Thursday, January 3, 2013

Life-Sized Clue

Life-Sized Clue was not my idea initially - I was given control of the project for the YAB group. I knew about it for almost two months, and let it sit idle for a month and a half. We all had other projects on our plates and no time to worry about an event that seemed to have already written itself.

Then, two weeks before we were scheduled to run the event, I got bored. It's never safe when I get bored. One brainstorming session later, I had a paper full of ideas to bring to the next YAB meeting. They instantly took to the idea of transforming Clue from the usual suspects to literary characters, and it made them actually want to make costumes and personas for the event. After a few goes at a hearty, heated round-robin, we had our books, weapons, and the idea seemed to have transformed into something still easy, but unique.

Then I got bored one more time, and the following is the full results. (Large image heavy. Also, it is a novel, I am sorry. This was an intensive project and I had a lot to say about it.)

Week Prior Set Up
We did not have many sign-ups for the event - which, I'll be honest, was fine by me. I know I should be well-adjusted to the library life after five months, but events still make me nervous, especially since most of our events have been not well attended beyond our YAB volunteers. They've been fun, but not stellar examples of attended library programs. I figured I needed to up the ante a bit and make some advertisements for the game. In doing so, I came up with a plotted back story for the game (we were gearing this to 8 and up, so I didn't want to make it a murder mystery).

I meant to print up just the Miriam Quill letter to put in envelopes for those who had signed up and to hand out to kids to encourage further sign ups, but I got distracted by other set-up for the game. (And, yes, I messed up with the name in the second part... Oops. We decided Miranda was an evil twin, but that twist never came up.)
So, my favorite things to include in an interactive event (edited from my usual favorite things because this was the first time I had planned an event for younger children) are:
  1. Make sure there is peril that the players can solve and something they truly care about (see above: saving a stranger is a great goal, but it wasn't the only one I wanted, so I put the books in danger as well - they want to read these stories again!)
  2. Give them a promise of something fun, besides the basic game (see above: interacting with characters is always fun - I might be biased as I do that for a living, but it's also the magic of places like Disney where meeting the characters is one of the greatest joys of the park)
  3. Include a summary of the information - mostly for the parents and for when children have read the information once, so they don't have to read it again. You always want a summary for a quick review
So, now I had a brand new background for the game that was no longer simple, deceptively so or otherwise. The flyer also did something else - what flyers are meant to do. By the following morning, we had more than twice the number of sign-ups.
I then began the week-long process of, in my off time, creating a deck of letter paper sized cards. We had decided on six books (five of them being series) to work with: Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Percy Jackson, Hunger Games, X-Men (all right, all right, that's a comic book series, but I'm a huge fan and so were my teens and Marvel is still really big with the young folk), and Warm Bodies (I'm sure none of the younger sort knew the book, but I insisted we have something with zombies, because even the little kids like zombies).
We had also decided on one weapon from each world: a wand, Sting, Medusa's head, bow and arrow, Gambit's charged cards, and a zombie limb, respectively.
The YABers were told to create original characters, basing their character's names on the original naming system for Clue (thus including another word for a color or a shade of one of the colors). Three of them created new characters, and the others used characters from the books, which, in the end, I thought made for a nice compromise.
I then decided on locations, with help for the Percy Jackson. I made eight initially, because I thought that was the number of rooms in a standard game of Clue, but I realized a few days before the game that there are nine, so I made a generic one based on our plot. The locations became, again respectively: Room of Requirement, Gryffindor Common Room, Rivendell, Poseidon's Cabin, Empire State Building, Training Facility, Danger Room, Airport, and Library Arcana, with the center room for accusations being the Library Storeroom. Here are some samples of the resulting cards:

The middle is the card back I made when I realized the cards, even on card stock, could be seen through from the other side. I made fun little descriptions for each card - something for the kids to look at and be distracted by between turns. I had to make sure I had accounted for a lot of things to keep them preoccupied between what I rightfully believed would be long waits between turns.

I also gave each character a reason for wanting to leave the book, giving each character equal motive for having destroyed the quill. Because every character used was a protagonist, I wanted to give them a good reason to have done something "wrong." The characters needed to be sympathetic even if they wound up being the guilty party. Is this something the children really picked up on? No, at least not consciously, I'm sure. The flip side of the coin was the fact that each motive gave my volunteers something to anchor their acting to. One of the number one rules of interactive theater is that the best characters to interact with have a very clear and easy-to-understand purpose, one goal that drives them on.

Quite a few cards later, I had a full set of cards: six suspects, six weapons, nine rooms. I found a manila envelope, marked it CASE FILE, and proceeded to make my last documents for the game. I created a one-page summary of the rules for the kids to read before we started and to keep a hold of during the game. I made signage for each location so the rooms would be clearly marked. I then made a customized detective clue sheet for them, listing off our characters, weapons, and locations instead of the original ones. I used the text sheet from Karen Cookie Jar ( and edited the text.


And, lo, I had the last of my documents! I hoped the YABers were working on their costumes and I raided my room and costume apartment for props for the weapons (though I couldn't find a toy Sting and could not bring in my (sharp) wallhanger Sting, so that was a plastic sword and two printed pictures of Sting...) I reached the point the day before the event where all I had left was to wait!

For those who are uncertain of the exact mechanics of the game, I am including that sheet. It's a quick look at the rules - most of what it leaves out is strategy.

Day-Of Set Up

Besides needed a lot of paper to make the above crafts (which I printed, but could also be done freehand if needed), the other major component of this is masking tape. Lots and lots of masking tape. I am looking into making a tarp (or several tarps) that has the board drawn onto it to eliminate this step, if only because I've started thinking about bringing it to parties and such. But, for the one-time library event, masking tape is just fine.

We had carpet squares. Some of the squares blended very well into one another, but we roughed it out and made a few squiggly, uneven lines and followed the squares as best we could. We made the outermost border of the board first. We had a grid of 17 by 25. We then took a Clue board to make a design our own board. I have lost my grid map that we made, but this is a basic sketch of what we did:

So, lots of taping later, we had a board. A board I forgot to take photos of, oops. You can kind of see it in the background here:

One or two squares of the border of the rooms got duct tape in a crazy color to indicate the door that could be passed through. I had forgotten about doorways until it was almost time to begin and had to return to the Adult Reference desk at that time, so I threw the board back at the teens and had them put the doors in (and I forgot to put them into the the rough draft above, so clearly... I forget about doors a lot. Oops.) The center room (the cellar in traditional games, Library Storeroom in ours) had a cloth back under the chair which had a golden feather in it.
As you can see from the above photo, I put a chair into each room to which I then attached that room's name sign. In the future, if I continue to expand on this idea, I will probably make easy cardboard props to indicate the nature of the room (like a backdrop that I can attach to the chairs) to give the kids a bit more immersion. Toward the end of the two hours, we were using those chairs to sit. A lot.

After setting down the board, putting in the chairs, and placing the props in random rooms, we were pretty much done with set-up. The kids put on their costumes and I put on my character vest, we all ate some pizza, and then the doors opened.

Game Play

When the children entered, they were numbered with the order they entered on our attendance sheet and given a sheet of the summarized rules. Parents were allowed to stay and watch and many decided to at least stick around until their children had begun play. They sat in chairs that lined the walls. Once we hit go time, we closed the doors and I went into a spiel I had forgotten to script about what was going on. I pretty much just rehashed what had been in the flyer, which many children had brought with them, and acted the part of the assistant to Librarian Miriam. We read down the list in the order children had shown up in and they were allowed to either play in groups or individually. Most opted to play in groups. We had too many children for a round, so we decided to limit the game to one hour and asked the other children to wait. They all opted to wait in the room, though they had the option of returning to the children's room. I pulled out one weapon, one suspect, and one location and slipped it into the confidential manila envelope.

The teams then, again in the same order they arrived in, were given a clipboard and their cards, picked their playing pieces, which had already gone to their starting squares (another item I forgot to add to the above map - they were scattered one to each short side and two to each long side on the outside of the board). Red (Ron Weasley) went first. Diane bought a giant blow-up d6 (which, as a gamer, I am insanely jealous of and want one for one of my game nights). They kids had fun rolling it. I had slightly less fun dodging it when they got overzealous, but I did some Matrix moves that got me some applause.

I went into game show announcer voice to narrate each move. I did a lot of things to try to make sure that the kids always had something to pay attention to. Each actor volunteer was told the same thing: stay in character and talk to the kids in character. Stratgize, help them understand the rules, and talk about the weather - in character. The token pieces, more than solving the mystery, more than me yammering on, kept the kids and their parents entertained. We had some character banter, we had some interesting stories unfurl, we had constant action even though turns were slow (Clue games in general have slow turns - it's at least twice as slow life-sized).

Kids went around, threw the die, and decided whether or not to make a suggestion or try to get to a new room. The game was slow until suggestions began to fly, which is when lots of action and laughter happened. At one point, every suspect was called into the same room - and not the biggest room by any stretch of the imagination. The kids stuck with their suspect token and they all conspired. The kids being able to ask for help from the teens while at the same time being allowed to tell the teens what to do was a great dichotomy that kept the fun really going. My teens were all great sports about it, too.

The first hour saw no one getting to the point where they knew the answer, though a few had narrowed it down considerably. We let them make final accusations, but no one got the answer right. On the second play-through, many teams got closer, and when it came time to make the final accusation, one team had it figured out just on that final turn (though they were stuck in a room and couldn't make it to the Storeroom to accuse properly). That was a fun ending, because I had a co-worker dressed as Miriam and she made an appearance at just the right time and the winning team got to hand back the golden quill to her.

Okay, I just put this here because the wall of text was daunting even me. I have this and one other photo of our game, and then I will have what you were probably looking for - the summary I said everything in the world needs!

The kids loved our zombie. Actually, the kids loved their token pieces a lot, no matter who they had. The kids actually really loved the event as a whole - as did their parents. Unlike any other event I have assisted with, not a single parent left the room to go utilize the library. They remained and watched and were also entertained - they laughed just as much as the kids. All counted, including my almost-dozen volunteers, we had 52 people attending in that room.

And now, I have actually a couple of summaries for you, each one nicely coded.

What to bear in mind for your own life-sized board game night:
  1. Keep the rules simple. Clue was luckily simple enough to just summarize. Many family night boards games are, but if it's something with a lot of nuances, like Monopoly (I'm sure it's been done), try to find simplified versions of the rules.
  2. Keep it interactive. Life-sized board games are a fun novelty, but in the tedium that is going through turns at about half the pace as they normally would take, simply doing the board game isn't going to be enough. Give them a reason to want it and a reason to stay that's beyond the ordinary.
  3. Interactivity doesn't need established characters (though it can help - kids gravitated fastest toward Ron Weasley, Aragorn, and Katniss because they were easily recognizable) - every token piece here was loved. Each character needs clear motivations and goals in their minds to be a lovable character.
  4. Get used to playing with masking tape.
  5. Give them a goal beyond simply winning the game. Something more always needs to be at stake.
What worked:
  1. Interactive characters
  2. Game show narration
  3. Giant game pieces - the board, the human tokens, the life-sized weapons - it made the kids feel like they were in a place like Disney where the unreal comes to life
  4. One hour rounds - enough time for everyone to get in quite a few turns and feel like part of a game, but I think we brushed right up against the treshhold for their attention spans (though about half the kids played in both rounds)
  5. Humor. I can't stress this enough, but keeping a smile up and incorporating humor when possible is necessary - and this is coming from an actor who will always pick drama over comedy.
What didn't work:
  1. Classic Clue number of variables - for a one hour game (and one hour is definitely the limit), having six suspects, six weapons, and nine locations is just impossible, especially given the younger age range. I would definitely limit it to six of each or to four of each of the former and six of each of the latter. I might play a few games of Clue to see what works best.
  2. Heels. This should have been a given, and my teens were smart enough to know better, but doing an event that requires walking around a room for two hours is not the best place for heels.
  3. Two one-hour rounds - I am glad we were able to let all of the kids play, but two straight hours is hard on everyone involved. I would run it again with an hour break in between if possible.
  4. Waiting until day-of to explain interactive acting; the teens had an inherent grasp on the concept, but I think things would have flown even better had I brought it up at our meeting before the day-of - but as it was, it still went very well.
  5. A better contingency plan for if we run out of time before finishing the game is definitely called for.
And that, finally, concludes my Clue report. I don't think every report I do for an event will be this long. I can say for certain that any non-interactive events will definitely be a nice Sparknotes compared to this novella. The scope of various interactive events might include similar lengths, but we'll see.

If you play a Clue game of your own at your library, I'd love to know the results! And I'm always available for questions, if you should have any! Just drop me a line at I'd love to spread the interactive love - I think it really gets people, at any age, into what they're doing.

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