Codenames is one of the best party games available, so it is no surprise that in the years since its release it has spawned numerous variants. Initially, we saw variants such as Codenames: Pictures, which replaces words with pictures, and Codenames: Deep Undercover, designed for a mature audience. Now we are starting to see versions of the game with different popular franchises as the theme, including the subject of today’s review, Codenames Marvel. While the basic Codenames remains my favourite of all the versions, Codenames: Marvel is an excellent variant for any Marvel Comic or MCU fans!
For those who are unfamiliar with Codenames, these are the basic rules. A five by five grid of cards is set out in the middle of the table and each of these cards displays a word (or a picture). One member from each of the two competing teams will be able to see a grid that shows which of the cards on the table are blue, which are red, and which are neutral. This person is trying to help their teammates determine which cards in the grid are their colour.
They do this by giving a one-word clue related to one or more of the cards, and then the number of cards that the clue relates to. The teammates will then select cards that they believe are in their colour and it will be revealed whether they are correct. They must be careful though. One card is the assassin, and if picked will immediately make them lose the game. The teams will take it in turns to receive a clue and then guess until one team has successfully guessed all their cards.
So How is Codenames: Marvel Different?
The main difference between the base game and this variant is that all of the cards are Marvel themed, whereas in the base game they are random words. Like the base game Codenames: Marvel comes with 200 double-sided cards. Unlike the base game, only one side of these cards displays a word while the other displays a picture. This is a nice merging of basic Codenames and Codenames: Pictures, giving you the option to play with either words or images. This works particularly well in this variant as players who may be unfamiliar with some of the Marvel characters on the word side of the cards may find it easier to give clues based on the pictures.
The teams are no longer just red and blue, but S.H.I.E.L.D and Hydra. The Innocent Bystanders from the base game have been replaced by the infinity stones and the Assassin by Thanos. Thematically this game is brilliant, with interesting Marvel equivalents to the original components. I particularly like having S.H.I.E.L.D and Hydra as the teams since both opposing organisations are heavily involved in espionage, fitting perfectly with the classic Codenames theme.
The Components are of brilliant quality and just as good as the original game. The game comes with 200 durable Asset Cards, ensuring the same cards don’t keep coming up in multiple games. The words are depicted very clearly and the artwork is brilliant, all of which is taken from the Comics. The 40 key cards are enough to make sure that the cards are not in the same configuration in multiple games. The Cover Cards look great, depicting either the S.H.E.I.L.D or Hydra logo, an infinity stone, or an ominous-looking Thanos. This game looks fantastic! The only thing included in the base game that isn't in this version is the timer. Honestly, I think most players will be glad to see that go!
What’s on the Cards?
As I said before, the real difference between the base game and Codenames: Marvel is the Marvel-themed cards. The base game had random words like Scientist and New York. Every card in this version has a Marvel theme. Every character you can think of is included, from Black Panther to Ghost Rider. It is worth noting that the cards are not purely references to the MCU, but also the comics, so players may not be quite as familiar with characters such as Carnage and Taskmaster unless they are big Marvel fans. Playing with the pictures makes the game somewhat more accessible, as even if players are unfamiliar with the characters they can still give clues based on what they can see.
As well as characters, the asset cards also include different weapons and items used by Marvel characters, such as Green Goblin’s Goblin Glider, Captain America’s Shield, and Thor’s Stormbreaker. Additionally, there are a few Marvel teams, such as The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy and the Sinister Six.
Finally, we come to some of the words and pictures which are perhaps a little less thematic. There's a range of verbs that vaguely fit the Marvel theme, such as Fight, Swim and Crush. Admittedly the pictures, taken from the comics, fit better with the theme. Then there are some objects, such as Newspaper, Statue, and Sword, which again you might not immediately associate with Marvel. There is also a range of random words such as Patriot, Justice, and Miniature, which again are not very explicitly Marvel-esque. However, the pictures do depict all these things from different parts of the comics and the variety of words ensures there are always links that can be drawn.
Codenames: Marvel is an excellent variant of Codenames for those who love the original game and Marvel. The game is perhaps a little less accessible than the base version and is very much designed for Marvel fans to play together. If I’m honest, having a theme that all the cards relate to does make it significantly harder to find one-word clues which link a few specific cards, but not also half the cards on the table. However, for big Marvel fans, this should not prove too much of a problem!
Editors note: This blog was originally published on November 19th, 2020. Updated on February 1st, 2022 to improve the information available.