One of the ways I’ve fostered my love for true crime and murder mysteries over the years is with the classic board game Clue.
The rules are both simple and complicated: play detective and find out the circumstances of a murder – the what, where and culprit. You may discover by the end that you are the murderer.
You need at least three and as many as six players. Each person gets a character with a distinctive personality and motive for killing the host of the dinner party they’re attending. Mrs. White is my personal favorite because in the version my family owns, her onetime special power during the game is to make a prediction in a room she isn’t currently in. To make a suggestion, you have to be in the room in question. You can’t say it was Colonel Mustard in the dining room with the knife if you’re in the hallway. Everyone’s a suspect, even yourself.
The cards are divided into three categories: weapons, rooms and suspects. The objects and rooms and people all exist within the mansion – outside elements are not considered. The suspect has to be one of the six remaining party-goers. There are only nine rooms and nine possible weapons (in the most updated version) in the house.
Unlike real life, the choices are random. You don’t guess that the murder weapon was poison because of a toxicology screening done on the dead body, or that it took place in the living room because of carpet fibers on the body. There are no forensics, just the motivation to get it right first and win.
Luckily, cards for players to track their predictions are provided with the game materials. It’s tough to track all the different suggestions being thrown around even with notes. I write the initial of whomever showed me a card next to it on my paper so I can try to get them to show me different cards every time, but it’s hard to manipulate that. Getting other players to help you eliminate weapons, rooms and suspects is the closest thing the game has to interrogation.
In my family, this game is taken very seriously. Alliances shift, people try to get a peek at cards players are showing each other and my grandmother will flat-out cheat while claiming she’s using the “South American rules.” My father takes meticulous notes on every suggestion people make and tries to catch someone in a lie. It’s common practice in our house to make a suggestion with a weapon, room or suspect we have the card for, in order to draw answers out of others.
As the game goes on and players become closer to uncovering the truth, tensions start to run high. People are making wild, sometimes baseless suggestions in acts of desperation. It becomes a race to see who can nail down at least two of the components first. If you know the murderer and the weapon and have a pretty good idea of the room it took place in, you want to get to the room with the Case File (in most versions, the basement or the pool).
This isn’t unlike the real world of high-profile crime. With major cases with a lot of media attention, like Amanda Knox, every time a piece of evidence turn up, people press harder for answers and anyone with even a bit of authority claim that they have uncovered the truth. Media outlets waste no time in publishing headlines like “NEW EVIDENCE UNCOVERED — ALL SIGNS POINT TO KNOX AS THE CULPRIT” or “EVIDENCE UNCOVERS THE BLOODTHIRSTY TENDENCIES OF AMANDA KNOX TEN YEARS LATER.”
The question is, does the game trivialize murder and make it into a game? Killing someone in real life holds extremely serious consequences, but in Clue, once the murderer is exposed, the game ends. Nothing else happens. The game play of Clue simplifies horrific acts into who, what and where.
In this video, real investigators joke that Clue should contain DNA evidence and surveillance cameras, things that didn’t exist in 1949 when the game was first created. They also highlight the similarities and differences between real crime-solving and Clue.