How to Play: Codenames

How to Play Codenames

In Codenames you are teams of spies from opposing organisations, looking for your agents in the field. You must work together as a team to contact all your agents. Can you complete your mission before the other side can, while avoiding the deadly assassin?

Codenames Set-Up

You should divide into two roughly equal teams, a red team and a blue team. Each of your groups needs to pick one person to be their Spymaster. The rest of you are field operatives and should sit down at the opposite side of the table to the two Spymasters.

Place the agent, bystander and assassin cards near to the spymasters so they can reach them quickly. Shuffle and deal the Codename cards, arranging them in a five by five grid at the centre of the table. Your Spymasters should pick a key card at random, without showing it to either team's field agents, standing it upright in front of them.

The key card tells your spymasters whose codenames are whose, as well as where the innocent bystanders and assassin are. The lights around the edge of the key card show which team starts, the first team will have nine operatives to find whereas the second team only has eight.

Giving a Clue

During your turn, your team's Spymaster gives you a single word clue and a number to let you know where you can find your agents. The word associates the meaning of some agents' codenames on the table that belong to your team. The number is how many of your agents on the table that link to that word.

For example, if you need to find the two codenames ‘seal' and ‘fish' your Spymaster could say ‘Sea, two' as both fish and seals live in the sea. However, your Spymaster can't say words that are on the table, or words made up of that word. So you can't say ‘fishing' if ‘fish' is on the table, or ‘logs' if ‘log' is on the table. Your team's Spymaster is not allowed to give any hints aside from the clue, either out loud or with their body, breaking this rule means your turn is immediately over and play passes back to the other team.

Taking a Guess

You must try to figure out as a team what the clue means and make a guess by touching one of the codenames. If you find a codename, regardless of whether it relates to the clue or not, one of your agent cards is used to cover the codename, and you can have another go, although you don't have to make more than one guess in any turn.

If your team chooses an innocent bystander or the other team's agent your turn is over. However, you still need to cover it with the appropriate card, even if it gives an agent to the other team. Once your turn is over, it's the other team's spymaster's turn to give a clue.

Ending the Game

The game ends in one of two ways: either a team uncovers all of their agents to win the game or accidentally uncovers the assassin to lose the game immediately.

Codenames Tips

  • It might be a good idea for your Spymasters to hang on to the rule book. It contains a lot of guidance on what clues are allowed in the game.
  • The rule book also contains two-player, flexible and expert gameplay ideas. So you can make the game work for whoever is playing, no matter their skill level.
  • Want to have a second game without all the set-up? Just flip over the cards in the grid to give you an entirely new set of words.
  • There's also a timer to use if you think a player is taking too long to make a decision.
  • Codenames have a brilliant companion app for your phone, which includes a random key card generator. If you want more of a challenge, the app can even time your rounds for you!
  • Codenames has an expanding series including Duet, Pictures, Deep Undercover (18+) and their new release for 2018 XXL.

Not sure if Codenames is the game for you? Check out our review to see what we thought about it!