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Codenames

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Codenames, a party game suitable for 2-8 players, sees you working alongside your teammates and nominated spymaster to find your fellow agents in the field, while also making sure to avoid the innocent bystanders – and the dangerous assassin! Czech Games Edition’s Codenames is a fantastic, easy-to-play word association game. Players split into two teams, each team having…
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Codenames, a party game suitable for 2-8 players, sees you working alongside your teammates and nominated spymaster to find your fellow agents in the field, while also making sure to avoid the innocent bystanders – and the dangerous assassin!

Czech Games Edition’s Codenames is a fantastic, easy-to-play word association game. Players split into two teams, each team having a nominated spymaster. Spymasters are given a grid that details the exact location of all their agents in the field. It is up to the spymasters to communicate the locations of the agents to their teammates. However, there is one big catch! The locations are all associated with words, and the only way to communicate these is to give one-word clues.

Once a clue has been given, it’s up to the team to work out which words the spymaster is trying to communicate to you. If you select a correct word, well done, you’ve found a fellow agent! Be careful though, select a wrong word and one of three things can happen! You could have mistaken an innocent bystander for an agent, a rather foolish thing to do! You could have found one of the other team’s agents, which will simply give them the upper hand! But worst of all, you could find the dangerous assassin. Find him, and it’s game over for you my friend!

Work together and find all your agents to be victorious and successfully complete your mission! This game will have you on the edge of your seat. Be careful, because when you think you’ve found the word, you may just start second-guessing yourself!

Codenames is a great party game and one that has grown in popularity massively. It’s an essential game for anyone’s collection and it’s sure to be a hit with all!

Awards

Spiel de jahres
Golden Geek
Great For Two
Dice Tower
Golden Pear
Value For Money

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You Might Like

  • Simple to learn
  • Short play time
  • Lightweight
  • Fun social interaction
  • Huge replayability

Might Not Like

  • Not really suitable for two players
  • Theme is tacked onto mechanics
  • Not suitable for children
  • If you're not into social or party games...
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Description

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Codenames, a party game suitable for 2-8 players, sees you working alongside your teammates and nominated spymaster to find your fellow agents in the field, while also making sure to avoid the innocent bystanders - and the dangerous assassin!

Czech Games Edition's Codenames is a fantastic, easy-to-play word association game. Players split into two teams, each team having a nominated spymaster. Spymasters are given a grid that details the exact location of all their agents in the field. It is up to the spymasters to communicate the locations of the agents to their teammates. However, there is one big catch! The locations are all associated with words, and the only way to communicate these is to give one-word clues.

Once a clue has been given, it's up to the team to work out which words the spymaster is trying to communicate to you. If you select a correct word, well done, you’ve found a fellow agent! Be careful though, select a wrong word and one of three things can happen! You could have mistaken an innocent bystander for an agent, a rather foolish thing to do! You could have found one of the other team's agents, which will simply give them the upper hand! But worst of all, you could find the dangerous assassin. Find him, and it's game over for you my friend!

Work together and find all your agents to be victorious and successfully complete your mission! This game will have you on the edge of your seat. Be careful, because when you think you’ve found the word, you may just start second-guessing yourself!

Codenames is a great party game and one that has grown in popularity massively. It's an essential game for anyone's collection and it’s sure to be a hit with all!

Codenames Rulebook

Player Count: 2-8
Time: 15 Minutes
Age: 14+

Codenames Board Game Review

Agents, your mission briefing begins here. From now on, everything you thought you knew about the world was a lie. There are spies among us and they are not hiding in the shadows, but in plain sight all around you.

Your neighbour? Your work colleague? The mad cat lady from number 47? Who is friend? Who is foe?

What is worse is that there is an assassin is hiding in their midst.

We cannot risk a leak. Who do you trust? Your only true friends are your team. Your spymaster can only issue you covert clues to help you identify your trusted agents out in the field. The intelligence we have to hand tells us that our enemy is in the same situation. Will you and your team be able to contact those agents and bring them in safely, before the assassin strikes? Or will the opposing forces manage to recover their agents first? Time is critical.

As always, should you or any of your forces be caught or killed, the secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions.

Mission Equipment?

Agent "X," due to the sensitive nature of this mission you will not be issued with the usual equipment. No exploding pens, laser watches or bulletproof cars. We cannot risk exposure. Instead, we will be issuing you the following:

  • One Assassin Card.
  • 40 Key Cards.
  • 200 Double-Sided Codename Cards.
  • One Sand Timer.
  • Eight Red Agent Cards.
  • Eight Blue Agent Cards.
  • One Double Agent Card.
  • Seven Innocent Bystander Cards.
  • One Assassin Card.
  • 40 Key Cards.
  • 200 Double-Sided Codename Cards.
  • One Sand Timer.

Codenames

Before you rush off Agent "X". Be aware that the enemy can hear every word that is said and will be actively trying to feed false ideas and leads to your team. You have been warned!

Playing Codenames Game Playing Codenames Game (Credit: Czech Games Edition)

Spymaster Calling

Okay agents, listen very carefully. I will say this only once. Once out in the field, all communication will be eavesdropped on. So, from this point on, I will only be using the approved code to communicate. You and your team will need to decode the transmission to locate the relevant operatives and bring them in from the cold.

Wait, what is that…?

You have not been issued with the codebreaker? Assassin on the loose?

Right, old school code-form it is then. As you know all agents are identified by one-word codenames. I will issue you with one word and a number. You will use that to decide on the names of the agents I am referring to. For example, if I state "Flying 4," you will automatically know the four agents are, "Plane", "Robin", "Balloon" and "Saucer". Due to all communication being tapped I will not be able to communicate outside those transmissions.

Be careful if you decode incorrectly. If you're lucky, you will just point out an innocent bystander. If not, you might uncover one of the opposing spies, or even worse - the assassin. They will wipe out your entire force. Game over. Need more info? Check out our full how to play.

Sound Easy?

You will be faced by 25 potential agents. Only the two Spymasters will know the true location of every one. Using only one word and one number they will try to lead you to your agents while avoiding the innocent bystanders or the dreaded assassin. You would think that would be easy to do, right? No one would give a clue that leads you to an instant loss, would they?

Normally, no they would not. But that is the beauty of Codenames. Everyone thinks differently. And because the spymaster is not allowed to talk, and you are up against a tight time limit, the rest of your team is thinking of different words. While the opposing team are trash-talking and throwing out red herring suggestions to put you off.

All of a sudden, Codenames becomes a lot more complex than a simple word guessing game.

Codenames Review - Word and Grid Cards Codenames - Word Cards and Grid Cards (Credit: Czech Games Edition)

Strategy Or Luck?

There is not a lot of room for strategy in Codenames. But do not think it is a game of luck either. Well, not in the traditional sense. The luck and strategy all come together when you give your clue. Have you strategically picked the best one-word clue, linking as many of your agents together as possible, without hinting at a random word?

Will you be lucky enough that the rest of the team are thinking like you? Here is an example:

Your clue is "White-3." Your words are Black, Wash, Snow, Rabbit, Paper, Chocolate, Out.

If you said Wash, Snow and Out? Well done you got all three correct. If not? Back to spy school you go. Yes, the example I gave was mean because all of the words could be used with white. But hopefully, you can see how tricky it can be to interpret the clue.

It is agonising watching as your teammates discuss selecting the assassin as an answer. I mean, who would have picked "Skate" when the clue was "Bored"? Really, I ask you.

Who Is It For?

Codenames is a party game best suited for larger groups. I have played with four players all the way up to 12, and the more the merrier. Although, the more timid players might get a bit sidelined with the larger group sizes.

You can, in theory, play Codenames with just two players. But in my opinion, it just loses all of the attraction that a social deduction game can bring. I would suggest only playing with six or more players to get the best from the game and the social fun that can occur. If you want two play two-player, Codenames Duet would be your go-to.

Final Thoughts On Codenames

Codenames is a great fun game for groups of six or more who are up for a bit of banter. It can be a good filler between some heavier games, allowing for some brain flexing in an alternative way. Having played as a family game I have struggled to enjoy it as much. Although for a large family I could see it making its mark.

The components, while not mind-blowing, are of nice quality and, given the number of words included, you would struggle to play the same game twice. Codenames will remain fun and fresh as long as you enjoy the mechanics of the game with the right groups of people.

I, personally, am not a big fan of "Social Party" style games. But Codenames is the exception to the rule. And now there are many different versions of Codenames that you can enjoy, from Codenames: Pictures to Codenames: Marvel, there's something for everyone. Shop the collection here.

Editors note: This blog was originally published on November 10th, 2018. Updated on July 27th, 2022 to improve the information available.

How to Play Codenames

As the 2016 Spiel des Jahres Winner, Codenames is a must-have game for any board game fan. It works on so many levels, and with so many variations there's something to suit everyone.

Let's take a quick look at how it plays, and then the differences between some of the different versions.

No Time To Die

Codenames is best for a group of four, split into two teams of two. It can also work in any variation of two to eight players, but an even number is best. Either way, the sky won't fall if you have uneven player counts. Just divide up as equally as you can, and sit opposite ends of the table. One team is blue, the other red.

On the guessing side, you are the 'field operatives.' You will see 25 cards laid out in a five-by-five grid. Each card has a single word on it. The words are shown both the right way up and upside-down, so the cards can be easily read on both sides of the table. These are the codenames of secret agents. On the other side, as the 'Spymaster' you will see this grid too, but you also have a key card. The key card shows you the location of the nine secret agents for the starting team, the eight secret agents for the second team, one assassin, and seven neutral parties.

The Spymaster's job is to try and link words for and offer clues to the guessing side. For example, if the words you're trying to link are "Elephant," "Bat," and "Mouse," you could give the clue "Animal" to link them.

Die Another Day

You should try to avoid giving clues that could lead to the field operatives picking neutral or opponent cards. Picking a neutral card ends their turn. Picking an opponent card ends the turn and also assists the other team. Worse, the assassin card ends the game immediately and your team loses. You can always play another round to try and live, or die, another day.

The Field Operatives try and piece together the clues given and match them to the words available, then point and touch the chosen card(s). Each clue is given with a number. "Animal Three," for example. This means three words link to "Animal," but you don't have to guess exactly three. You could guess any amount from zero to four, as you can always guess one more than the number offered to you. Perhaps you got two correct for "Animal Three," and missed "Bat" because you read the card as the sporting item. Later you might realise "Bat" was what your partner had meant, so could go for this as your extra guess. For example, say you are given the clue of "Outdoors Two." You see "Forest" and "Mountain" and guess those two both correctly. You can then guess "Bat," even though it doesn't relate to the current clue.

Codenames

Skyfall

If you're falling behind or running out of words that you can group together, the game has a special mechanic to help you out. Instead of a number, you can say "Unlimited" after the clue. This means there is only one word related to the clue. Your team now has the chance to guess some of the other answers from previous clues - or just use blind luck. At this point in the game, the sky won't fall in if you get it wrong. So it's worth a try. If there are five cards left and your opponent has one, you have three, and the last is the assassin, it's the perfect time to risk it.

Let's say one word was "America," but the other two were unrelated. You wouldn't say "Country Two" or "Country Three" just so they could guess all three cards, as this would indicate all three remaining words link to "Country." Instead, you would say "Country Unlimited." Generally, this means one of the words links to the clue. and then there are others that don't. You need some luck to just try and guess the others.

You can also say "Zero" as the number, which means none of your team's words are linked to the clue and you can guess as many as you like. This can be good if there are 6 words left, for example, and you cannot link your remaining three, but the one word you definitely don't want them to guess (the assassin) is easier to separate. Let's say in this scenario, your team has three words left and they don't link together at all. Your opponent has one, that is "Arm," and the assassin is "Shoe." You could say "Foot Zero." This then gives the field operatives the chance to eliminate "Shoe" and potentially "Arm" as well, knowing one is the opponent's card and the other the assassin, and then have a chance to guess the remaining three on their side.

Quantum of Solace

There are a lot of rules about clues that are and aren't legal, such as referencing the word's location on the grid, the number of letters in the word, starting letter, or linking words together in a compound. Such as offering "Horse" as a clue for "Horseshoe." If you do, that team's turn is over. Be flexible with these rules if you can to have fun, just be fair to both sides. You don't want to be sat in a quantum of solace as the Spymaster thinks for hours, restricted by the rules. Also, don't be afraid to just give a clue for one card. On some occasions, this is fine and all you can do.

That's it. The game plays until one side guesses all their agents, or one side accidentally picks the assassin. You can play multiple rounds, that's up to you. Let's now have a quick run-through of some other variations of Codenames.

Codenames

Codenames: Pictures

This game plays the same as the original but has pictures instead of words. However, the pictures are all duel layered. E.g, you could have a picture of a feather above a bear trap. This allows you to link cards easier, but also adds risk to people guessing the wrong card. It's great for kids or people with issues reading the words.

You can read the Zatu Review of Codenames: Pictures here.

Codenames: Duet

While both Pictures and the original game have a two-player variant, this version is designed specifically for two players. This allows for a more structured two-player experience, with the key cards set up to just one colour. There is also more of a challenge to this two-player mode compared to the other two-player variants, with the addition of two extra assassins. The game has a good scoring mechanic, challenging you to guess the cards in a certain amount of turns. It's definitely worth getting if you are going to play more often in a two.

You can read the Zatu Review of Codenames: Duet here.

Codenames: Deep Undercover

This is almost identical to the main game, other than the words you are guessing offer suggestive connotations. You can read our Zatu Review here.

Marvel Codenames Cards

Codenames: Disney - Family Edition

This is the best version for families or massive Disney fans. There's an option for the game to be a little easier, with a four-by-four grid being used without an assassin. There is also an advanced variant with a five-by-five and assassins added back in. The cards are double sides again, with pictures on one side and words on the other. It's a real mix of classic and modern Disney, and knowing the films does help a lot! The pictures are brightly coloured characters or scenes. The words are mainly the names of characters, but there are other things like "Kiss," "Reef" and "Contract."

You can find our review here.

Codenames: Marvel

Much like the Disney version, but themed with Marvel characters and references. Perfect if you are a fan. We have a review of Codenames: Marvel available here.

Codenames: XXL

Codenames: XXL is a much larger version of the original game, to help people with vision impairment issues. While the original card size in Codenames was 2.6″ × 1.7″, Codenames XXL contains cards sized 4.7″ × 2.8″.

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

Editors note: This blog was originally published on June 17th, 2021. Updated on January 25th, 2022 to improve the information available.

Zatu Score

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You might like

  • Simple to learn
  • Short play time
  • Lightweight
  • Fun social interaction
  • Huge replayability

Might not like

  • Not really suitable for two players
  • Theme is tacked onto mechanics
  • Not suitable for children
  • If you're not into social or party games...