The 2016 Spiel des Jahres Winner and current second highest ranked party game, Codenames is a must have game for any board game fan. It works on so many levels, and now has multiple variations to suit everyone. Let’s take a quick look at how it plays and then at the end, I will explain the differences between each version.
No Time to Die
Codenames works best in a four, with two teams of two. But it can also work in any variation of two to eight players but even is best. Either way, the sky won’t fall if you have uneven player counts, so just divide as equally as you can, and sit opposite ends of the table. One team is blue, the other red.
On the guessing side as the ‘field operatives’, you will simply see 25 cards laid out in a five-by-five grid. The card has a single word on, shown both the right way up and upside-down so the cards can be easily read both sides of the table, you won’t need to be a spectre of yourself by leaning over. These are the codenames of secret agents. On the other side, as the ‘Spymaster’ you will see this grid too, but also a key card, showing 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 ones on this five-by-five grid.
Your job as the clue giver, is to try and link the words for your side and offer clues to the guessing side so they can pick these. For example, you could have words that you are trying to link that are “elephant”, “bat” and “mouse” and you could give a clue of “animal” to link all these.
Die Another Day
When you give a clue, you need to avoid ones that could lead to the field operatives picking neutral or opponents cards, which would simply end their turn for a neutral, end their turn and assist their opponent if they picked a card from the other field operatives side, or worse; the assassin card, which ends the game immediately and gives the win to the other team. You can always play another round to try and live, or die another day.
Your job as the guesser is to try and piece together the clues given and words available, then point and touch the card you want to choose. 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 three. You could guess zero to four as you can always guess one more than the umber offered to you. Perhaps you had got two correct for “animal three,” but missed “bat” as you had read that more as a sporting item as you were not quite on the same wavelength yet and either guessed something else incorrectly or stopped at two. Later, you realise “bat” was what your partner had meant, so could go for this as your extra guess. Let’s say, you are given the clue of “outdoors two” and you see “Forest” and “Mountain” and guess those two both correctly, you can now guess “bat” even though it doesn’t relate to the current clue.
The game has a mechanic for catching up if you are really far behind, where instead of a number, you say “unlimited” after the clue. This means there is one word related to the clue just given, and a bunch more still to get that either you may be able to get from previous unsolved clues, or just blind luck. At this point in the game, the sky wont fall in if you get it wrong, so it is worth a try. If there are five cards left and your opponent had one and you had three and the last was the assassin, this is a perfect time to do it if you cannot find a way to link the remaining three words. Let’s say one world 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 word links to the clue and then there are others that don’t, and you need some luck to just try and guess the others.
You can also say “zero” as the number, which mean no words link to the clue, and you can guess as many as you like. This can be good if there are 6 words left for example, 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, there are three words left that are your words 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 opponents 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 words location on the grid, the number of letters in the word, or starting letter, or linking words together in a compound. Such as offering “horse” as a clue for “horseshoe.” If you do, that teams 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 there waiting for hours in a quantum of solace, as the Spymaster thinks for hours as they are 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 accidently picks the assassin. You can play multiple rounds, that’s up to you. Lets now have a quick run through of the other variations of Codenames.
This game plays the same but has pictures instead of words. However, the pictures are all duel layered. Such as 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. Its great for kids or people with issue with reading the words. Although there are version of this game is most languages.
This is a specific two-player version despite both picture and the main game having a two-player variant. However, this allows for a more structured two-player experience with the key cards set up to just one colour and now with three assassins. It makes it more of a challenge when in two player mode compared to the others two player variants, and the game has a good scoring mechanic to challenge you to guess the cards in a certain amount of turns rather than simply guess before your opponents do such as in the main game. Worth getting if you are going to play more in a two, over getting the main game and using the two player rules.
This is almost identical to the main game other than the words you are guessing offer suggestive connotations which can be mildly amusing, I guess! Best played with the ‘Alcohol expansion.’
This is best for families or massive Disney fans. The game is a little easier with a four-by-four grid being used without an assassin, but there is an advanced variant with a five-by-five and assassins. 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 with no secondary meaning such as seen in the main pictures version. The words are mainly the names of characters but there are other things like “kiss,” “reef” and “contract.”
Marvel, Harry Potter, The Simpsons
Much like the Disney version but themed in the above styles. Perfect if you are a fan of these films or shows.
A much larger version 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!