Codenames word game – Game Review
At GenCon this year (2015), two games were getting a LOT of hype and one of those games was âCodenamesâ by Czech Games Edition. âCodenamesâ is a press-your-luck word game mixed with a game of deductive logic. Whilst itâs simple in premise and not overly thematic in nature, âCodenamesâ manages to be a really great little game. From designer Vlaada ChvÃ¡til, a man well known in board gaming circles, with a slew of popular games under his belt, âCodenamesâ once again thinks outside of the box and puts a new twist on the word play genre. Letâs take a look.
Two rival spymasters know the secret identities of 25 agents. Their teammates know the agents only by their CODENAMES.
In Codenames, two teams compete to see who can make contact with all of their agents first. Spymasters give one-word clues that can point to multiple words on the board. Their teammates try to guess words of the right color while avoiding those that belong to the opposing team. And everyone wants to avoid the assassin.
Codenames: Win or lose, it’s fun to figure out the clues.
Codenames by Czech Games Edition – Loads of fun!
âCodenamesâ is a 2-12 player game that takes around 15 minutes to play dependent on how quickly the players come to their conclusions. The rules are ridiculously simple making this a fantastic gateway game that you can teach new players in a few minutes. âCodenamesâ comes with 16 Agent Cards, 1 double agent card, 7 innocent bystander cards, 40 agent location grid cards (and one stand), an egg timer youâll probably never use and 200 double-sided word cards, meaning thereâs a lot of replayability to be had. So what do these cards do exactly? Letâs look at the game setup.
Setup & Gameplay
Setup of âCodenamesâ is – like everything else in the game – simple. A 5×5 grid of 25 cards is laid out on the table. Each team has a spymaster who sits at one side of the table (spymasters sit together) and the players sit on the opposite side. If we were forced to think of a game âCodenamesâ reminds us a little of in gameplay mechanic, itâs probably âBattleshipsâ, but in reverse. Spymasters have a 5×5 single grid card they refer to showing them the same setup area as on the table. This grid card is color coded showing the spymasters the red spies, blue spies, innocent bystanders and the deadly assassinâs locations.
At the beginning of each turn spymasters relay a one word clue followed by a number to their team (example âClue 1â), that team then taps the card(s) on the table they think the clue refers to. If theyâre right, theyâve tapped the card of their team color and itâs covered by an agent card of the correct color (red or blue) and play continues (passing to the other team to attempt the same), if they tap the assassin, itâs game over and the other team automatically wins. Tapping an innocent bystander means youâre now lagging behind because youâve failed to uncover one of your own spies, thus giving the other team more of a lead.
The Codenames setup and partial play – Just to give you a visual.
Gameplay continues until one of the teams uncovers (or rather physically covers) all the spies of their color. The fun comes in the confusion. Different people equate different things to different words, so whilst some are obvious, others may not be as obvious as the spymaster thinks. For example the words glass and pane are on the table, the spymaster gives the clue âwindowâ, to one of his team the clue window might scream âglassâ to the other player, it might scream âpaneâ, so which one is it?! Why didnât the spymaster take this into account before uttering the clue OMG OUR AGENTS ARE GOING TO DIE! WE NEED TO GET THEM OUT OF THERE! â¦ Calm down gamer, calm down.
A game of âCodenamesâ is so swift (unless you have those really annoying over thinkers in your group) that youâll find yourselves flipping the cards to play again, then dealing out new cards, and repeating. Gameplay is probably best when playing on the same team with people you donât know as well as say, a partner. That can lead to annoying other players as you just guess one anotherâs clues with ease because you know each other so well (this happened in a couple of our games, thus the mention). Mix it up a little, donât have partners as spymaster and on the team, thereâs no âiâ in team.
Something we thought was worthy of coverage / praise, but really doesnât affect the game of âCodenamesâ as such is gender and racial inclusivity within the premise / artwork. All spy cards are double sided, with the blue agents sporting a male James Bond style spy on one side and a female Annie Walker style spy on the other. The red cards sporting a Men in Black Jay style spy one one side and a Lucy Lui / Doctor Joan Watson style image on the other. We thought this was a great addition to the game, ensuring it wasnât automatically assumed the players were all white males and thus so must the artwork be. Well done Czech Games Edition for keeping it real, we salute you.
Brilliant! Look at the diversity! Well done Czech Games Edition.
That Two-Player Game Though
Okay, letâs cover the two-player version of âCodenamesâ briefly because we found it differed immensely to the 4+ player game. Though the game mechanic remains mostly the same (cover the spies), we found the gameplay a little boring. Playing with your partner (which a lot of people are) means youâre essentially getting a clue, covering the correct spy, rinse and repeat. We added in the rule that you couldnât say a number less than 2. Upside, they included a two-player variant in the rules, which is great.
Game Build Quality
The build quality on âCodenamesâ is great. A few people have complained they didnât like the boxart, but we have to say, we donât have a problem with it, itâs eye-catching and gets the overall premise across. The cards / components are good quality, really nothing negative to say about the overall build.
Gameapalooza House Rules
As we briefly mentioned we used the house rule of having to say a larger number than one after the initial clue word. This was to make the game slightly more difficult in two-player mode. The same house rule could indeed be carried over to a larger game.
Overall âCodenamesâ is a great little game. We thoroughly enjoyed it and so did the n00bâs we roped in to try it. Yes we do have an upcoming ân00b Look!â for those who are enjoying them (and thanks for the positive feedback – Ed.). The only downside to it was that two-player game. If youâre after a thematically light word-guessing game that manages to keep players interested and thinking, this is the game for you.
Setup Time: Less than 5 minutes
Play Time: 15 minutes
Here’s the rules overview video link for those who may be interested in further information.
Disclosure: Czech Games Edition furnished us with a copy of the game for review. This does not affect the review in any way, other than we were able to bring it to our readers faster. We thank them for their support of the Australia tabletop game market.