originally published January 12, 2012

Here’s my issue with the game Clue. You’re supposed to figure out who killed Mr. Boddy, in which room, and with which weapon. If you’ve found the corpse, shouldn’t the weapon be fairly obvious? I understand there’s only a slight distinction between a candlestick wound and a wrench wound, but I’d like to think even I could immediately differentiate between a bullet wound and strangle-marks. Also, if there’s blood in the Conservatory, that’s probably where it went down.

Those little nit-picks aside, Clue is a great board game. Monopoly is smart but too lengthy; Battleship is only really fun if you add your own sound effects (electronic Battleship is cheating), and the only good part about Trouble is the little plastic bubble that contains the dice. Clue is part strategy, part bluffing, and part standing in the Dining Room doorway to block the other player from entering because seriously, screw that guy.

Seriously, what kind of architect designs a mansion around a massive yellow hallway?

A great success means a great deal of spin-offery, and Clue is no exception. The volume of off-shoots from the Clue franchise could fill a zip code full of warehouses.

The game was developed by British musician / government drone Anthony Pratt as a way to kill time while hiding in the mandatory dark of WW2 blackouts. He made decent money on sales in England, but gave up on the overseas Parker Brothers rights for a one-time buyout of 5000 pounds. Doesn’t sound like much, but in 1950, it was a substantial windfall. If he’d known just how much he’d lose in residuals, he might well have done himself in. With a revolver. In the kitchen.

‘Clue’ was conceived as ‘Murder!’, then released as ‘Cluedo’ – a portmanteau of Clue and Ludo, a Latin word meaning “I play” – in the UK. The basic board game hasn’t changed much, though the British version differs from the version I grew up with: Mr. Green is Reverend Green in England (I assume his church isn’t recognized in North America), and the knife and wrench are known as the dagger and spanner, respectively. They’ve put out a few ‘Nostalgia’ versions, featuring wooden boxes and old-style gamepieces, but it’s the off-shoots of the brand that really got me interested:

Two Clue VCR games were released in the mid-80s. I remember playing one of them, and finding the added feature of having to find the right spot on the tape in order to ‘enhance’ the game to be obnoxious. “Someone needs to invent the DVD!” I vaguely recall exclaiming, though my pleas were muffled both by the Terence Trent D’Arby on the radio and the scratchy ripping noises of my friends playing with their Velcro shoes.

Variants on the board game include Cluedo Master Detective (an expanded version with more rooms, more weapons and more characters), and an exhaustive list of alternates: Cluedo Super Sleuth, Clue: The Great Museum Caper, Cluedo: Passport to Murder, Cluedo Card Game, Clue SFX, Clue Mysteries, Clue Suspects, Cluedo: Discover the Secrets, Clue: Secrets in Paris, Junior Cluedo, and four Clue Jr. games in which nobody dies, but people steal pets and cake.

Video games were the most logical next platform for Cluedom (or Cluedodom), and they wasted no time developing games for everything from the Commodore-64 and Atari ST, through to the Xbox 360 and iPhone. I have played none of these, as I try to master one video game at a time, and I’ve been stuck on Custer’s Revenge for most of the last three decades.

Clue became the first board game to be made into a movie. It was a flop, though notable for having featured three separate endings which would vary depending on the theatre. I saw the film on VHS, where they tacked on each ending one after another. I’m sure the producers of the upcoming features based on Battleship, Candyland and Risk (all of which – God help us – are on the way) will be equally as clever.

On television, Cluedo was a game show that ran for four seasons in the UK. Contestants were placed in the mansion, and interviewed actors who played the game’s characters. One season saw former Mick Jaggerette Jerry Hall portraying Miss Scarlett.

A mini-series featuring six kids fresh off the Disney-Channel-Rejects bus aired last fall on The Hub, a digital cable / satellite channel that has apparently replaced Discovery Kids. I missed it, but any series that describes one of its characters as a “hottie with a heart of gold” is a must-buy DVD set.

A 1986 documentary starring Clue film star Martin Mull explored various famous literary mysteries while integrating clips from the movie. I’m sure no one claimed this was a blatant tie-in to boost video sales; either way, it didn’t work.

How about the musical? Yes, Clue was made into an Off-Broadway musical in 1997. Audience members would randomly pick three oversize cards (just like the game) and stuff them into an envelope, which would determine how the show would end. For fans of more traditional, less jaunty theatre, a similar audience-participation idea was turned into a non-musical play in 1985.

Eighteen young-adult books have the Clue franchise, ideal for the 90’s-era aspiring detective who can’t yet search amazon.com for Encyclopedia Brown books. If you want more work in your literary solving, you could assemble one of the Clue jigsaw puzzles, each of which featured a mystery to be solved after the fitting-together is complete.

I wish I was making this up, but Clue has taken a hint from Monopoly and turned to pop culture synergy to spread its brand. Check out:

  • Clue – The Twilight Zone: Tower of Terror (based on the Twilight Zone ride in the Disney compound in Florida)
  • Clue: 24 Edition (which character will be launching which terrorist attack from inside CTU?)
  • Clue: Harry Potter Edition (a student is missing? Who is responsible and which spell did they use?)
  • Clue: Simpsons Edition: (who killed Mr. Burns? Why bother? We all know it was Maggie.)
  • Clue: Seinfeld Collector’s Edition (who hit Newman over the head? Who cares?)
  • Clue: The Office Edition (who killed Toby Flenderson? No, seriously, this exists)
  • Clue: Family Guy Collector’s Edition (who killed the Giant Chicken?)
  • Clue: Juicy Couture (who stole which couture item from the fashion line? Seriously?)

All these spin-offs and variations seem to indicate the same thing to me: Hasbro (who now owns the title) doesn’t want us to realize that the original game was just fine, and needed no tweaking.

I’m accusing the Greedy Hasbro CEO, in the boardroom, with the over-saturation strategy. The heartless bastard.

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