«Codenames» review

Codenames

Codenames was published in 2015 by Czech Games Edition. The game was designed by Vlaada Chvátil, the renowned Czech game designer famous for Through the Ages, Galaxy Trucker, Bunny Bunny Moose Moose, Space Alert, Tash-Kalar, Dungeon Lords, Dungeon Petz, and Mage Knight.

The illustrations were done by Tomáš Kučerovský.

Game Components

  • 1 Sand Timer
  • 8 Blue Agent Cards
  • 8 Red Agent Cards
  • 7 Innocent Bystander Cards
  • 1 Double Agent Card
  • 1 Assassin Card
  • 200 Double-sided Codename Cards
  • 40 Key Cards

Codenames - All Components

Gameplay

Codename is a guessing card game. It allows two to eight players.

There are two teams. Each team has a spymaster. Spymasters know secret identities of twenty-five agents. Other players know only their codenames.

To win, the spymaster has to make contact with their teammates. The team who succeeds first wins.

Spymasters can give one-word clues, and other players have to guess words of the right color on the board without mistaking them for opponent’s words.

If you get tired of the word list used in Codenames or just don’t find it exciting enough, you are free to come up with your own words and make cards out of them. For example, you can make cards based on some specific theme that you and your gaming group may find appealing.

Codenames - Gameplay

Setup

For a standard game, you need at least four people. For two and three people, the rules and setup differ.

Teams choose their spymasters. Both spymasters sit on one side of the table. Other players – field operatives – sit opposite them.

Twenty-five randomly chosen codenames make a 5-by-5 grid on the table.

There is a key that reveals secret identities. It is different in every game. The spymasters choose it randomly and slide it into the stand in front of them. The field operatives mustn’t see it. The key is a 5-by-5 square that shows the underlying structure of the grid everyone sees.

The key contains blue squares and red squares that correspond to team colors. There is one black square – it is the assassin. The rest of the squares are innocent bystanders.

The starting team has to guess 9 words, the second team needs to guess 8 words.

The red spymaster takes eight red agent cards, the blue spymaster takes eight blue agent cards, the double-agent card goes to whoever is starting.

Codenames - Spies

Rules

A spymaster has to come up with one word that is related to some of the words their team must guess. When you say it, you also say how many words it is related to. Coming up with a codename, you cannot use any words that are already on the table.

Then the team’s discussion follows. At the end of the discussion, one of the operatives touches a word on the table.

Codenames - Grid Keys

If the guess is right (the word belongs to the team’s color), their card covers the guessed word and they make take another guess.

If it is an innocent bystander, then their turn ends here, and nothing else happens.

If the word belongs to a different team, it is covered with their card, and they will benefit from it. The turn ends.

If the assassin is contacted, the assassin card covers the word, and the game is over. If you contact the assassin, you lose.

When it is your turn, you have to make at least one guess. Then you may stop after any number of guesses you wish to make, but you are allowed only one extra guess after you have guessed as many words as was implied by your spymaster this turn.

Teams take turns. Every turn covers at least one word. So, the game moves on. If one team has guessed all of their words, they win. Or you can win if your opponents contact the assassin.

There is a sand timer in the game that you don’t have to use, but if someone is taking too long, you can flip it and demand that they make a decision before the time runs out.

Two-player Game

This variant is also possible with more people if you don’t want to be on different teams. The point is that one person is the spymaster and the rest are field operatives. Play as usual against an imaginary team. The imaginary team will guess exactly one word each turn. Which word to cover is up to your spymaster, it’s not random.

Three-player Game

You can play as described above for 2 players or, if two spymasters want to compete, they can have two teams with one field operative working for both teams (a real double agent in the flesh), but this player has to do their best with both teams!

Find the rules in PDF here.

Similar Games

Codenames vs Mysterium

Mysterium

Mysterium is a guessing game where one player is a ghost and the rest are mediums who summon the ghost. The mediums are trying to guess who, where, and how murdered the ghost, while the ghost is trying to remember the details of what happened and convey them to the mediums. The game is strongly themed and owns beautiful artwork while Codenames is more straightforward and easy to learn.

Codenames is competitive and Mysterium is cooperative. Ghosts use dreamy images and associations rather than words that spies use.


Codenames vs Spyfall

Spyfall

Spyfall is a party bluffing game. At the beginning of every round, all players get cards with the same location marked on them. Only one player gets a different card – the card that reads SPY. Then players start asking various questions to each other. If the spy manages to guess the location, it’s their victory this round. But if the spy gets uncovered (based on their answers or behavior), they lose.

It feels pretty different from Codenames as here you are welcome to bluff and use any sources of getting the information you need from other players apart from looking into their card.


FAQ

Q: Can I play Codenames on iOS and Android?

A: Yes! There is an iOS app called Codenames Gadget, an Android app, as well as a Windows app.

Q: I want to buy Codenames. I would like to get some information about its availability in stores.

A: Codenames is currently available in many online and offline stores. You can get it on Amazon, for example.

Q: Does Codenames require card sleeves?

A: No, it doesn’t. The cards in the game do not go through severe rotation and there is no need to hide them.

Q: Are there any expansions planned for Codenames?

A: So far there is no information about that.

YouTube

Conclusion

Codenames was a massive hit on Gen Con 2015. It’s easy to understand why: the rules are so simple you will immediately learn how to play yet decisions spymasters and their teams have to make are so hard that you are going to really apply all your quick wits to beat your opponents.

The level of interaction in this game is tremendous, and so is the level of fun. Codenames makes people talk, think, and bond – what else could you possibly want? Codenames plays quickly (you can finish one game in 15 minutes) and can be a terrific addition to your gaming night or a friendly party. Or you could just play Codenames all night.

Codenames - Neutrals

The game’s theme is not played out too deeply but still you can all pretend you are spies working for hostile camps.

You can buy Codenames on Amazon.