Clue: Solving the Secret of a Sixty Year Success
Clue has been around for more than sixty years and it still holds a place as one of the most popular board games in the world. So why it this? What is it about Clue which keeps its notoriety secure? What is the answer to this puzzling enigma?
Clue is a game of deduction mystery. Each player must investigate the infamous murder of Mr. Black, and the murderer will be one of them. The investigate component of this game may be simple, and the way the characters move around the Tudor mansion may be nothing more than a simple die roll, but this game does one thing so incredibly well that its status as a board game classic is secure, and that is atmosphere.
Clue is able to invoke a strong sense of mysterious tone and atmospheric suspense through its Agatha Christie-esque set up, its well-crafted characters, and its austere and moody setting in the Tudor mansion. This game truly feels like a mystery novel and, like the best in film and theatre, this ability to invoke tone and feel is what gives it that intangible quality which sets it apart.
The physical components of Clue are the source of its success. Each player plays as one of six characters who have gained such popularity that their names are a part of the pop culture psyche. I would go so far as to say that Col. Mustard, Miss Scarlet and Professor Plum are the most well-known of all board game characters. While most board games you are simply a nameless pawn, here you’re characters have names and backgrounds, and the version which I own even has nicely detailed plastic mini-figures as your tokens which are great.
Another distinctive feature of Clue are the weapons which are made out of metal (expect the rope which is plastic) with great detail. The revolver, the wrench, the candlestick, they all add to the suspenseful puzzle-like quality of the game.
However my favourite game component is the board itself. The board makes up the mansion within which the characters are trapped until they solve the crime. Each room is designed with a lot of detail which makes you feel like you are actually there searching for clues in the study, the lounge, or the conservatory. The board makes for a fantastically real setting which really drives this theme home.
The game revolves around trying to solve the murder with the power of deduction and elimination of clues. The three main components of the game are the three aspects of the crime which much be solve; who, where and with what weapon. Each of these three things are represented by cards; one of which is removed from the game. The rest are dealt out to the players.
Players then move around the board and make accusations. When an accusation is made, any player who knows the accusation to be false must show the accuser their evidence in the form of a card. Players use these accusations to eliminate evidence on a provided tally sheet until they believe that they know all three pieces of the puzzle and make their final verdict.
There are some strategies of deception that players can use when making accusations, but ultimately strategy doesn’t play much of a role. Its really just taking a shot in the dark at first and gradually getting closer to the trust. There are also some aspects of gameplay like moving around with the dice which seem unnecessary and could have been improved.
When the layers of Clue are stripped away, its not really that complex or strategic of a game. But that doesn’t really matter. The game is really about striking up that feeling of living in a mystery novel and living the life of a socialite accused of murder. As you move your character around the squares of the mansion, from the dining room to the billiards room, you can almost sense a stormy haze just outside, with cracks of lightening brightening up the dimly lit rooms for just a few seconds, with the loud crash of thunder coming just a not after a serious accusation is made. It is this atmosphere which makes Clue the phenomenon it is today and why it has survived all these long years.