We love mystery!

Mystery Fun and Games

Games have long been a way for armchair sleuths to prove their deductive skills. In today’s episode, Brook and Sarah discuss the origins of mystery games, the different types of games mystery fans play, and their enduring popularity.


Clue Boardgame (1949) Hasbro

Clue: Harry Potter Edition (2008)

Clue: Brooklyn 99 Edition (2021)

Clue: Downton Abbey Edition (2019)

Jury Box (1937) Parker Brothers


Mafia online edition

Mystery House (1980) On-Line Systems

The Traitors (2022-present) BBC

Murdle (2023) G.T. Garber

Agatha Christie: And Then There Were None Game (2005) Big Fish Games

Cherry Ames’ Nursing Game (1959) Parker Brothers

The Great Charlie Chan Mystery Game (1938) Milton Bradley

Cain’s Jawbone (1934) Edward Powys Mathers

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This transcript is generated by a computer and there may be some mis-spellings and strange punctuation. We try to catch these before posting, but some things slip through.

SarahWelcome to Clued in Mystery. I’m Sarah.
BrookAnd I’m Brook, and we both love mystery.
SarahHi Brook.
BrookHi Sarah. It’s time for some fun and games today.
SarahTotally. Before we get to those, let me just mention for our Clued in Cartel paid subscription, our write along is beginning soon and members will have an opportunity to provide feedback, read what we write as we write it, and help shape the story.
BrookThat’s right. It’s going to be a lot of fun. You’re going to have input and what type of story we begin and then get to see it as it unfolds.
SarahOk, so Brook. When I say mystery game. What do you think of?
BrookI think you’re like most people who would name Clue, or Cluedo, depending on where you live in the world. It was first released in 1949. And there have been several iterations since then, as well as different tie-ins to popular tv shows and movies. There’s a Harry Potter version, Brooklyn-99 version, Downton Abbey version. According to one reference I found, more than 150 million copies of the game have been sold. And it is one of the five most popular board games. But Clue is just one of many mystery-themed board games and board games are one category under the broader umbrella of mystery games, and today we’re going to dig a little deeper into that umbrella.
SarahSo, while researching this topic I categorized what we think of as games into several different categories. So, there’s parlor or party games which we could probably break down a little further into board and non-board games. Ah, there’s video games and there’s puzzle games. So in terms of parlor games, these are games that are played with multiple people. The game “wink murder” or “wink”—and there may be some other regional variations on the name—is thought to have originated in early twentieth century. Jury Box is an American game from 1937 and players act as a jury, writing down their solution after evidence is presented by another player—the district attorney players earn points for the right answer and the game includes several cases for players to review. This game is considered a precursor to Mafia which emerged in the mid 1980s and is now available via a free online version to play with friends over Zoom or Facetime. There are also more participatory parlor games like murder mystery nights where everyone arrives at the party as a character with a backstory and new information is revealed throughout the night until the mystery is solved an early example of mystery-themed video games is Mystery House, which was launched in 1980. Players are locked in a house and have to explore it to find clues to find jewelry to get out. Along the way they discover bodies and have to avoid dying themselves. The game was developed by a husband and wife who initially sold 10,000 copies before a larger release of ultimately 80,000 copies. Until Mystery House, most games were text only, but this game featured visuals though we would consider them quite primitive compared to what’s available today.
SarahSince Mystery House mystery-themed video games have advanced. They typically involve interacting with characters to learn information and gather clues and like board games, there are several that draw on characters that readers are familiar with: Sherlock Holmes, Nancy Drew, and so on.
SarahLast year I’m sure you saw several references to Murdle. So, originally it was an online game and there are three volumes of logic puzzle books and last month its creator, Greg Karber announced that there will be a board game version released this later this year. With Murdle, you really need to use those little gray cells so it will be neat to see what the board game is like. Mystery fans can also immerse themselves in monthly subscription boxes that contain evidence and clues. In one version, the mystery is revealed through six boxes, so over a six-month period of time. And then there’s also actual puzzles, which reveals clues as the pieces are fit together. So, Brook, those are just a few examples of different games that mystery lovers can play.
BrookIt’s so great. Sarah and okay I have to admit I did not know that there was a Downton Abbey version of Clue. I might have to go online and shop for that as soon as this episode is over that sounds like so much fun. Because I am one of the people who that’s my favorite board game. I love Clue. And I have and a very old version of it. I acquired through an antique sale or a store and I love it so much.
SarahYeah, I mean I have a few versions of Clue as well. But I didn’t know about the Downton Abbey version either. But it totally makes sense, right? Like to play in that setting.
BrookIt’s perfect.
SarahI thought it was really interesting this kind of overlap between mystery books shows and movies and games. Because there was a film based on Clue. Ah, you know it was inspired by the game released in 1985. And I didn’t realize this but the vhs version has three possible endings.
BrookWow, I didn’t know that either. But what a genius thing to do for mystery lovers that you have a little bit of choose your own adventure. That’s really clever.
SarahYeah, and there’s a stage version of it as well. There’s lots of there’s lots of overlap. In 2022, bbc aired a version of Mafia. So, It’s called The Traitors, where players compete for money to identify who like the culprit is. And it’s been renewed for a third season.
BrookIt just goes to show, you know, we’ve talked about the renaissance of mystery movies and it’s you know going to show up in the games and the other entertainment as well. So that’s really exciting.
SarahYeah, and there’s you know I think there’s lots of examples of board games that are developed or inspired by popular shows. So there’s like a csi board game and and that game that I described the Jury Box it kind of sounds like what I would imagine a csi board game to be like.
BrookOr Law and Order or something.
SarahExactly. So yeah I just I think it’s fascinating and there was so in 1904 there was a Sherlock Holmes board game that was launched, so this is not a new phenomenon.
BrookOh, that’s fascinating. Well, I feel like that you know aha! feeling that we get when we read a mystery is you definitely can experience that when playing a game, especially when you you mentioned that you know some of those parlor games include multiple people. You become like the detectives and and you know you have that aha! moment . And so it makes sense why we would enjoy experiencing it on this level as well.
SarahWell exactly. And I think it’s a way, you know we all kind of fancy ourselves to be sleuths and it’s a way to really demonstrate our detective skills when we’re when we’re playing in a game like that. There were a couple of other really interesting things that I discovered while I was researching for today’s conversation. There was a board game released in 1968 based on And Then There Were None.
SarahYeah yeah, which you know probably was similar to Clue in terms of the game play, but there would be I think there were like nine bodies.
BrookAnd maybe as your ah character goes away. You know you’re out of the game and then and then who is the winner at the end. Very fun.
SarahThe other thing that I thought was really interesting that I came across is there were a few other sleuths and book series that I wasn’t familiar with that had games based on them. So one was Cherry Ames and Cherry was a nurse and so there was a series of books released between 1943 and 1968, with a board game in 1959.
BrookHow interesting. A medical mystery series that we weren’t aware of, Sarah.
SarahI know, I know and so now I want to see if I can track down um some of those books. The sense that I got is that they’re targeted at a younger audience. Ah, but yeah, definitely another, as you say, another medical mystery that we weren’t aware of when we were talking about that earlier.
BrookThat’s fascinating.
SarahAnd then another ah sleuth was Charlie Chan. So, this is a Chinese Hawaiian detective who was created in 1925. And there was a series of books released featuring this detective and a board game featuring the same detective was released in 1937 and a card game in 1939.
BrookHow fun. I had no idea that there were this many tie-ins and so early to specific sleuths and specific series.
SarahWell I think board games were a very popular pastime in the early twentieth century. The Sherlock Holmes game was released in 1904, which is around the same time that the precursor to what we know as Monopoly was released. I think they were a very popular way for people to spend an evening. Invite some people over, have a meal, play a board game. And I mean that still happens today, right? Where friends gather for a game night.
BrookAbsolutely. For sure. Yes, and in those days, you weren’t gathering around the television set with your family to watch a show you were looking for you know, another kind of diversion so it makes it makes sense.
SarahI think I said that Clue has sold more than 150 million copies and I’m assuming that that includes all of the different variations and there’s probably a lot of households like ours that have multiple copies of the game. Um, but still, that’s you know a 150 million is pretty good coverage and there’s lots of language editions of it as well. So, it’s not just an English speaking game.
BrookYou mentioned the murder mystery night, Sarah and have you done those before?
SarahI have ,yeah, where someone else has organized this whole elaborate game. There are lots of fun.
BrookThey are fun. I have one set and it is a western game and um I think I got it as a gift when I was you know a very young adult and played it with, a set of friends and then enough years went by that I completely forgot what happens in the game and so we were able to play it again. But it was a challenge because it’s cassette tapes to like hear the clues and the information. And so we had to scrounge around to find a cassette tape player.
SarahAh, well I think nowadays you can probably find online versions. And I haven’t done the mystery box kind of games where you know it’s delivered to your home on a monthly basis, but that sounds like it would be kind of fun. I know there are some that are kind of targeted at children and so that sounds like it would be a kind of a fun thing to do with a child is investigate the clues and I’m sure there’s some science involved in that to teach some lessons in a really fun setting.
BrookYes, the ones that are geared towards kids and then there’s also a brand that is geared towards like a date night thing to be able to you know coordinate with your spouse and have like a different kind of ah, a different kind of date night. So, I think that would be fun as well.
SarahYeah, absolutely. So, one of the game box companies that I looked up while I was researching for today’s conversation, Brook says that they ship 150,000 episodic and complete mystery game boxes to consumers each month.
BrookOh my goodness. If that doesn’t speak to the popularity of mystery, I don’t know what does.
SarahThat’s a much higher number than I would have guessed but what a fantastic idea.
BrookAbsolutely and one thing I’ve seen ah is also authors themselves kind of creating these different ah experiences that you can have that coordinate with their stories. So maybe if you follow their newsletter or you visit their website, that they have some games that coordinate with their series. In a very grassroots way, these authors are participating in this idea of expanding their mystery world with you know games and extras.
SarahAnd that sounds to me like a really great way to just interact with your readers and build a very strong fan base.
BrookYeah, because people obviously like it, right? 150,000 of this one brand of mystery box. So, it’s something that ah fans of mystery are interested in having.
SarahTotally. And what about Murdle, Brook? Are you are you a daily Murdle player?
BrookI’m not. I am going to admit something I’m terrible at Murdle. I can’t get into it. It’s not my thing I think I need to have a coat a Murdle coach is there such a thing.
SarahI don’t know. There’s probably opportunity there for someone. I like doing the the logic games. I don’t do them every day. But my son and I have sat down and and kind of tried to work them out. What I like about Murdle, particularly the online version, is that there’s a lot of variation from day-to-day in terms of the number of clues that you get and how complex the puzzle is. Some are much easier to solve than others. But I you know my hat’s off to the creator of Murdle because he’s just done up a phenomenal job of creating something.
BrookDefinitely, definitely. It reminds me a lot of the lateral thinking puzzles. Do you remember those books that you could get? And they’re great fun. They’re wonderful for a car ride and ah so there’s a lot of similarity there.
SarahAnd I am really curious to see what the board game ends up looking like.
BrookI’m excited about that. When you mentioned it, I thought that seems like it would be a lot of fun. What about the video game, Sarah? I know the Nancy Drew video games for instance have just like a cult following. Is that anything that you’ve played before?
SarahSo, I don’t think I’ve played the Nancy Drew game. If you have a Netflix subscription, Netflix also has games which a lot of people probably don’t realize. They have a couple of mystery games where you know. You can just do it on your phone. You get presented with some clues, you get to decide I think you’re the detective the police detective and so you get to decide do you interview this suspect next or do you pursue this you know lead that this piece of evidence is directing you towards? You know which of these things do you do next? I think they’re you know they’re well put together and fun to do. So I’ve done those and I’ve also think it was like $3 or something on the on the Nintendo store. So we bought a detective game and or a mystery game rather and um I’ve been I had to get my son to show me how to ah how to do it because I’m not you know it’s on the Nintendo switch and I just couldn’t figure it out. So it’s something that he and I will do um and it’s very much a kind of a I think they’re described as a point and click game.
SarahSo you you know, hover the um if we were playing it on a computer you would hover the mouse over a piece of evidence or you know to to learn something new about about what’s happening. But it’s this you know, there’s this narrative arc that is written into the game and you know yeah you feel like a little detective um, trying to figure out what’s happening.
BrookI love that. We also have a Nintendo system at our house so that’s something that I could check out and probably get help from the younger generation as as you say.
SarahAnd what about the Nancy Drew game? I know that there are people who played that growing up and who absolutely loved it. Are you amongst that that group?
BrookNo I think that it’s they sound really fun, but I haven’t ever dabbled in those.
SarahWell maybe we should try and track one down and see if um see if we can play. But I do know like I searched if you just enter mystery video game into a search engine, you’ll get a list and there are some very immersive looking games. I think it’s quite neat that kind of historically it was ah a mystery game that was one of the firsts to have um images.
BrookYes, absolutely. It’s not surprising to me because you know the clues and the setting and everything is so important in a mystery story. But that’s really fun, and I loved that you said if you look at it now, it’s going to look a little bit dated but it was probably fantastic back then.
SarahAnd I just like the story that it was this husband and wife side hustle that they did they they wrote the programming and were just sending out. At the time it would have been discs like in 1980 not a lot of people had computers, right? Um, so I think they sold 10,000 in their first little bit, which must have been everybody who owned computer at the time.
BrookThey had to wait for more people to buy personal computers before they could do their second round.
BrookAs somebody who really loves jigsaw puzzles, the game you mentioned where the pieces put the clues together, that seems like a really fun thing. And actually, I remember that I think that was on one of my Christmas wish lists one year. So, I need to reinstall that on the list and maybe I could play this winter.
SarahBefore we go, we should probably mention Cain’s Jawbone. So, it was a book that was intentionally published with the pages out of order. Originally it was published in 1934, and then it was rereleased in 2019 and both times with a prize associated with it. So, the first person who could solve the mystery of not only putting the pages in the right order but then figuring out the mystery that the book tells received a prize. And I you know I think the timing of covid really helped with the popularity of the I think it was the 2019 release. It was just like the universe all aligning because people had time to sit down and really puzzle out how this book was meant to go together. And so I actually haven’t seen a copy of it because I am a little bit afraid that if I did I would end up like quitting my job and abandoning my family until I solved it.
BrookWell yeah, and you know some of those ah TikTok accounts where people were working on it really I think helped increase the popularity as well, because you could visually see what people were doing to put this together. You know, ah they coated their walls. It looks like a murder board. You know they have their walls with all the different ah pages taped up to try to get them in the right order. It’s really fun to see the links that people went to to work on it and as you say it was the perfect storm because of ah people being cooped up and needing something to do, but if I struggle with a Murdle, Sarah there Cain’s Jawbone is way out of my league.
SarahWell, Brook thanks for today’s conversation I think it was really fun to talk about games and mystery.
BrookIt was great Sarah and one of these days when we’re together we we’ll play a game of clue maybe Downton Abbey Clue.
SarahI would love that.
BrookWell, thank you and thank you listeners for joining us today on Clued in Mystery. I’m Brook.
SarahAnd I’m Sarah and we both love mystery.