions of the game today allow three to six players.
Anthony and Elva originally named the game Murder at Tudor Close. The game was eventually presented to the British publisher Waddingtons, who replaced it with the coined word Cluedo – a mixture of “clue” and “Ludo” (which was the name of Parcheesi in England). In 1948, the game was introduced to Waddingtons’ American partners, Parker Brothers, who changed the name to Clue.
Due to a shortage of paper in a post-war world, the game was not released until 1949. Today, over 200 million copies have been sold worldwide. It inspired a 1985 film and even a musical, and served as the basis for countless pop culture references. Who hasn’t heard the line “Colonel Mustard in the Library with a Candlestick”? He earned his place in the National Toy Hall of Fame in 2017.
Not bad for an idea born out of rubble and destruction. Fortunately, the Prattts got to see their idea take off. Elva died in 1990 and Anthony in 1994, leaving an undying gift to the gaming world.
Almost 80 years later, Clue is still going strong – and for good reason. Unlike other games from a similar era, Clue features a very elegant mechanism that is both timeless and flawless in its simplicity. It still has its charm alongside many more modern titles in the thriller genre. It’s also spawned an endless array of adoptions, from Harry Potter Clue and The Simpson Clue to The Golden Girls Clue, all of which offer a bit of variation that is often worth exploring.
Clue’s story is an amazing testimony that there is a cosmos in chaos. Sometimes the most beautiful and enjoyable things can come out of humanity’s most difficult times. Hope you have the chance to appreciate the mystery of it all.
Olaf Pyttlik is an avid board game enthusiast from Winnipeg and co-owner of Across the Board Game Café. In a regular column, he delves into the renaissance of board games and shares game ideas for families and friends of all ages. Email him at [email protected]