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.
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!
… and now here is the aforementioned quiz. Let’s see how well you know this game…
Questions 1-7 pertain to the British edition of the game.
- What is the name of the country house the game is set at?
- What is the name of the permanent murder victim? [Interestingly the original design enabled any character to become the victim]
- Name all the suspect characters which appeared in the first produced version of Cluedo.
- 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?
- Which weapons did Pratt originally intend to include in the game, but which did not make it into the final version?
- Which of these unused weapons made it into Cluedo’s 50th Anniversary edition (1999)
- How many rooms does the board game have?
- Which company originally produced the board game?
- What name did Pratt originally give the game?
- Now for the American edition:
- What is the full American name for the game?
- How was Reverend Green’s name changed and why?
- What was Dr Black’s name changed to?
Questions 9-12 look at some of the other international editions of the game.
- What is Miss Scarlett known as in:
- The German edition of the board game?
- The Greek edition of the board game?
- What is Colonel Mustard known as in:
- The Finnish edition of the board game?
- The Swiss edition of the board game?
- What is Dr Black known as in the Spanish edition of the board game?
- What is Mrs Peacock known as in:
- The Chilean edition of the board game?
- The Norwegian edition of the board game?
Questions 13-15 consider the various editions and spin offs to the original game.
- Which of are these are spin offs of the original Cluedo game?
- Scooby Doo Cluedo
- Clue Alfred Hitchcock Edition
- Cluedo Downton Abbey
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Cluedo
- What is the name of the 1985 film based on this board game?
- What year is the film set?
- Where is the mansion set in the film?
- What was novel about the ending?
- Which of these celebrities did not take part in any series of the Cluedo (British) game show?
- June Whitfield
- Joanna Lumley
- Judi Dench
- Richard Wilson
- Mollie Sugden
- Nicholas Parsons
I will post the answers to the quiz this weekend in my monthly round up post.