The Origins of Clue, The Board Game

(It’s Always Colonel Mustard)


Happy first Friday of February! Last weekend I watched Clue, the 1985 Whodunit based on the classic board game. It holds up for the most part 30+ years later, plus it’s responsible for one of top all time gifs out there:

Anyway, after watching, I started wondering more about the board game (which is just an all time, great board game. Top 5, I’d say). How did it come to be - who made it? What sparked the idea? Did the creator become a millionaire?

Well, lucky for you, I did the internet rabbit hole research. Who did it? With What? And WHERE? Let’s find out.

It’s not what you know it’s...which mansions you’ve been to?

In the 1930s and early 1940s, a British musician named Anthony Pratt played gigs at country mansions. The elegant guests would often play act at these get-togethers, and it was typically crimes involving “skulking, shrieking, and falling dead to the floor.” Pratt took mental notes of these games while he played piano. 

Pratt was a crime nut as well. He was apparently an avid Raymond Chandler (the noir GOAT) and Agathie Christie (the whodunnit GOAT) reader. 

During World War II, Pratt worked in a Birmingham munitions factory. Between 1943 and 1945, he recreated those murder-mystery parlor games by turning them into a board game. He invented suspects and weapons to pass the time during air-raid blackouts. His wife Elva helped him design the board on their dining-room table. 

It was originally called “Murder!” 

Yeah I guess “Murder” doesn’t quite say “family fun”

In 1947, Pratt patented the game. He sold it to UK-based game manufacturer Waddington’s and its American counterpart, Parker Brothers (now owned by Hasbro). 

But because of post-war shortages the game was not released until 1949. In England, it was Cluedo. In the United States it was Clue. (Oh you brits lol.)

In both versions, the object is for players to collect clues to figure out the murder suspect, weapon and location. The game took place in a Victorian mansion. The victim’s name? Mr. Boddy. (Look, we never said the guy was a genius.)

It’s evolved over the years a bit, but stayed true to the original

Pratt’s original patent included 10 characters and 11 rooms. It also included more weapons in addition to the revolver, dagger, rope, lead pipe, candlestick, wrench: there was also a shillelagh, a hypodermic syringe, an unused bomb, fireplace poker, an axe, and poison. (Jeez, man take it easy.)

The game was eventually pared down to 6 characters, 9 rooms, and 6 weapons. 

However, new versions of the game made more tweaks -- they’ve added a baseball bat, a trophy, and changed the revolver to a pistol. And In 2016, Hasbro killed off the housekeeper Mrs. White and replaced her with the more accomplished Dr. Orchid, the adopted daughter of the mansion’s owner.

Pratt never received his deserved fortune 

Despite Clue’s success—it earned its spot in the National Toy Hall of Fame in 2017—neither Anthony Pratt nor his family reaped a significant financial reward. 

In 1953, Pratt sold the foreign rights to the game to Waddington’s after the game manufacturer told him that it was not selling well. In return, he received 5,000 pounds.

Unlike the Monopoly inventor who became very wealthy, Pratt died poor and relatively unknown, in an old folk’s home

Oh awesome, another thing you’ve ruined for me.

Yeah, sorry about the depressing ending. Here’s your uplifting video for the week to put you back in a Friday happy place. 

As always, 

Stay ‘spicious. 

-Andy and Mark

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