The Story of Cluedo: How Anthony Pratt Invented the Game of Murder Mystery (2013) by Jonathan Foster

N. B. At the end of this review is a quiz to test your knowledge on this famous game.

I know there is at least one blogger who is not a fan of this game *cough* JJ *cough*, but I have always had a fondness for it, primarily due to the fact it is the one mystery themed game I can beat my older sister at. I really stand no chance when it comes to any others… Younger siblings in the audience will hopefully be able to sympathise with me.

So I was suitably intrigued when I came across this title, which looks at the invention of the game in question; a book which is shaped by Anthony Pratt’s own notes on the game and from the memories of his daughter, Marcia Davies, who also writes the foreword to the piece.

Created in the 1940s, Cluedo has sold over 150 million copies in 40 countries, and in some ways can be regarded as a cultural icon and phenomenon yet was made in Pratt’s ‘spare time at home in wartime Birmingham.’ As Marcia explains in her foreword, ‘Jonathan Foster analyses the unique features of the game, which guaranteed its enduring and expanding success.’ I also found it interesting to read in the foreword about the role Marcia’s mother played in designing ‘the original layout of the house and the board.’

Foster begins by imagining how Pratt set about making the game, which I think worked quite well for an opening, as it wasn’t overdone. The first chapter then segues into Pratt’s childhood and early life. It seems he had a wide range of interests ranging from chemistry to detective fiction and he was an accomplished pianist. In fact, he played the piano ‘on large transatlantic cruise ships to places like New York and Iceland,’ and ‘holiday makers would enjoy an evening’s entertainment, in grand rooms under crystal chandeliers, with a variety of acts, musical performances and party games like Murder!’ WW2 saw a career shift to working as a ‘Machine Tool Fitter at C O Ericsson Engineering Works.’ Pratt was unable to enlist due to his poor eyesight, though he also took part in fire watching patrols, which were of paramount importance, given that he lived in the industrial city of Birmingham. It doesn’t seem that he enjoyed his tool fitting work and Foster goes on to write that ‘the game itself was his response to the sheer dreariness of war and its detrimental effects on people’s social life.’ His friendship with Geoffrey Bull, who invented Buccaneer, was one factor which aided the development of Cluedo, providing him with a link to game manufacturer Waddingtons. Other friends would also lend a hand by playing the game as it was being worked out and it is interesting in this chapter to read of the earlier variations Pratt played around with, such as setting the game at a hotel rather than a country house. It is noted here that the original game as designed by Pratt was ‘more complex than the game of Cluedo that it would famously become.’

Foster then moves onto considering the literary context of the game i.e. detective fiction of the era and the author asserts that the way the game taps into the classic whodunnit formula is attributable to its continuing success. Foster refers to W. H. Auden’s well-known essay, ‘The Guilty Vicarage,’ as a template for the classic detective novel and points out how Cluedo follows Auden’s formula of: ‘A murder occurs; many are suspected; all but one suspect, who is the murderer, is eliminated; the murderer is arrested or dies.’ Some readers, like myself, may find this definition something of a strait jacket. However, what we could say is that the game takes the basic narrative arc from detective novels of the time and that later commentators have perhaps made the mistake of drawing parallels in the reverse i.e. evaluating the novels/the genre, as it is conceived in the board game. Naturally the novels themselves have far more to them, (in the main), than that.

Anthony Pratt

We then get something of a truncated genre history stopping off at Edgar Allan Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie and A. A. Milne via Raymond Chandler. In this history the author attempts to draw parallels between the board game and various titles such as The Mysterious Affair at Styles, And Then There Were None and The Body in the Library. You can make a case for similarities in setting, character types and floor plans, but I felt this point was a bit belaboured. I grant that it is highly likely Pratt did read these books, but I think Foster’s case would have been helped if Pratt had mentioned these titles in his own writings. Additionally, The Red House Mystery is seen as ‘another blueprint for Cluedo,’ yet my issue with such an assertion is that you could argue a whole plethora of country house murder mysteries could have been such an influence. There is no evidence to suggest Milne’s title was a specific one. Foster then brings in Chandler’s claim that American detective fiction was more realistic than the British variety; a move made perhaps in order to promote the idea that ‘Cluedo, rooted in a very English style of detective fiction, would become enormously popular in America because it’s based on contrivances and formulas that translate so well to a board game format.’

The next chapter considers the company that originally made the game, Waddingtons. This history makes a detour into the creation of monopoly, a digression I was initially somewhat baffled by, as it is quite detailed. However, I think the reason for doing so is due to the way the company which made Monopoly in the US, Parker Brothers, worked with and interacted with Waddingtons, with each company having licences to produce various games owned by the other in their respective countries. In this chapter we also discover that Cluedo was derived from the words Clue and Ludo, as well as the fact that Pratt originally intended for players to move their token ‘to a room containing cards, being entitled to take up the cards contained therein,’ rather than the used cards being dealt to the players. Moreover, in Pratt’s original version you had a limited number of times that you could make accusations, using one counter each time. Once you ran out you couldn’t make any further accusations.

Following on from this chapter is Cluedo Reinvented, which looks at the various editions that have followed the original game, from international versions, (which are collated in an Appendix at the end, tabulating the character names for each one), to special editions, including a chocolate one! Foster then discusses the film based on the board game, (which Pratt enjoyed), as well as Clue – The Musical. The musical involved audience participation with audience members trying to solve the crime and three members at the start of the show also pick out a character, weapon and location card, which determine the ending of the play.

However, perhaps the biggest shakeup to the game came in 2008 when Hasbro, (who bought out Waddingtons in the 1990s), launched a new edition – Cluedo – Discover the Secrets. Say bye bye country mansion and say hello Hollywood home. The old characters are also booted out and replaced with footballers, actresses and video game designers – decisions which were publicly criticised in various newspapers at the time. Yet what I found most interesting was the way Hasbro added new elements to the game play itself. Intrigue cards require specific actions on the player’s part and there are also clock cards. Both types of cards are mixed into one pile and are gained through landing on certain tiles, yet the 8th removed clock card means the elimination of the player, who picked it up, whose character is then killed. Personality cards also give each player a special gaming power and players can only make an accusation in one specific room, the indoor swimming pool. Despite the less appealing milieu of the board game the version of play does sound intriguing and seems a little more complicated than the original published version. Probably shouldn’t play it with my sister then…

The final chapter looks at Pratt’s post-war career and it turns out that he went into the civil service, helping demobbed soldiers to get jobs. The chapter also explains how he lost out on a lot of money from his invention. In 1953 Pratt’s second daughter was born and this was ‘four years after Cluedo first went on sale.’ Foster goes onto say that at this time:

‘Waddingtons told Anthony that the game wasn’t selling very well, particularly in America. And they offered him a deal: sign over the international rights to Cluedo for a one-off payment of £5000. The deal on offer would also mean that he would still get the royalties from Cluedo sales in the UK.’

Now Waddingtons were not being strictly truthful and whilst £5000 was a lot of money in the 1950s, Pratt was still somewhat short changed. Cluedo was a pivotal asset of Waddingtons and was instrumental in business negotiations when Parker Brothers were bought out by another company. Waddingtons went on to make a fortune through international sales and Pratt stopped receiving British sales royalties when his patent ran out. Though apparently Pratt was very philosophical about it all. The book ends on rather a sad note. Waddingtons did not keep in touch with Pratt and in 1996, two years after he had died, they ‘launched a Cluedo Hotline’ to discover his whereabouts; the occasion being the ‘150 millionth Cluedo game being sold.’ One feels that must have been an awkward moment…

So this was on the whole an interesting and quirky short history on Cluedo and the appendices at the end contain Pratt’s original notes, a Cluedo timeline and other relevant historical documents. If game history appeals to you then this book would be a worthy edition to your collection and probably also a gold mine of information for anyone trying to write a pub quiz round!

Rating: 4/5

… and now here is the aforementioned quiz. Let’s see how well you know this game…

Cluedo Quiz

Questions 1-7 pertain to the British edition of the game.

  1. What is the name of the country house the game is set at?
  2. What is the name of the permanent murder victim? [Interestingly the original design enabled any character to become the victim]
  3. Name all the suspect characters which appeared in the first produced version of Cluedo.

Bonus questions:

  • Can you name any of the characters which Pratt started out with, which did not make it into the final product?
  • Which two characters which made it into the final product had their names altered?
  1. Which weapons did Pratt originally intend to include in the game, but which did not make it into the final version?

Bonus Question:

  • Which of these unused weapons made it into Cluedo’s 50th Anniversary edition (1999)
  1. How many rooms does the board game have?
  2. Which company originally produced the board game?
  3. What name did Pratt originally give the game?
  4. Now for the American edition:
    1. What is the full American name for the game?
    2. How was Reverend Green’s name changed and why?
    3. What was Dr Black’s name changed to?

Questions 9-12 look at some of the other international editions of the game.

  1. What is Miss Scarlett known as in:
    1. The German edition of the board game?
    2. The Greek edition of the board game?
  2. What is Colonel Mustard known as in:
    1. The Finnish edition of the board game?
    2. The Swiss edition of the board game?
  3. What is Dr Black known as in the Spanish edition of the board game?
  4. What is Mrs Peacock known as in:
    1. The Chilean edition of the board game?
    2. The Norwegian edition of the board game?

Questions 13-15 consider the various editions and spin offs to the original game.

  1. Which of are these are spin offs of the original Cluedo game?
    1. Scooby Doo Cluedo
    2. Clue Alfred Hitchcock Edition
    3. Cluedo Downton Abbey
    4. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Cluedo
  2. What is the name of the 1985 film based on this board game?

Bonus Questions:

  • What year is the film set?
  • Where is the mansion set in the film?
  • What was novel about the ending?
  1. Which of these celebrities did not take part in any series of the Cluedo (British) game show?
    1. June Whitfield
    2. Joanna Lumley
    3. Judi Dench
    4. Richard Wilson
    5. Mollie Sugden
    6. Nicholas Parsons

I will post the answers to the quiz this weekend in my monthly round up post.

Good luck!

12 comments

  1. On the issue of the parallels between Cluedo and detective fiction:

    Many people feel that the primary distinction between Cluedo and detective fiction is that Cluedo lacks the riches of experience provided by characterization, atmosphere, tone, suspense, etc.… However, the distinction is actually more basic, for they are in fact far more fundamentally distinct entities. A few of the key ways in which they differ:

    ⁃ Cluedo is a competitive match or game in which participants compete in an effort to achieve the same goal: solve the mystery. This is not true of reading detective fiction, for, even when detective fiction is (inaccurately) referred to as a competitive match, it is described as a battle of wits between author and reader, only one of whom is attempting to solve the mystery (the other attempting to keep prevent his “opponent” from doing so).

    ⁃ The participants of Cluedo play according to specific rules which are applicable to all participants. This is not true of detective fiction (even if one accepts the “rules” provided by Knox, Van Dine, Elliot, etc…, these are regulations governing the author only, not the readers).

    ⁃ The solving of the mystery is the intended aim of playing Cluedo, and achieving this goal is presumed to be universally desired and satisfactory. However, a large contingent of mystery readers are more satisfied if they do not succeed in solving the mystery.

    ⁃ The solution of Cluedo can be arrived at by pure deductive reasoning. However, although that notion is often presumed to be true of detective fiction, nearly all detective fiction solutions are actually examples of abduction not deduction (even if deduction is employed to arrive at individual points of truth).

    ⁃ There is nothing about the structure of Cluedo designed to ensure that the finally solution provides either surprise or a sense of retrospective inevitability. These opposing sensations, however, are the key to reader satisfaction with the solution of a detective story.

    Cluedo and detective stories are essentially entirely distinct entities each made to resemble one another, much as some hair combs are made to look like switchblade knives, or cellphone cases are made to appear like audiocassette tapes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’ve given this a lot of thought Scott! The parts where Foster tries to make a case for similarity-ness, are probably the weakest in the book, as it feels too forced a point. Foster is on much securer ground with the other sections of the book and the history and the transformation of the original game is rather interesting.

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  2. I’d love to read this book. I loved Clue as a kid. But later it was revealed to be a tiresome guessing game, albeit a macabre guessing game. Other better conceived/designed mystery games like 221B Baker Street and Sleuth were more challenging and seemed like you were a real detective. With Clue essentially you behave as a student of rudimentary logic using process of elimination to arrive at a solution — the only real method to win the game and nothing like real detective work.

    Back in 2016 I wrote about Clue for Murder by Ronald Barker, a mystery novel based on the board game Cluedo. It was written by a British man but in the US the book was altered to accommodate the different title of the game as we know it. All of the characters have similar sounding name those in Clue (sorry I have to call it by the US name). In some cases esoteric synonyms like Lake for Scarlet and Charlock instead of Mustard. I had to look up the reasoning for that second one. A little botany lesson for me on that. There is a Dr. Wight in the book (he’s the victim) but I was unaware that Dr. Black is in the original UK version until now.

    The people as I know them are Miss Scarlet, Mrs. Peacock, Mrs. White (the cook), Prof. Plum, Colonel Mustard and Mr. Green. We have only six possible characters for the maximum number of players. In the US version the victim is called Mr. Boddy. However, you only know that if you bother to read all the rules. It’s listed nowhere else except in the rule book. Can’t recall if the house has a name. Boddy Manor, maybe?

    We have no cellar on the board in the US version. There are only nine rooms with two secret passages connecting the opposite corner rooms with each other. The center squares are not labeled and are inaccessible by players. The solution cards go there and stay there untouched until someone thinks they know the answer. You don’t need to roll the die and go there by exact moves.

    I had no idea that Mr. Green was Rev. Green in Cluedo until fairly recently. Clearly the US version wanted to keep religion out of a game aimed at children. Still hung up on that in our country five decades later.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ebay or Abe may have a copy of this book, (I think the UK ebay site does anyways). It doesn’t come up very often, but it doesn’t tend to be crazily priced, so you may get lucky.
      Yes Cluedo in its first format was/is quite simple, but the 2008 version may be worth checking out for a more complex game play. I’ve played 221B Baker Street but have yet to win it. This is one of the many games my older sister always manages to beat me at.
      I’ve not heard about the Barker novel, but it sounds quite intriguing.
      Boddy was intended as a pun on the word body i.e. the corpse (according to Foster).

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  3. […] It has been quite a busy month for me, so my reading took a bit of a hit. That said I still managed to squeeze 13 reads in, though one was a comic book. The quality for this months reads has been quite mixed, with books from familiar faces not turning out to be quite as good as anticipated. Although, John Bude did surprise me with the depth of his style in Death in White Pyjamas (1944). This month also saw me ranking the work of Ethel Lina White, as well as taking a look at two non-fiction title, which looked at the deaths in Shakespeare’s plays and the history of Cluedo. […]

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  4. I have just one final mystery anent my own board game (bought on a family camping trip in the States about 1960). A few years ago, it went missing from my house. Gone. Vanished. Not among all the other games on the shelf in the basement. Where did it go? I haven’t a clue.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well given the genre of the game it sounds rather an appropriate, (albeit annoying) ending!
      On a sort of similar note I once had a chicken which I named Miss Marple. But she disappeared the first night I had her, never to be seen again…

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