Codenames is a tabletop board game that tests your ability to connect dots and your ability to telepathically communicate with your partner and/or teammates. The results are usually delightfully mixed.
In Codenames, you have two teams (red and blue) competing to see who can contact all of their undercover agents first. Each team has a single Spymaster who gives a one-word clue that can point to many different words on the board. The Spymaster’s teammates then try to guess words of their team’s color while avoiding words that support the opposing team. Both sides want to avoid the assassin/game-over card.
There are 25 code name cards (each with a word on them) laid out on a 5×5 grid. Some are red agents, some are blue agents, one is the assassin and the others are innocent and confused bystanders.
On each turn, one team’s Spymaster gives a verbal hint about the words for their undercover agents and the number of cards it may or may not apply to. The goal for the Spymaster is to give a hint that relates to as many of the words as possible for their own agents and avoid alluding to the other team’s agents.
Each team (the field operatives) must take at least one guess per turn – if they guess an agent of the appropriate team color, they can keep guessing until they get it wrong or voluntarily end their turn. The goal of the game is to reveal all of your own team’s agents before the other team has revealed theirs – whoever does this first wins. Or if one team identifies the assassin, they immediately lose.
Per the Geek and Sundry review,
You’re trying to find that one bit of information that will get across everything you need. What really adds to this game is that all the answers are in front of you, just not all the right answers. And then there’s the assassin that you need to dance around. Codenames is about finding a bond with your team and being able to communicate succinctly.
Full disclosure, we’ve only played Codenames a handful of times (like fewer than 5) at this point. But every single time has been a blast so I wanted to go ahead and write about it. And in 2016 it won the Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year) award, pretty much the highest honor you can get in the tabletop gaming space. So. I feel like the immediate love is legit.
Unlike most of the board games we’ve tried out, Codenames is simple and affordable. It’s always on sale for under $20 and the rules aren’t complex like most every other game out there. It takes maybe one game to get the hang of things but then you’re off.
It draws on the Spymaster’s ability to communicate well but also to know their teammates. It’s a beautifully social game and depends heavily on collaborating between the Spymaster and the field operatives in a constantly changing game setting, given that the words are always random.
A good example is I know for one person, I could say “Pokemon: 3” and they would be able to select the cards Ball, Shop and Fighter whereas for another teammate, I probably wouldn’t be able to connect as many words for them without that known connection and context.
I’m not really sure what else to say except that this has been a fantastic and pretty short co-op game we’ve both thoroughly enjoyed already. Biggest downside is that you’ll need 4 people to really have a good time – we haven’t tried the 2 or 3 player rules but my guess is that it feels a bit weird/forced to try to go with fewer players.
We’ve also only tried once with more than 4 players and that gets more chaotic and interesting as teammates have to agree on what they select, which can be infuriating as the Spymaster and as you watch your field operatives talk them out of selecting the right cards…
Overall, great co-op game and great party game in general.
Our rating: 9/10
Developer: Vlaada Chvátil
Game Type: Tabletop
Bartle Type: Socializer
Player Count: 4-8
Average Play Session Time: 15 minutes
Type of Co-Op: Tabletop